SEO in 2018: Mobile-First is No Longer Strategy, It’s Survival
With the mobile-first index due out on in early 2018, it’s no longer just competitive advantage to have a mobile friendly, responsive site. Without the proper precautions and set up, your rankings and your business are sure to suffer. Over 60% of search is now mobile, and nearly 20% of mobile queries are voice searches, which means that your site needs to be mobile friendly from both a search engine’s and a user’s perspective. We’ll cover everything you need to ensure your site is mobile friendly, including moving mobile sites to responsive URLs, 301 redirects, rel=”canonical”, page load time, geotagging, voice search, as well as the forthcoming HTTPS update - everything and anything you need to know to ensure your website is properly established for mobile from a technical perspective.
Mobile SEO Overview
What is “mobile-first,” anyway? Right now, Google indexes sites from the perspective of a desktop user. That is, desktop versions of websites are prioritized as primary. Google’s gradual shift to mobile-first indexing means websites will be indexed with primacy given to mobile versions. Unless the mobile and desktop versions of a website are significantly different, the shift to mobile-indexing should have no immediate effect on site ranking.
Best practices persist: signal when a page is mobile; keep a page crawlable by avoiding robots.txt; avoid frustrating interface features such as flash content that won’t cooperate with mobile devices by relying on responsive design.
Responsive web design (RWD) sends the same HTML code to all devices and CSS alters the page to the device accessing it. In terms of SEO, the primary reason to use responsive design is that it improves user experience. With one URL for desktop and mobile, users can link and share your pages much more easily. Similarly, it cuts down on load time. RWD means no redirection to access the appropriately formatted version of your page. It’s not just friendlier to users, it cuts down on the resources Googlebots use to crawl your site, which means more of your site can be indexed, which can indirectly improve ranking.
If the onset of Google’s Mobile Index is just bringing RWD into your considerations, you’re already wayyy behind the ball. Contact Bonsai, for any and all questions relating to Reponsive Design and how to get you site up to speed.
Dynamic serving uses the Vary HTTP heading to serve different code from the same URL, depending on the user-agent. Like responsive web design, the goal dynamic serving is that user-agents see the appropriate version of a web page. Be careful, though. Dynamic serving depends on successfully detecting the correct user-agent, which is tricky and error-prone. You can learn more about user-agent detection in Google’s developer guides.
In this mobile design format, wholly separate URLs are used to differentiate between desktop and mobile versions. You’ve probably already seen websites that delineate between desktop and mobile using the common format “www.example.com” and “m.example.com.” These separate URLs will serve different code to different devices or user-agents.
Additionally, in order to help Google’s algorithms index your page your pages and to signal the relationship between two URLs, annotate them with rel=“alternate” and rel=“canonical”. On your primary desktop URL include the annotation rel=“alternate” pointing to the related mobile URL.
Likewise, on the mobile URL, include the annotation rel=”canonical”, pointing to the related desktop URL. Be careful in using separate URLs. Make sure your redirections are 1 to 1. To many references from mobile to desktop or vice versa can result in users being redirected away from the page they’re trying to access.
rel=”canonical” has the additional benefit of resolving duplicate content issues, which will improve link and ranking signals. Essentially, including rel=”canonical” in a code signals the preferred URL for a page. This is important when you’re trying to improve SERP ranking through links to your page. If all of those links are using slightly different URLs, then each of those URLs only gets one link, unless you use rel=”canonical”, in which case all are directed back to your primary URL.
301 is yet another way to automatically redirect to the appropriate URL. It’s very similar to rel=”canonical”, but is more often used in cases where you may need to permanently move from one URL to another.
Page Load Time
You probably already know that page load time is one of the factors Google’s algorithms use to calculate search engine rankings. Beyond Google, it’s also a factor in how (or if) users interact with you site. Kissmetrics reports that 30% of users will only wait 6-10 seconds for a page to load before they abandon it and that 16% of users will wait only 1-5 seconds. That means that nearly half of all users are only giving you a maximum of 10 seconds for your content to load. Make sure your site loads quickly on all devices, or it will be firs ton the chopping block in Google’s eyes.
Geotagging is ubiquitous in photosharing. In fact, if you have an iPhone or iPad, geotagging is occurs automatically when you use the phone’s built-in camera. Geotagging is simply the association of geocoordinates with any sort of content. If you’re trying to boost clicks for a local service or business, geotagging can be a great tool, because search engines often use them as a way to rank relevance from locally specific searches.
Voice is quickly supplanting typing for online search requests. No wonder, since ease of use has never been greater as accuracy (continually improving) is currently at 95%. In fact, 1 in 5 adults use voice search rather than type. The core of SEO is great content and voice search won’t change that. It does, however, affect how we want to think about keyword use. People use type and voice search differently.
For example, if your client is a veterinary clinic, you would want to corner both the type search query “Seattle vet” and the voice search question, “Is chocolate toxic to dogs?”
HTTPS (also known as SSL) stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure. It is simply the secure version of the more familiar HTTP; data exchanges between site and browser are all encrypted. A secure site is necessary wherever transactions are being made or personal information is being collected. Since 2014, Google has made it clear that HTTPS is a ranking factor and Chrome already displays in the URL bar whether or not a page is “secure.” That little padlock is becoming a standard that builds trust with users.
We know that was a lot to unpack, but if you sleep on the Mobile First index, which is due out in early 2018, your business is sure to suffer. Mobile-first indexing is just around the corner, which means that tailoring your SEO to mobile platforms and users is no longer just competitive advantage. If you’re ready to launch your mobile-ready SEO campaign, get in touch with us today.