Google now uses mobile-first indexing, which means that they index and rank websites based on the mobile version. Desktop-specific content is still indexed, but secondarily. This means businesses should make sure that content on their mobile site, or the mobile view of the responsive design version of their site (sometimes called mobile rendering), includes the same SEO elements that drive rankings from the desktop site.
Here are the main things that Google focuses on when matching between the mobile version and the desktop version of the site:
- Metadata generally includes the HTML title tag and meta description, but can also include alt text associated with images, and a few other things that are visible only in the code. These elements should include important keywords for the page—the ones you would like to rank for—but they also should be informative and useful, because they are often displayed directly in the search result with your ranking. To make sure that Google doesn’t miss out on critical SEO information when they crawl the mobile view of a site, the mobile and desktop metadata should be the same. This is easy in responsive design, but it can be a bit more complicated if they are separate pages.
Matching internal links
- Google uses internal links to understand the structure of your website. If different links are included in the mobile version or mobile rendering of the website, then Google will understand it differently. This can be a problem for both responsive design sites and separate mobile sites. On responsive design sites, less critical information is often collapsed or hidden to make the narrower, smaller pages easier to navigate. When separate mobile and desktop sites are at play, sites often include entirely different navigation and links.
A good way to learn about your internal link structure is a tool like Sitebulb, which helps you visualize what pages are linking to each other pages. Other software like Screaming Frog and DeepCrawl can also provide the same information, though in a somewhat less visual way. Using any of these tools, it is important to crawl the site twice; once emulating Google’s desktop crawler, and another time using Google’s mobile crawler. (The best way to do it is using the text only or AJAX crawling scheme, if it is available, because this will be the most strict interpretation or guess, regarding what links Google will be able to see and what links they will not.)
- Google also checks for matching tags, or schema, on mobile versions of a site. This helps the search engines understand and classify the contents of a page by making on-page data more machine-readable, which is great for search engine crawlers. Google looks for the types of schema that they officially recognize, or plan to support, to match on the mobile and desktop site.
- Google wants businesses to ensure hreflang tagging is crawlable on both mobile and desktop sites. This attribute is included in the HTML tag, and it helps Google by linking to translated versions of the page so Google can try to serve those versions of the page when they are appropriate. Recent changes in Google are very focused on translatability, with the goal of understanding and serving the right translation of a page for the user.
Google’s recommendations for mobile websites have evolved over the years and they will continue to change. Mobile-friendliness and mobile-first indexing both changed SEO in a big way across devices, and for now, they are the keys to success. Moving forward, it’s important for businesses to pay attention to all of Google’s announcements and to test and track mobile search results as you implement and update your strategy.