Mobile-First Indexation: Going Deeper
In April, we covered the official rollout of mobile-first indexing from a technical preparation angle, and in fact, beginning on April 30th, webmasters started to receive official notifications of the change via Google Search Console. As Search Engine Land covered here, the notifications specify the domain name of the site mobile-indexing was enabled for, and gives some additional background information for recommended monitoring.
No Mobile-First Notification Yet?
If you’re in the camp that has not yet received an official notification, an early way to tell if mobile-first indexation has started on your site is to look at your server log files. (Log files are different from Google Analytics reporting because, if all else, they will show Googlebot activity across your pages.) If you see a significantly-increased crawl rate from the UserAgent associated with the Smartphone Googlebot (see below), it’s likely a good indication that mobile-first index is being applied to your site.
Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 6.0.1; Nexus 5X Build/MMB29P) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2272.96 Mobile Safari/537.36 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)
Mobile-First Means Serving Content That Gives Mobile Users What They Need
Like a lot of SEO, technical elements are only the table stakes in having a successful site. The ultimate goal is to focus on users, and to ensure your mobile site is providing the best experience possible on a smartphone while people are “out in the world”. Your site must be fast and display correctly, yes, but your job as a site owner is ultimately to connect mobile users with whatever it is they seek in their most important mobile moments. (Yes, we, like countless other marketers, often reference Google’s celebrated “Micro-moments”!)
If user gratification is the emphasis, intuitively, the next step is to talk about mobile content strategy.
Mobile Content Strategy
Content strategy is a fairly large and wide-ranging undertaking, and therefore, should be approached with short and long-term priorities in mind, particularly as they relate to the mobile experience. So, what does it mean today? Here’s a first easy step:
Make sure that your mobile navigation doesn’t accidentally remove any internal pathways to important content. I.e., check that the mobile version of your site (if applicable) isn’t excluding items, and that the site nav does not lead to any broken URLs.
Next – and this is less traditional, content strategy, and more just good UX – how do you find a compromise between copy being good for SEO, and lots of copy being detrimental to the user’s experience on mobile? For instance, if you’ve got 500 words of content on any one desktop page, will that translate to a good mobile UX? Very likely, no. But we also don’t want to remove copy from our mobile experience just for the sake of shrinking down to the screen size. What we do want to do, is respect the limited mobile real estate.
Delivering Content on a Small Screen
On a few occasions in the past, Google seemed to indicate that it would crawl content hidden within navigational elements, like tabs or expanding sections, but that it considered, “this content less accessible to users,” and therefore less valuable and potentially even discounted by crawl bots.
But more recently, Google has let it be known a few times that it’s okay to use text display mechanisms that require user interaction in a mobile-first world, like tab usage or expanding “more” links. We’ve worked with clients to determine the right amount of content to display in these “snippets”, splitting content above and below the fold to see how users interact. We recommend testing with 25 words, or roughly 150 characters to start. In many instances, 255 characters has come up as the “magic number”, with the rest hidden. Though testing these types of content navigation and user interactions isn’t exactly considered “content” strategy by the traditional sense, the technical execution aspect will ultimately complement the thinking and buildout of mobile content that enables the most valuable user experience.
Changing the Experience for Mobile
Now, let’s think further down the line…If the most critical goal of crafting your information architecture and content strategy in the mobile world is to best serve mobile user needs, then the final frontier for mobile-first indexation is really to not just modify, but change the experience. Marketers will need to consider the content served and even the internal navigation, based on what mobile users want to do, and how they behave differently on smartphones versus desktops. For instance, we know that mobile users are far more inclined to have local intent – and so prioritizing the ability to find locations or reach customer service info is far more important in the mobile world. Understanding the nuances of mobile behavior continues to be more crucial than ever in driving the strategy around mobile brand experiences, particularly in the world of search, as we shift to the mobile-first index.