Google’s mobile-first index: Seven myths dispelled

Here, we look at the most common myths heard around Google’s move to a mobile-first index, and address each in turn.

Google will crawl the entire web using the mobile version of their bot

Google will crawl the entire web using the mobile version of their bot

Google is well on its way to crawling the entire web using the mobile version of their bot – and as a result, your content will soon be ranked primarily on the content it serves to mobile user-agents.

Below, we’ve collected the most common myths heard around Google’s move to a mobile-first index, and address each in turn.

Myth #1 – If I don’t have a mobile site, I’ll be penalised in desktop rankings

Not true. Google have said that they’ll use your desktop site’s SEO to calculate your rankings in absence of a mobile version – but you won’t get the ranking boost in mobile.

You won’t penalised, but you won’t rank as well as competitors in mobile search who have a mobile site or responsive design.

If mobile traffic is important to you, and let’s face it, with some searches having 50-60 per cent share or more from mobile devices, then now is the time to get something in place to stay competitive.

Myth #2 – My customers don’t convert on mobile, so I don’t need to worry about mobile rankings

Not true. For many considered purchases, mobile plays an important part of the research phase of the buying cycle. After careful research, you should tailor your mobile experience to the type of visitor who’s most likely to progress in the sales funnel, even if that spans multiple sessions, and a number of devices.

According to data from Criteo – around 50 per cent of all e-commerce purchasing now involved touchpoints across multiple devices.

Myth #3 – I will need to change all my canonical URLs from desktop to mobile

Not true. The Canonical element will be read by Google’s mobile bot, and the effect of the tag will be applied only to the desktop index. You won’t need to change anything, but do ensure that you have the right alternate tags on each version of your site.

Myth #4 – Mobile Site speed will be all that’s important, so I can forget about streamlining my desktop site

Not true. Whilst the world of SEO recognises site speed as a ranking factor, both mobile and desktop site speed remains important for the end user, and therefore Google. So don’t neglect site speed for either version.

You can test your site speed using Google’s PageSpeed Insights and the new Mobile-Friendly test, but you can record actual session data in Analytics.

Myth #5 – I’ll have to rethink my link building strategy

Not true. For the meantime, Google have confirmed that there are no plans to change the way links affect rankings. You won’t have to go after “mobile only” links, and links from non-mobile friendly websites shouldn’t have any less impact.

One change you might make, is to start to link build for keywords that your audience use to search on mobile. You can use Search Console in Webmaster Tools to filter by mobile devices to discover your mobile keywords.

Myth #6 – I’ll need to rewrite all my meta data

Not true. If you have a single site that serves both mobile and desktop (i.e. a site with a responsive design) then you’ll need to make sure that your titles and descriptions fit within the character or pixel limits set by Google for both desktop and mobile. Luckily, the mobile index gives you a few more characters to play with, so if your titles are within the desktop limit (65-70 characters or 570 pixels) then they should be fine as they are.

You can use Screaming Frog to check, either via a live crawl of your site, or by uploading a CSV containing your meta data. The side panel will filter your data by pixel or character count above the limit.

Myth #7 – I’ll need to add lots of new schema and href lang stuff

Not true. You won’t need to add any new schema, but you should make sure you have your mobile site marked up in the same way you would your desktop site. This includes product schema, local schema and any internationalisation that you’d applied to your desktop site. This is easiest when you’re running a single site with a responsive design, but might take a little work when you’re running a mobile site alongside your desktop version.

James Newhouse is the head of natural search at Receptional.

Further reading on Google

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