Understanding the Difference Between Responsive Websites and Sites Optimized for Google’s Mobile-First Indexing

Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in 2018 as part of an effort to prevent issues caused by websites with mobile and desktop versions that were drastically different. The goal was to provide mobile users with search results that are more relevant. Prior to this change, Google used the desktop version of a site for crawling, indexing and ranking. With mobile-first indexing in place, they crawl the mobile version of a website first. If your site does not have a mobile-friendly version Google will continue to crawl the desktop site, however not having a mobile-friendly site can negatively impact your site rankings. In the SERPs, any URLs found to not be mobile-friendly will have text below the title tag that says, “Your page is not mobile-friendly.

Some people think that having a responsive website means there is no need to worry about this change but that’s not exactly true. There are distinct differences between a responsive website design and having a site built specifically for mobile users.

Responsive Site Design vs. Mobile-First Website Design

Having a responsive design is important for providing an improved user experience and is recommended by Google over having a separate mobile site. But a responsive design doesn’t necessarily mean your website is optimized for mobile-first indexing. Let’s look at the difference between a responsive site design and optimizing for mobile-first indexing.

A responsive website is designed on a flexible grid layout that allows the text, images and navigation to adjust based on screen size. The navigation collapses, images shrink and content shifts to accommodate the smaller screen. Responsive sites were initially designed for desktop and were then modified to accommodate the growing number of users on tablets and mobile phones.

Websites optimized for mobile-first indexing are designed with the mobile device in mind.  Like a responsive site, they adapt to accommodate the larger screen of a tablet or desktop computer. The difference, however, is that they are also optimized to provide fast page download speeds and have images laid out for mobile viewing. In addition to being user-friendly, they speak to search engines by having complete meta data, well-organized content, an updated sitemap, and other technical SEO details in place.

Mobile-First Indexing Heavily Impacts Digital Marketing And SEO

SEOs and other digital marketing professionals place a lot of focus on content because our goal is to increase site traffic and conversions. Having good content is still a priority, we also need to think about how users are accessing websites. Approximately 52 percent of users access websites using a mobile device, and that percentage is expected to increase significantly by 2020.

Even if your site has great content, you’re less likely to get a higher SERP ranking and increased traffic if your download speeds are low or you’re neglecting technical SEO. In general, technical SEO involves website and server optimization techniques that make your website and index easier for search engine spiders to crawl. If a site can’t be crawled, search engines have no way of knowing what type of content is on your site and your SERP rankings could suffer significantly. Other factors that impact rankings include page speed, site security, and content issues.

Optimizing Page Speed to Reduce Bounce Rates

Statistics show that 53% of uses will leave a site that takes more than 3 seconds to download, and that percentage increases with each additional second. Users also spend less time on pages that have images or other content that load slowly. If your site is not optimized for fast download speeds, you risk increased bounce rates and penalties from Google. Here steps you can take to optimize page speed:

  1. Compress web pages and files by:
    • Minifying CSS, HTML and JavaScript code by eliminating unneeded spaces, line breaks, formatting and unused code
    • Optimizing all images by using the correct file format and compressing them to the appropriate size for web use
  2. Use only one stylesheet for your entire site
  3. Reduce the number of redirects on your site

Cleaning Up Your Website and Improving Site Security

In addition to speed optimization, there are a few other areas you should regularly review and improve.

Update Your Sitemap: Sitemaps provide information about the pages, videos and any files you have stored on your website. It is an essential tool for helping search engines crawl your website and should be updated whenever you modify the content or structure of your website.

Remove Duplicate Content: Having duplicate content on your site presents issues for search algorithms and can impact your search rankings and traffic. The first step is to make sure each page has unique content, including title tags, H1s and meta descriptions. You can also use canonical URLs for any pages with similar URLs. This tells search engines which web page is the “preferred” or original version.

Watch out for Mixed Content: Mixed content is a term used to describe linking secure (https) pages to non-secure (http) pages. This is a concern because users may not be aware that they are redirecting to a non-secure page. You can resolve this issue by making sure all pages on your site are secure. Having a secure site prevents your site from being flagged as “not secure” and receiving a lower search engine ranking from Google. It also reduces bounce rates and gives users a better sense of security.

Make Sure Your Sites Match: Companies with separate mobile and desktop sites need to review all content, including text, videos and images, to make sure both sites match. Title tags and meta descriptions should also be complete and consistent between both sites, and both should include structured data.

Optimizing your site for mobile-first indexing can improve your SERP ranking and help drive more traffic to your page. Remember, this isn’t just about having a user-friendly design, though that certainly doesn’t hurt. Mobile-first indexing is about “behind the scenes” items like technical SEO, keeping sitemaps updated and optimizing page speed.

Are you ready enjoy the benefits of having a website optimized for mobile-first indexing? The team at Ecreativeworks can help you with everything from copywriting and technical SEO to full site redesign. Contact us to learn more.

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