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Google Index Changes Are on the Horizon

UPDATE: Google has begun rolling out the index split as of 3/26/18.

In this post, GRIT is covering the following topics as they relate to upcoming changes in 2018 to Google’s mobile-first index strategy, specifically the mobile-first index:

  • Some history about the Google index and changes
  • What does this mean for your website?
  • Responsive design
  • Mobile Content

A Little History on the Google Index and Mobile Tech

In 2016, Google announced that they were considering splitting their search index into two indexes, a unique Desktop and Mobile search index, which they eventually did in early 2017. This means that Google now operates two separate indexes with the goal of optimizing search results pages to provide the most relevant results for the device used. At the time of the split, Google made some allusions to a future event where they would make the mobile index the primary of the two, with results of the mobile index having influence on the desktop index. As with many things that Google has done, “testing” usually translates to “get ready, we’re making this happen.”

Then, in December of 2017, Google announced on their Webmasters Blog that they were experimenting with making the mobile index the primary. To quote:

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

Google will make this change effective in July of 2018, where the mobile index results and changes will have some impact on the desktop search results, but the desktop page speeds will still have the primary impact on desktop rankings.

There are some things you should consider in preparation for this event.

 

What Does This Mean for My Website?

The Google index split will impact your website and eventually your bottom line, if it hasn’t already. As of August 2017, nearly 60% of searches were being conducted on mobile devices, rather than desktops. Even more important to note is that mobile vs desktop queries garner different search results 80% of the time. Google does favor local and regional results more on mobile, so that does make sense.

This is very similar to when “Mobile-geddon” hit in early 2015 when Google started to use mobile-friendly websites higher in results than websites that didn’t have a mobile-friendly or responsive interface. Google provided ample notice in late 2014 and early 2015 that it was going to happen, just as they’ve done over the last year regarding this index split.

If your website still isn’t responsive, this is a triage moment for your SEO as you will need to take action very soon to salvage your rank in Google, especially now that mobile ranking will begin to influence desktop ranking.

 

Responsive Design

This cannot be understated: with the new mobile-first indexing you must have a responsive design (or at least mobile-friendly) for your website to rank well. There is a difference between the two, so what is responsive design?

Simply put, responsive design means that the layout of content and images on your website can change dynamically based on the type of device used and the device orientation (horizontal vs vertical). These layouts are not device specific, but are designed to display content fluidly on any device while placing the most important content in a visually prominent location. (Think tablet and phone – how does the site appear on each of these devices and does it move as you move the device?)

Mobile-friendly websites typically have a relatively static design that tends to be more device specific, or may even be a separate subdomain, such as “m.yourdomain.com”. Given the Google index changes, it would be better for your business to have a single website with a great mobile responsive user experience (UX).

To do this properly, you should work with a website design agency, like GRIT, that understands the intricacies of getting a responsive website to work quickly and well on any device, all while remaining visually appealing. GRIT is always working with cutting edge frameworks to make websites lighter weight and more responsive, like CSS Grid and Flexbox. Code like this can reduce overall page load speed while accomplishing truly stunning designs.

 

Mobile Content & UX

A responsive website that will work well with Google isn’t just a site with a great interface. Websites that work well with Google’s mobile index are also organized and written in such a way to make it easier for users to find the information they are looking for quickly, and then take action based on what they learn. Google considers websites that are well organized and give users a direct course of action to be worthier of higher rank in search results.

A good mobile UX takes the device and user intent into consideration, and then prioritizes the information and action items making it faster and easier for users to perform a desired action. The whole user experience should be shaped to move the end user through a conversion funnel, whether the final action is a purchase or submitting a lead via contact form.

 

Are You Prepared?

Is your business’ website ready for this index change from Google? If you’re not sure, or you know that you need an updated site, the team at GRIT is ready to help you create a web experience that not only performs well in search, is at least ADA Level A/1 compliant and makes it easy for your users to find the information that they need quickly.

Contact us today.