Google announced that some sites would be switching over to the "mobile first" index. As usual, this led to a plethora of "the sky is falling" posts, mostly just to get a few clicks. Today, we are going to look at a non-sensationalized version of what you should be doing to make sure your site is prepared.
How Will the New Mobile First Index Impact Your Website?
First and foremost - when the announcement was made, they also mentioned that some sites may NEVER move to a mobile first index, because not every site is meant for mobile use.
Is Your Site Mobile Responsive, Mobile Friendly, or Mobile First?
Great job marketing industry - you have now confused most business owners who have no clue which type of "mobile" their website is. Let's try to clear up the confusion:
A website that shows the same page on every device, at a different scale. Think of this as zooming in or out to shrink the page.
Your website presents itself differently based upon the screen size of the device it is being loaded on. This can include changing the page, removing certain elements, and making some items larger on a page.
This is a less talked about method of building sites but can be highly effective for websites that rely heavily upon mobile visitors. A mobile first site is designed and built for small screens and adjusts to also display well on desktop browsers. Both responsive and mobile first sites adjust based upon the viewers screen size. Mobile first sites are created to display on phones and modified to look good on desktop whereas mobile responsive are designed for desktop and modified to look good on smaller screens.
Still confused? Check out some examples of mobile first websites and you can see the difference for yourself.
Is Your Site Even in the Mobile First Index?
The first thing you should do is check Google Analytics (or ask your marketing company to) and see what percentage of traffic visits your site from a mobile device. If you don't get any mobile traffic, your site may not even be in the mobile index.
To be sure, have your web developer check the server logs and see if your site is being crawled heavily by Googles mobile "bot". If it is, there is a good chance you need to conform to mobile standards to avoid a loss of organic traffic.
Even if most of your traffic isn't coming from mobile browsers and you aren't in the mobile index, investing into having a responsive site can still be worthwhile. As technology advances, you don't want to lose traffic and conversions for months or years just to save a few bucks.
Since 2015 (remember Mobilegeddon?) Google has been letting us know that they want websites to provide a good UX for mobile users, and that isn't likely to change anytime soon. Once you figure out if your site is in the mobile index, you should run a couple of tests.
What Issues are Plaguing Your Current Site's Mobile Usability?
Google has a site speed tool that will help you envision how a user from a 3g network would experience your site. This covers speed and user experience items. GTmetrix is another great tool to identify action steps that could improve your site speed. As for measuring load times, Pingdom is one of the better tools available.
Using the three tools together will allow you to identify the issues that are currently harming your site. Re-testing after the changes are implemented will help you see if they were done correctly.
How Does This Relate to or Impact SEO?
If your website is part of the mobile first index and it does not provide a good user experience to mobile browsers, you are going to lose visibility. Google's main purpose is to return the best possible search results so that they maintain the dominate share of the search engine market.
If your site takes forever to load or can't be read from a phone, you are not going to be viewed as the "best" result for long. The days of tricks and shortcuts to rank are fading fast. If you want to maintain top rankings, you need to deserve them. Making sure your site provides a good user experience is just the first step in doing so.
Whenever Google announces a change, it is easy to get caught up in the hype and work yourself into a frenzied state. Instead of stressing, take some time today to figure out if your site is mobile responsive, if it loads quickly, and if it provides a good UX.
If it doesn't or you don't know where to start, contact a good web development company and they should be able to help you identify and correct any issues that could harm your organic visibility.
Even if you don't plan to make the changes yourself, understanding how to check for issues can help you better evaluate the effectiveness of the company you hire to do them for you.