What Google’s mobile-first index means for finance brands

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Are you ready?
By Annabel Hodges, contributor. 21 December, 2017
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More than 50% of searches in all 63 countries covered by Google's Barometer study are on mobile according to Google official figures released in 2017. This number continues to grow, in turn propelling Google’s shift towards a mobile-led search algorithm.

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All industries are affected by Google’s algorithm changes, including the financial industry, and the move to a ‘mobile-first index’ marks a clear recognition of the move away from desktop usage. Although still yet to be launched after an 18 months+ wait, 2018 looks set to be the year. So far, it is believed that the move over to mobile-first will not have as potentially devastating an impact as Mobilegeddon back in 2015. However, it pays to be prepared!

What does a mobile-first index actually mean?

At present, Google crawls and indexes sites from a desktop user’s perspective. While having a mobile-friendly site is certainly a key benefit to your SEO (and you are already penalised if your site is not); your actual rankings are still based on the desktop version, and desktop content, of the site. The change over to a mobile-first index will mean that a site will need to not only be mobile friendly but consider how a search engine will potentially rank their site based ONLY its mobile content.

What can you do to ensure your site is ready when the mobile-first change happens?

1. Check your current site’s mobile friendliness

If you’re not sure whether you’re likely to be impacted or not, the first step is to check the mobile-friendliness of your current site. Google provides a simple Mobile-Friendly Test that provides a top-level overview of any potential mobile-friendly issues. You can also log into your Google Search Console and head over to the Mobile Usability menu (under the Search Traffic Dropdown) to get a more in-depth sitewide review. If you have not already registered your site with Search Console, do so now! It’s free and provides excellent key insights into a host of site performance metrics.

2. Be your own user

Although the Mobile-Friendly Test should give you a good indication of whether there are any potential issues ahead, it’s always a good idea to actually put yourself in your users’ shoes. Take some time to really use your site on a mobile – try to sign up to your email list, fill in a form, use your internal search – all the things we too often don’t review often enough as webmasters. Even better, get multiple people to do the same tasks or use a site like UserTesting.com to give your site a proper once over.

3. Go responsive

This is the most single most important change a site can make in readiness for the mobile-first index. Although it is possible to minimise potential issues maintaining both a separate ‘m’ site and a desktop site, it would be ideal to futureproof your site by moving over to a responsive design if you haven’t already done so. This ensures that urls and HTML remain the same across desktop and content so minimising both the need to edit two sets of content and any risk of losing relevance on mobile.
BONUS TIP: If you do have separate desktop and mobile sites, make sure you verify your mobile site in Search Console as well.

Futureproof your site by moving over to a responsive design if you haven’t already done so – This is the most single most important change a site can make.

4. Get comfortable with structured markup

Structured markup is a great way to help Google better understand the content on your site, and therefore improve its indexation. If you have a responsive site then the markup will sit across both desktop and mobile; if you have separate sites you will need to ensure that you add relevant markup to your mobile site as well. Avoid adding too much irrelevant or unnecessary information; be careful to not add markup if items do not exist (e.g reviews, ratings) on that actual page. This can lead to penalties. Use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to review markup on the page, and compare your desktop and mobile versions.

5. Load your pages faster, faster and faster still

Page speed is absolutely crucial when viewing sites on a mobile device. There are numerous tools that can give you more insight into how you can speed up your mobile site loading, including Google’s own Site Speed Tool or Pingdom. Areas of focus include browser caching and image optimisation; now is a great time to have an in-depth chat with your developers about site speed. Don’t forget to implement Google AMP to further boost rapid page loading for key content, and boost potential ranking.

6. Understand your mobile audience and write your content for them

Beyond user and crawler UX, mobile friendliness also comes down to writing for a mobile audience. Users on a mobile are generally in a different mindset to users on desktop. Consider how your content appeals to that mindset. Is it locally relevant? Do you provide context? Is it easy to access and read? Are headlines catchy and give clear insight into what the article is about? Ensure the crux of your article is made clear early on, mobile users will on average bounce faster on a mobile site than on desktop, and spend less time on site.

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Originally hailing from the UK, Sydneysider Annabel is a digital marketer with over a decade's experience working with global agencies and brands. A data and spreadsheet aficionado, she recently swapped SEO for motherhood and we eagerly await the analytics report! She is also maternally bilingual in French and English and speaks fluent Spanish.