Just about everything in digital marketing is going mobile-first. Think of marketing email design, think of marketing campaign planning, and of course, think of Google’s new mobile-first approach to indexing web pages for search results.

We’ve heard lots of online chatter about the importance of aligning SEO practices with Google’s mobile-first policy – but we haven’t found much practical advice on how exactly to do so. This article is our response: a simple set of actionable tips that will help you adapt your SEO practices to suit mobile-first indexing.

Google goes mobile-first: a very brief background

Since November 2016, Google has used mobile-first indexing to deliver search results. In the most basic terms, this means that if you have separate websites for mobile and desktop users housed on the same domain (rather than a single responsive site), Google will use the mobile version of your site as its primary source of search ranking signals. Previously, desktop versions came first.

What this means for SEOs

Expandable content is in!

In the days of desktop-first indexing, Google may have viewed expandable content tucked away in devices like envelopes and accordions unfavourably, or even with suspicion. Expandable content wasn’t deemed as essential to good user experience of a desktop site, and as such it bore less weight in terms of providing SEO benefit than comparable content that was fully on display.

But the perception of expandable content used in a mobile view is entirely different. Google webmaster trends analyst Gary Illyes has confirmed that expandable content will be given full weight where it has been implemented for UX purposes – and broadly speaking, that means expandable content in mobile views is in.

We would always advise rolling out changes to your content strategy iteratively and with a degree of caution, but effectively we can take Illyes’ statement as a green light for using expandable content on mobile sites. That’s great news, as it means we can include plenty of high quality content without sacrificing the clean and clear web design that’s so important to mobile users. We think this is a really important opportunity, because…

There’s now a greater need to have plenty of content on your mobile site

If you have historically treated your mobile site as the smaller sibling of your desktop site, we would strongly advise you to change your policy.

As we know, mobile website versions now come before desktop versions as the main source of ranking signals – and that includes content, which still remains the most crucial of search ranking factors. This means that you should be aiming to include lots of content – particularly headers and copy – on your mobile pages.

You can simplify the task by going responsive

If you don’t have a responsive website already, now would be a great time to make the switch. A plethora of benefits come with using responsive design – but we’ll focus on those which relate specifically to handling Google’s mobile-first indexing:

  • You can use CSS media queries to present content differently according to the device used to view the site – so you could have your long-form content on full view to desktop users; and tucked away in an envelope for mobile users, as we discussed in an earlier part of the article.
  • It simplifies your site’s relationship with search engines – if you have a single, responsive site, Google will assess your website as a whole, allowing you to move forward with a unified content and SEO strategy. In our eyes that’s far simpler than managing two versions with a mobile-first bias.

Implementing bespoke responsive web design isn’t typically in a search marketer’s job description, so your job here will likely be to convince key stakeholders within your organisation/your clients to invest in a responsive overhaul. If you’re working with a client who is happy to use an off-the-shelf responsive WordPress theme (or similar), you may feel confident in setting it up for them yourself.

Think deeply about mobile user experience

The key to translating a content strategy that worked well in the days of desktop-first into one that can thrive in the mobile-first era is measuring, identifying and learning from the differences in the ways your users interact with content on mobile and desktop.

You know that factors like dwell time and bounce rate can effect a webpage’s search rankings – but do you know your content’s relative performance on these metrics in mobile and desktop views?

By identifying the content and content features (i.e. paragraph length, inclusion of rich media, subject matter) – which yield the best engagement figures on mobile, relative to desktop performance, you can optimise your content strategy for mobile-first.

Do take care to note the effect of your strategy changes on your desktop engagement data – you’re aiming for net gains in your metrics across all device types.

Take it further

The SEOs/digital marketers who will gain the most from the switch to mobile-first indexing will be those who get maximum value out of the their most mobile-friendly content. Try picking out a landing page that strongly engages mobile users, point some high-quality inbound links at it and give it an extra boost with some sponsored posts on social media, targeted at mobile users. By supporting your most naturally talented content with strong supplementary marketing, you’ll increase your chances of gaining outstanding search rankings.