Google says goodbye to desktop websites

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Not too long ago, Google announced a major revision in the way it was going to rank pages in its search results. Since the majority of searches were being made from mobile devices, Google decided it was time to begin rolling out a mobile-first strategy. What that meant for internet users was that mobile-friendly websites would rank higher than desktop-only sites in search results.

Now, they’ve announced that the next stage is underway—the move towards a single indexing system based on mobile-friendliness. What this means in a nutshell is that Google will be using the mobile version of your site to assess the relevance of your content and determine your search engine rankings. Hence, mobile-friendliness is no longer just a consideration that Google takes into account when making its rankings, but rather the basis of the entire indexing system.

Why is Google making this change?
The current problem that Google is facing is that many companies’ mobile sites display less or different content than their desktop sites. This means that if Google determines its search rankings based on the desktop version of your site, given that the majority of web traffic is now coming from mobile devices, Google’s recommendations of the most useful and relevant sites may be inaccurate when mobile users click on the mobile version. Switching to a mobile-centric index means that Google can make better decisions regarding the most relevant content for the majority of internet users who have adopted mobile as a browsing platform.

What is an index?
For those of you not familiar with what an index is, just think of it as Google’s proprietary system for cataloguing and ranking the pages and links discovered by Googlebot as it crawls the internet in search of content. Up until now, that indexing has been very much done from a desktop-centric perspective. While Google experiments with the new mobile-centric index, both indexes will be in use and you will not know which one is responsible for your search engine results page rankings.

Will this change affect my business?
The big question for content developers is how will this affect us? The first thing to keep in mind is that this in an ongoing process that will take a long time to complete. Google needs to do a lot of experimentation and testing to make sure the new mobile-centric index delivers quality content in the top ranking positions otherwise they risk alienating their users and driving them to competing search engines. Remember, mobile websites tend to be much thinner on content and links so Google have to be careful not to degrade the quality of their search results. A change as significant as this could take a couple of years to become fully operational.

If your page content and structured data markup is currently the same for both desktop and mobile versions of your site, you are already ahead of the curve and will not need to take any immediate action. This will not affect you.

If you still don’t have a mobile version of your site, this change will also not affect you as Google has promised that it will still crawl the desktop version of your site. However, it is worth noting, that if you are still relying on only a desktop version of your site you could be missing out on up to 60% of traffic which could have devastating consequences for your business, especially if your competitors have mobile friendly sites.

For any other business who derives income from their website, or uses it as a significant means of lead generation, this change will affect you and you will need to take action. Luckily, Google have provided lots of resources to help you.

How can your business be prepared?
So where do you begin? Probably the best thing is to start thinking from a mobile-centric perspective; imagine viewing your content from a mobile device rather than a desktop. That means building your content to target a range of screen sizes, beginning with smartphones and scaling up to desktop monitors. There are two strategies for doing this: one is dynamic serving, in which the server hosting your site detects the screen size and serves the appropriate version of your content. The other, arguably more favourable solution, is responsive design. This is where the server sends the same content to the device but uses CSS to tailor the content to the device screen size.

Hopefully, most of you will have already started the transition by simply thinking “mobile-first”. Now it’s time to start putting it into practice by updating your content so that your products and services remain relevant at the top of search results!

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Luke Chaffey
Luke Chaffey is a senior member of the KBB Digital team, and heads up the search marketing division. With a keen eye on innovation and developing digital trends, Luke regularly attends the Google Partners Masterclass, and is also a prolific writer for websites such as Yahoo, The Australian Government (Digital Business sector), Kochie’s Business Builders, Smarter.Digital, KBB Digital.

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