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A simple checklist to prep for the Google mobile-first index

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Hopefully, all of you learned from “Mobilegeddon” in 2015 and “Mobilegeddon 2” in 2016 that the updates Google makes to improve the smartphone user experience for the majority of Google searchers are not the end of the world. Not even close, in fact.
Still, I have seen a lot of articles focused on this topic in relation to Google’s new mobile-first index, which will be launching finally this year — almost two years after Google’s Gary Illyes referenced it at SMX West.
Here’s what you need to remember in order to fully take advantage of the opportunity that is the mobile index in 2017:
1. Don’t panic
You may be wondering if you need to change your canonical tags, or if rankings will change, since mobile pages typically have fewer links and content is more sparse, or if expandable mobile content will count toward ranking in a new mobile index. All of these are fair questions, and you can find the answers here on Search Engine Land or at any of these fine sites.
The important thing to remember is not to panic. Google’s Paul Haahr and Gary Illyes have both gone on record as saying they expect minimal changes in search results as a result of the mobile-first index, so it’s highly unlikely that this event will be anything close to a Mobilegeddon 3.
If you have a separate mobile site or use adaptive or responsive design and you follow Google’s guidelines, you’ll be fine. And if you follow the second (and last) point on this checklist, you have the potential to be even better than before.
2. Understand the mobile context and build awesome content that speaks to it
Long-time readers know that I’ve been writing for years about creating content that addresses the mobile context. Over the years, I’ve shown readers how companies are using the unique capabilities of mobile to provide a better user experience for searchers on mobile devices.
I discussed State Farm and eSurance recognizing that mobile searchers are more likely than desktop searchers to want information on accident help and roadsides assistance — and choosing to highlight this information on their mobile sites as a result. I mentioned Walgreens and Arby’s foregrounding the ability to find a location on their mobile home page and not on their desktop site. Most recently, I profiled Turbotax, Hotwire and Walgreens, who are all doing a phenomenal job with their content in the present, foregrounding content that matters most to mobile users.
If you got a head start back in 2010 when I told you about this, that’s great; unfortunately, prior to the mobile-first index, Google was ranking websites based on desktop content and not on the mobile content, and so none of this affected mobile SEO.
[Cue Sad Trombone]
Fortunately, that’s changing.
A few months ago, in preparation for the mobile-first index, we looked at our mobile content at Vivid Seats. We use dynamic serving to provide content based on user agent and can serve different content if we think the searcher has different needs on one platform from what they have on the other.
Consider geolocation and how it is changing search behavior. In 2015, Google noted that “near me” searches had increased 34x since 2011 and had nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015.
We noticed that people who go to concerts are looking for “concerts near me” about 3x more on smartphones than they are on desktops, so we made that phrase more prominent on the concert tickets page for mobile than desktop:
We communicated specifically to mobile users in the text, letting them know that the results displayed are geolocated to ensure they are only concerts near their location.
Because Google is only looking at desktop content currently, they don’t see this text, which is intended for mobile searchers. But when the mobile-first index arrives, this is mostly what they will see, and they will be able to understand the relevance of the page when searchers are looking for it.
What content on your site can you make more relevant or attractive to mobile searchers?
Don’t think just about queries, but also about content that people will share and link to. Progressive Web Apps for example, can do a lot of things on the web that were previously only available in apps. Not every brand needs a branded mobile air horn or guitar tuner, but it is an opportunity for brands to put the kind of content many of them are currently putting in native apps and placing it on the web as well. With the mobile index, this could affect SEO and site traffic in the long term.
Final thoughts
The mobile-first index that Google is rolling out should be more of an opportunity for marketers than a threat. Use progressive web apps to invite links to your mobile content and overindexing mobile queries to make content more relevant to truly take advantage of this upcoming mobile sea change.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Bryson Meunier is the SEO Director at Vivid Seats, is an SEO veteran with more than 14 years experience both agency and in-house, and is a thought leader in permission marketing as a columnist and a frequent speaker on SEO and mobile marketing.

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