Mobile-friendly or Mobile-first? Making Google’s New Indexing Algorithm Your Competitive Advantage

Good news from colleague. Confident young man in smart casual wear holding smart phone and looking at it while sitting at his working place in office

It’s official. The new frontier of mobile is here, and mobile phones are taking over desktop as the primary devices used to access websites. In case you haven’t heard the news, Google has started to roll out a mobile-first index, which puts more emphasis on mobile over desktop web pages. According to Google, people are five times more likely to leave a website if it isn’t optimized for mobile. And with Google’s new mobile-first index, it will no longer be enough to have a mobile site and a positive mobile-friendliness score on Google’s website performance test to stay ahead of the competition.

To create a competitive advantage for your business, your goal should be to provide an exceptional user experience on all devices. Below are guidelines for creating a mobile-optimized website through factors like page load speed, search intent and a first-class user experience.

What is Mobile Optimization?

We’ve been hearing about mobile optimization for years, but what exactly does that mean? At a high level, mobile optimization is the process of creating a mobile version of your desktop website through a number of technical actions. This entire article could be devoted to listing the technical elements that Google takes into consideration for its mobile algorithm. Let’s focus on the basic actions you can take to have the greatest impact on your search engine rankings and user experience.

A mobile-optimized experience starts with responsive web design. As a quick refresher, this means that your page design changes depending on how a user is viewing your content. For mobile, this means condensed navigation, large images, text, and CTAs optimized for a smaller screen.

Not only will optimizing your mobile experience make you and Google happy, but it will also make your end users want to come back to your website again and again.

The Importance of Page Speed

Your visitors want instant gratification — especially on mobile, when they’re on the go and need answers fast. Did you know that if your website takes more than three seconds to load, you’ll lose over half of your mobile users? You may not even retain half of those mobile users after factoring in the unreliability of data networks. Let alone if someone is still on 3G.

Luckily, page load doesn’t have to be a mystery. Google’s mobile performance test has a PageSpeed feature, which shows how fast your pages load and what you can do to improve. These are some of the recommendations you might see for your own website:

  • Reduce redirects
  • Optimize images
  • Enable compression
  • Remove all unnecessary characters from source code

You can also use Google Search Console to learn what specific fixes you can implement on your different mobile pages. Using this tool will help you get direct feedback and quick results without a heavy lift on your end. You may even get a confidence boost seeing where your site is already at the top of its game.

Users Over Everything

In order to win against your competitors, it’s crucial to think about the search intent of your mobile users. A mobile user’s search intention can differ entirely from your average desktop user. For instance, if a user is searching for “jeans” on mobile, she might be looking for stores nearby that sell jeans or checking the price of jeans before visiting a specific store. If she’s searching on desktop, she might be exploring new jeans brands or looking to purchase a pair online. On mobile, you want to design your site to align with those search intentions the same way you’re already doing on desktop.

The fact that 56% of smartphone searches done on the go have local intent tells you that factoring in location is a serious strategic advantage. Remember: Google operates as a business and wants to show the most relevant results to users. In order to rank high in both local and national searches, you have to think about who your user is, where they are, and what they hope to gain from their search.

The key ranking indicators to keep in mind for local searchers are:

  • High quality, local content. There might be an opportunity to share data about your customers in a specific city or region. For example, if you’re selling jeans you could create content around the most popular jean wash for women living in New York. If you have a real estate company, you might write content about the top neighborhoods for young professionals new to Chicago.

  • Local links and citations. Whether you’re an online-only business or have local shops, obtaining local links will help boost your domain authority and allow you the opportunity to optimize anchor text for specific product pages or other high-converting pages. Connect with local influencers with engaged audiences to link to your local content or product page.

  • Solid and trustworthy reviews. Google knows that users are interested in reading reviews and will deliver results with five-star, honest reviews.

The bottom line is that Google’s mobile-first index has the same goal as your business: provide users with a fast, best-in-class experience that delivers results on any device. An improved visitor experience means greater search engine visibility and higher conversions for your business. It won’t be easy to achieve, but if it was, then it wouldn’t be your competitive advantage.