How Google’s New Mobile Search Index Affects Small Businesses

by Emily Retherford

4 min read

For business owners that have a website, it’s important to know that it might be affected by Google’s new search index. Starting in November 2016, Google announced that it will change how it evaluates web pages for searches. Of the 3.2 billion people in the world accessing the internet, over 2.5 billion of them access web pages using a smartphone or tablet. To cater to this growing trend, Google has decided to prioritize the mobile index ranking over the desktop version. Websites that have only done SEO work to their desktop site will be affected by being ranked lower in the searches, unless they make changes to their mobile website.

Which Websites are Affected?

Google states that if the website is a responsive or dynamic-serving where the primary content and markup is the same across both mobile and desktop, nothing needs to be changed. If the website is site configuration, where the primary content and markup is different between mobile and desktop, changes should be made. Any small business will be affected if it has a mobile site, especially one that is very basic or minimal in design. With more mobile users than desktop users, Google will create a lower ranking for sites designed this way. If the mobile site has less content and is less sophisticated then the desktop, Google suggests that alternations be made to ensure the website will remain effective. The first thing any website owner should do is to go to Google’s Mobile-Friendly test. This will be a good indicator on whether or not the website needs to be updated.

For small business owners that do not have a mobile site but only a desktop version, you don’t need to worry as much. The desktop version will be indexed just like before, even if a mobile user agent is used to view the site.

How to Prepare

For small business owners that are unsure of their mobile website capacity, they can test it by verifying their site ownership. This tool will help them figure out how efficient the mobile version of their site is and if changes need to be made.

Website owners should also use the robots testing tool to verify the mobile version is accessible to Googlebot. This tester tool shows whether the website’s robots.txt file blocks Google web crawlers from a specific URL on the site. Googlebot is Google’s web crawling bot or spider. Crawling is the process by which Googlebot discovers new and updated pages to be added to the Google index.

Sites do not need to make changes to their canonical links because Google will use these links as guides to serve as the appropriate results to a user searching on desktop or mobile.

Create a Separate Mobile Version

Instead of having one website that is trying to fit both desktop and mobile capacities, it might be more effective to just have two separate websites. Having a separate mobile site will be significantly easier to optimize for Google’s new indexing method. First, create a sub-domain that is different from the desktop site, like http://m.businessname.com. The best option is to use a web service to help create a mobile version of your business’s desktop site. The most popular online services are DudaMobile, JOOSEEm, YoMobi, and ActiveMobi. These services are relatively low in cost and very easy to use for even very novice web designers. DudaMobile, for example, has a free version that includes features like analytics and tracking, hosting for Amazon Cloud, and a domain name. In exchange for a low monthly fee, Duda will place ads on the mobile version.

Add More Content

One of the reasons why Google is encouraging website owners to change their mobile sites is because many are currently stripped down simple version of their desktop counterparts. Many mobile sites also hide content, navigation, and internal links that are available on the desktop version. Mobile versions should be just as in-depth in terms of content and quality as the desktop version, to help ensure that Google does not reduce its search rankings. There are many other ways to also optimize a website for both Google rankings and user experience.

Improve Page Speed

Google’s ranking system factors in the speed it takes for a page to load. Anything longer than three seconds gets a much lower ranking. This is one of the reasons why mobile pages are often so simplistic — it helps improve the loading speed and therefore improves ranking. However, a better way to improve the speed is using the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project. This new initiative is designed to drastically improve the performance of the mobile web. The project relies on an open framework that is built entirely out of existing web technologies. Adopting this is fairly easy and there are several plugins available for most content website providers like WordPress.

Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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