Gear your Drupal site up for Google's Mobile-First Index

New changes to the way that Google decides on the order of its search results are set to put more emphasis than ever before on the performance of websites on mobile devices, with warnings of websites losing their ranking in Google for poor mobile experiences.

Now that statement may well sound familiar to many. Back in 2016, Google announced initial changes to its search algorithm to give mobile-friendly websites more prominence in search results when the search itself was carried out on a mobile device. Given the not-so-friendly moniker of “Mobilegeddon’, the scaremongering from some at the time said that your website would “disappear from Google if it wasn’t fully mobile friendly”. The reality however was much less alarming, with many websites seeing little-to-no change in their rank as those changes came into effect.

However, the new initiative – named the Mobile-First Index – is set to bring in changes which ARE likely to have much more of an impact on the ranking of websites which deliver poor experiences on mobile devices. Significantly, the changes will impact on ALL Google searches going forward, not just those carried out on mobile devices. It’s therefore important that all website owners consider the potential implications of Mobile-First and start to take action on it as early as possible.

So what is the Mobile-First Index?

Studies during 2017 have identified that over 55% of web traffic now comes from mobile devices, with that only set to increase further year on year.

Historically, Google has ranked sites in its search results based on the user experience and content found on the desktop version of the website. Given though that more web activity is now on mobile, it is set to flip this around and make its ranking decisions based largely on the mobile experience instead.

The new Mobile-First Index will therefore do away with the current dual logic used by Google depending on what device you are doing your Google search on. Instead, ranking results in ALL Google searches, whether carried out on desktop or mobile, will be based on the mobile experience.

When does this take effect?

Google haven’t so far been specific about the exact timeframes for when the Mobile-First Index will come into effect. We do know that the move towards Mobile-First Indexing has already begun at Google but also know that they plan a gradual transition for the search result changes to become mobile-focused, rather than just a sharp and sudden switch on a given date.

However, it’s strongly expected to start impacting on some website rankings during the first quarter of next year and be fully in play by Q2 of 2018. (More info here and here)

This means that website owners have anything from 3 to 6 months to prepare for the changes, but early action is recommended to ensure your website doesn’t get caught out and lose its rank, and therefore visitors, unexpectedly.

With the change also comes opportunity as not all website owners are likely to react to the new changes immediately. This gives first movers the chance to potentially boost their Google rank above competitors by focussing early on improving the mobile performance of their own website.

Google's own mobile speed tester is one of the many tools that can be used to analyse your website mobile performance

So what do I do about it?

Website owners need to review their website structure and content and consider maximising the mobile experience of the website to take advantage of the upcoming Google changes. As a minimum, you should be ensuring the mobile experience is sufficient to avoid any penalties from Google when the new changes come into effect.

Key factors to consider regarding the user experience on mobile devices include:

  • Is the website suitably viewable on a mobile device? (i.e. does it use responsive layouts which adapt to suit the screen size and device?)
  • Is the important content from the desktop version of your website also available on the version displayed on mobile devices? (If any of your pages hide descriptive content on mobiles, this content will no longer be seen/considered by Google’s crawlers)
  • Is important content visible ‘above the fold’ on mobiles?
  • Are fonts, links, menus and buttons all easily viewable and clickable?
  • Is tabled data easy to view?
  • Are forms easy to view and complete?

The performance and speed of your website on mobile devices will also be key to the mobile experience. Consider things like:

  • Are images optimised for mobile devices? (consider both the file size of your images and also if the physical size of the image suits the device it is being displayed on)
  • Does the technical structure of the website/page allow for fast page loading?
  • Are suitable caching and compression techniques being used to deliver webpages faster?

How can Adaptive help?

Adaptive will be contacting each of our clients in the coming weeks to provide advice on the potential impact of Mobile-First on their website’s Google ranking. We’ll also be offering Mobile-First assessments on all sites to highlight opportunities to improve the mobile performance of your website.

In addition, we have produced a whitepaper exploring, in detail, each of the areas of a website which should potentially be reviewed as part of Mobile-First optimisation. We'll be sharing this document with our clients and will then work with each client individually to look at which elements of their website may be key to their mobile performance. We'll highlight both the quick wins and the more detailed steps that can be taken to take advantage of Google’s Mobile-First changes and to ensure that the website doesn’t fall foul of next year’s expected search results ranking changes.

Want to know more?

Adaptive clients, or anyone interested in seeking Adaptive’s help to ensure their website is Mobile-First Index-ready, can contact us in the usual ways and we’ll be happy to talk to you in more detail about it.

As Drupal specialists, we’re ideally placed to offer advice on how best to make your Drupal site Mobile-First ready in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

Call us on 0800 321 3187 or email to find out more about how we can help.