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Mobile-First Web Design: Why it Matters for Google Indexing, UX, & SEO

Mobile-first website design is currently a trending topic in the web development, web design, and SEO world.  This article breaks down what it means and why it matters.

Let’s start with a few definitions.

Mobile-First Web Design Definition

Mobile-first design is when the mobile version is considered first when designing a website. Traditionally, websites were planned out on desktop and the mobile design was more of an afterthought. However, since web users have shifted to primarily using mobile devices, it makes sense to ensure the mobile user experience is the primary thought and the desktop experience is the secondary thought.

Responsive Web Design Definition

Responsive web design is a method of designing a website where the content adapts to the size of the device. Sometimes this means content or images are removed when the website adapts to fit a smaller screen size. While responsive web design is still key (and better than having a non-mobile-friendly site or both a mobile and a desktop site), many times the desktop experience was still considered first when designing a responsive website. This means the mobile user experience may be lacking.

Google’s Announcement on Mobile-First Indexing

Google first announced the mobile-first index in November of 2016.  The announcement detailed how Google would eventually look at the mobile version of a website first in order to parse and index website content.  In other words, if the mobile version of your website was a scaled down version of your desktop site, Google might not consider all of your content. Here’s what Google shared in their Webmaster Central Blog post on mobile-first indexing:

“Today, most people are searching on Google using a mobile device. However, our ranking systems still typically look at the desktop version of a page’s content to evaluate its relevance to the user. This can cause issues when the mobile page has less content than the desktop page because our algorithms are not evaluating the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher.”

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.

Fast forward to 2018…

On February 21, 2018, Gary Illyes from Google announced at PubCon that Google would begin rolling out the mobile-first index over the next several weeks (source: Search Engine Land).

Do you need a Mobile-First Website?

Before you panic and call your web developer to redesign the website, there’s a few things to ask yourself:

  • Do you currently have a separate mobile website or do you have a responsive website?If you have a separate mobile website, there is likely more reason for concern. If you have a responsive website, your website shares the same source code, meaning you may not have to do anything.
  • What percentage of your website traffic is currently using a mobile device? If it’s low, it might not be a worthwhile investment to tear it down and re-build, yet. However, keep the mobile-first strategy in mind when you do redesign.
  • How is your current mobile experience? Is the content seriously lacking (scaled down) or is it still a good user experience?
  • How is your mobile site speed? Since many mobile devices rely on wireless networks, Google is really encouraging fast websites for a quality (fast) mobile experience.

How to check if your Website is Mobile-Friendly?

We recommend utilizing Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to get tips on how your mobile experience could be improved. Note: Keep in mind, this is simply a tool and may need a web developer to help interpret the results and determine what is feasible to address.

How the Mobile-First Index Impacts User Experience & SEO

Ultimately, the mobile-first index is a good thing for user experience and SEO.  By considering mobile-first design, all of your content will be accessible on mobile and will load quickly. By adapting to a mobile-first philosophy, you will be creating a better browser experience for your visitors. Ultimately, more engagement with the website will have a positive impact on overall SEO performance.

Mobile-First Index Resources

Here’s a few additional resources that share everything you need to know about Google’s mobile-first index and what it means for your unique website:

  1. FAQ: All about the Google mobile-first index: https://searchengineland.com/faq-google-mobile-first-index-262751
  2. How Does Mobile-First Indexing Work, and How Does it Impact SEO?: https://moz.com/blog/mobile-first-indexing-seo
  3. How to Find Out if Your Site is Ready for Google’s Mobile-First Index: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/site-ready-google-mobile-first-index/240927/
  4. SEO for the Mobile First Index: https://www.websitemagazine.com/blog/seo-for-the-mobile-index

Need Mobile-First Assistance?

Would you like to speak to a web developer or SEO specialist in regards to the mobile-first update and what it means for your website?  We’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

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Courtney McKeown is the SEO/SEM Director here at Americaneagle.com. With 10+ years of experience in the Internet industry, Courtney understands the evolving nature of digital strategy and the importance of staying current on SEO/SEM practices. At Americaneagle.com, Courtney oversees the SEO/SEM team, which is focused on driving both organic and paid search traffic to our clients' websites.

Courtney is a big sports fan and tries to attend as many football, baseball, and hockey games as possible. She also participates in Fantasy Football and Fantasy Baseball leagues.

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