Mobile-First Indexing and Small Businesses: What You Need to Know

Since November 2016, the SEO community has been readying itself for the launch of Google’s mobile-first indexing feature. As you already know, this change increases how Google ranks websites; while businesses that have desktop-only sites will still be indexed, their rankings won’t be nearly as impressive as those sites that have made mobile optimization a priority. When you consider that the first position Google search result receives 33% of the traffic share and at least 75% of all clicks are obtained by sites on the first page of search results, it’s clear how essential it is to pay attention to major changes in how rankings are determined.

The change was supposed to be rolled out in 2017, but it wasn’t until recently that webmasters started receiving notifications about mobile-first indexing. This change definitely is a big deal, as it means the mobile version of your site now acts as Google’s starting point for crawl bots. While it’s essential to remember that mobile optimization isn’t the only factor Google considers, the Powers That Be will now see your mobile site as the primary version. Instead of being an optional perk, mobile optimization is now the top priority. If your mobile and desktop sites are virtually the same, you won’t have too much to worry about. But when the experiences are far from equal, that could cause problems.

Although that’s vital information for any business, it’s especially true for industries that tend to garner more mobile views than desktop views. Overall, mobile traffic grew to comprise 63% of all web traffic in 2017 (up from 57% in 2016). Most industries saw an increase in mobile traffic during that year-long span — though some gains were more significant than others. Here’s how certain key industries compare:

● Computers and Electronics: 12% increase
● Gambling and Games: 10% and 11% increases (respectively)
● Recreation, Hobbies, and Sports: 8% increase
● Science, People, and Society: 8% increase
● Literature, Law, and Finance: 7% increase
● Automotive: 7% increase
● Pets and Animals: 6% increase
● Education and Career: 5% increase
● Reference and Travel: 4% increase
● Arts, Entertainment, and Shopping: 3% increases
● Health: 2% increase
● Food, Drink, Home, and Garden: 1% increases
● News and Media: 1% increase

Now, those increases below 5% may not sound like a lot to worry about. But when you realize that these increases mean at least half of all web traffic for the aforementioned industries is now coming from mobile, the significance of this upward trend becomes much clearer. In the sports industry and the automotive industry, for example, 67% of all web traffic is thanks to mobile users. Around 56% of all web traffic for the travel industry is from mobile, and 68% of web traffic for the food and drink industry is due to mobile activity.

From this data, we have a few takeaways. The most obvious is that mobile traffic continues to gain popularity. Users are actually spending more time on websites and viewing more pages via mobile, as well. We can assume from this that mobile interfaces are improving and that web users are more familiar with these interfaces — hence, they’re willing and able to spend more time on these mobile sites.

Although desktop sites are far from dead, it’s essential to prioritize mobile optimization here. Experts in the SEO and web development sector will tell you that having a mobile optimized site is an absolute must. In many cases, it’s actually better to design this mobile site before you ever create the desktop version. That way, you won’t experience as many issues with coding or aesthetics; it’s easier to make the changes necessary for a good desktop experience than to make mobile an afterthought.

Of course, this may be easier said than done for many startups and small businesses. The reality is that these organizations may not have access to the kinds of resources larger corporations do. If you don’t have an expansive marketing department, in-house web developers, or pricy web tracking tools, you might think all is lost. Fortunately, that’s not actually the case. There’s actually quite a bit you can do as a small business owner to ensure that you can use mobile-first indexing to your advantage (and that your site isn’t penalized by this change).

Actions Small Businesses Should Take to Improve Mobile Optimization

Speed It Up
Prioritizing your site speed is always a good idea for SEO purposes. Faster sites are more likely to lower bounce rates, increase user on-page time, and provide an improved experience overall.

When you’re focused on mobile-first indexing, site speed becomes even more important. Some business owners may want to look into the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project. It’s essentially HTML provided by Google that you can add to your site so that your pages will load more quickly. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are an AMP alternative that also allow your pages to load instantly. There’s also PWAMP, which is basically a hybrid of both concepts that provides impressive speeds.

Of course, you may not need to explore any of these options; not all of them are appropriate for every business, and if your site already loads quickly on mobile, there are probably other improvements you can make that’ll have a bigger impact.

Remember Content is King
As technological preferences change, there are some things that remain constant. One of those things is the importance of high-quality content. When stellar mobile optimization is your top priority, you’ll need to ensure that all of that amazing content you’ve written for your desktop site shows up when users view your site on mobile. That means all of your text, images, and video should be consistently viewable across all platforms — and all formatting must be able to be crawled and indexed. If you currently have a separate mobile site (typically shown with a distinct “m.” subdomain), this may be especially pertinent to you.

Keep in mind that there may be more to this than merely ensuring that all content exists on your site when viewed on mobile. Make sure you don’t “hide” any content on the mobile version of your site; if crawlers won’t be able to read it, it might as well not even be there. That said, having a drop-down menu or an accordion does not qualify as hiding content. Google has already said they won’t hold these features against website owners and that their bots will crawl all content contained there. In other words, it’s probably a good idea to use them to improve users’ overall experience (assuming that your site is easy to navigate).

The way in which you present your content needs to be tailored to the mobile viewer. Text size and tap target size (e.g., the areas on your page that a user can touch to carry out specific commands) are both extremely important. Not being able to read your web copy or accidentally clicking on an unwanted feature will both prove very frustrating for your visitors. So make sure you’re using a font size of at least 16px and that your tap targets are sized correctly and have enough padding between them.

Even the way you write your content matters for mobile optimization. You’ll want to keep the most important information “above the fold” to capture visitor interest and convince them to keep scrolling for more. And when writing for the internet (and for mobile users, in general), keep it short and sweet. No one wants to read long text blocks on their small smartphone screen. If you need visual inspiration, just look at any article on Backlinko’s blog.

Keep the Customer in Mind
Small businesses that sell products or services through their e-commerce platform will need to jump through some additional hoops to ensure they’re accommodating their mobile visitors. Think With Google estimates that around 85% of customers begin a purchase on one device and then either finish the transaction on another device or head to the store to buy. That said, 62% of smartphone users have made an online purchase using their phones within the last six months, according to OuterBox. In other words, mobile shopping is probably integral to your business.

You can implement better mobilization by making the checkout process faster and easier. Require less information from your customer and provide them with the opportunity to save those details for their next purchase. You may even want to offer payment options that extend beyond credit cards and PayPal to appeal to a wider array of customers. Above all, make sure the navigation is smooth and that the process doesn’t have any hiccups that might encourage users to abandon their carts without going through with the purchase. It should be a totally painless interaction that won’t force customers to trudge downstairs to retrieve their wallet or tap away from your site in frustration.

Final Takeaways
If you’re a small business owner who’s concerned about mobile-first indexing, first realize that you’re not alone. Second, don’t panic. Widespread roll-outs are going to take a little while, which means you have time to make necessary changes. Plus, desktop sites aren’t going to be completely ignored under this change.

But if you don’t currently have a mobile responsive site or the one you have isn’t delivering a stellar user experience, it’s now time to address it. By making mobile number one in terms of design and development, you’ll be able to address these concerns head-on and make sure your site rankings won’t suffer due to inaction.