“Mobile First” is a term first coined in 2009 by Yahoo Chief Design Architect Luke Wroblewski to describe a philosophy of designing your web experience for the smallest and most constrained device first, then expanding out to larger and more capable platforms. This approach forces you to focus on the most compelling parts of your brand story because there simply isn’t room for extraneous and unnecessary elements. It’s the digital equivalent of the elevator pitch.
Over the years the term “Mobile First” has taken on another meaning as well: A reminder that mobile web consumption is no longer a small fraction of your audience, but in most cases it’s the primary way that visitors are experiencing your website. Mobile website traffic eclipsed 50% globally at the beginning of 2017, and depending on your specific audience, that percentage can be much higher. For example, visitors coming from social networks are overwhelmingly mobile, with sites such as Facebook and Twitter reporting that more than 90% of their users engage from mobile devices.
It’s no surprise then that Google is taking Mobile First to heart and changing the way they view the web.
Search Indexing is About to Change—In a Big Way
Since the beginning, the tool Google uses to crawl the internet in search of website data has acted like a desktop web browser. It requests the same information you would see if you were surfing on a Mac or PC, and uses the data returned to build a registry of web pages and index of the keywords, images, and videos each page contains.
This all changes in September. Earlier this year, Google announced that their web-crawling engine will switch over to mobile-first indexing. Instead of requesting the desktop version of each web page, the tool will instead request the mobile version. The contents of the Google database will then be populated with that mobile data, and as a result, every Google search performed from that point forward will be based on the contents found on the mobile version of each web page.
This initiative is something Google has been working on since 2016, and it has big ramifications for every brand. In essence, Google is saying that the mobile web is the web, so your mobile experience needs to be first-class.
How to Prepare for the Change
To ensure you’re ready for this change, follow these three tips:
1. Make your mobile experience the best version of your brand story.
The rise of responsive design has helped this effort in recent years, but if your mobile site is still a watered-down version of the full desktop experience, that needs to change.
Focus on mobile wireframes and design comps during your next creative review before spending time on the desktop layout.
Make sure all of your key assets such as charts, graphs, and infographics are formatted for a portrait phone screen. Very few people surf the web in landscape orientation on a smartphone.
Keep your content simple and to the point. Scroll depth is generally lower on mobile devices, so concise pages often perform better.
Make your call to action vibrant and easy to tap. Small links that are close together are difficult to accurately touch with a finger.
Streamline your navigation to make your content easily discoverable.
2. Ensure that your site loads quickly.
Mobile visitors may not have as fast or reliable connection as someone at a desk in an office, so make sure your site has been optimized for fast delivery. Research shows that abandonment rates rise with each second it takes for the page to load, so shoot for a total page load time of under four seconds.
Faster web pages definitely make for a more pleasant browsing experience, but they also produce better results. A recent study by Moz.com shows that shaving time off page load has a dramatic increase in conversion rate. Google also factors page load speed into their ranking algorithms, so having a faster website may also result in a higher page rank in search results.
3. Add structured data to your website markup.
This will help search engines better understand your content and rank your site appropriately. Google’s own case studies show that these invisible hints in the source code of your site can have a dramatic increase in your organic search traffic and deliver more qualified visitors who will stay longer and convert at a higher rate.
For example, a web paged focused on narcolepsy might include this information to provide Google with guidance on the medical condition addressed in the content:
“alternateName”: “Narcolepsy Type 1 (hypocretin deficiency syndrome, narcolepsy-cataplexy, narcolepsy with cataplexy)”,
“name”: “Your Company”,
Following these tips will not only produce web pages that are optimized for the Google web crawler, they’ll also provide an easier and more enjoyable site for your audience to consume. Truly a win-win.