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Mobile First Indexing & Page Speed for SEO

It has been abundantly clear, for a few years now, that Google processes more searches from mobile devices than desktop devices. Uncharacteristically slow on the draw, Google has finally announced the switch to mobile first indexing. In short, this simply means that Google will now use their mobile crawler to index websites and assign rankings instead of the OG desktop crawler. For you, this means putting even more of an emphasis on the "mobile-first" approach in your marketing efforts.

Is Mobile Really That Crucial?

Humor us here. We're sure you were already well aware that, yes, mobile is extremely critical. From research conducted in 2017, we know that at least 57% of all web traffic comes from smartphones and tablets. If that number seems low, it probably is. Our own internal metrics show the following percent share for mobile plus tablet:

  • Supplement eComm brand: 68%
  • Cosmetics eComm brand:  76%
  • Food brand: 72%
  • Healthcare brand: 87%

There are, of course, industries and websites where desktop is still dominant. The average mobile share for our B2B tech and SAAS companies is around 25% mobile.

What Does Mobile First Indexing Mean For Me?

The mobile-first index will be rolling out website by website, not all at once. If you have a Google Search Console account set up for your domain (you should!), you will receive a notification once the domain is switched to mobile first indexing.

The chart below from Google shows how the roll-out will affect different types of mobile experiences. If you have a responsive website, there is no change from a technical SEO perspective. A responsive website is one that adjusts for screen size and is the most common type of site of those listed below. If you use separate URLs (m.dot sites) or dynamically serve different content to each device, then you can expect more substantial changes when mobile first indexing rolls out to your site.

mobile first indexing chart

Remember how we just said not much was changing from a technical perspective for responsive sites? There’s one major exception. In a separate initiative, Google will be increasing the weight of page load time in their ranking algorithms.

The July 2018 Page Speed Update and What it Means for SEO

Google has publicly acknowledged that page speed is an SEO ranking factor since 2016, at least for their desktop crawler. Starting in July 2018, it will be applied to the now-default mobile crawler and we suspect the impact of page speed on rankings will be more significant. Regardless of how big of a factor page speed is for the ranking algorithm, it’s a crucial element of user experience. After all, “As page load time goes from one second to five seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 90%.

What is a “good” page speed?

As a general rule of thumb, you want your site to load in under two seconds.

What are common culprits of poor page speed?
  1. Unoptimized images. Homepage “slider” images are common offenders
  2. Slow loading external resources (usually javascript)
  3. Too many external resources
  4. Server response time is too long
  5. Too many redirects
How can I check my page speed?

We use three primary tools to check page speed and investigate the cause of any slowdowns.

  1. Pingdom Speed Test:  Gives load speed in milliseconds as well as a performance score. Scroll down on the results page and you’ll find a waterfall diagram showing each element on the page and how long it took to load. Great for finding that one image you didn’t realize was so huge or picking out the Javascript file slowing everything down
  2. Google PageSpeed Insights: Gives scores for both mobile and desktop but doesn’t give actual load time. Also generates recommendations on improving your score.
  3. Google Lighthouse: For advanced users. This tool actually lives within Chrome DevTools, if you’re comfortable inspecting elements in the built-in browser application, you may find this one particularly useful. Go to “Audits” once the pane is open and click, “Perform an audit” to get load speed and SEO recommendations.

Tracking the Results

Tracking mobile-specific rankings is a challenge for many marketers. At Room 214, we use BrightEdge to get rankings as they appear on mobile devices. Recently, we've shifted our reporting to focus on these mobile results over desktop. BrightEdge also allows us to check results in specific regions, a huge help for businesses that serve a geographic area.

Bringing it All Together - The Mobile First Mindset

We know Google will be switching to mobile first indexing and page speed is only growing in importance. Instead of worrying about all the technical details, the most impactful thing you can do for your brand is to start thinking mobile first. This isn’t a new concept, but it still hasn’t been fully adopted by marketers.

From concepting landing pages to your next site redesign - all comps, mock-ups and designs should focus on mobile before desktop. Think about the user journey from a mobile perspective. This will indirectly help with SEO and directly help with user experience and things like conversion rate.

Remember, it’s our job to help users achieve their goals quickly. Do that, and the results you seek will follow.

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Scott Shelton


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