What a mobile-first search index will mean to Australian retailers (Free Checklist)

by Rick Elenbaas
19 December 2016
What a mobile-first search index will mean to Australian retailers
What will a mobile-first index mean for your eCommerce website and what can you do now to prepare for a change in the coming months?

Finding out about Google’s algorithms is a bit like playing Cluedo. 

Was it Professor Plum in the Library with the candlestick? Or how about Reverend Green in the Billiard Room with a wrench? 

The further you go through the game, the more clues you get.

Google adopts the same drip approach when releasing information about its algorithm updates. The most recent teaser trail has been around the move towards a mobile first index.

The idea of a mobile-first index was first touted by Google Webmaster Trend Analyst Gary Illyes at SMX East in September 2015. A year later, in October 2016, Illyes revealed that the index was mere months away from being launched when speaking as a keynote at Pubcon, the social media and optimisation conference.

So what does this mean for eCommerce websites?

What do we know about the mobile-first index?

The existing Google algorithm is a single index of websites and apps that primarily looks to the desktop version when evaluating whether a page’s content is relevant to the user. However, how people search online has been rapidly changing in recent years. Therefore, it is unsurprising that Google intends to alter its search index to follow suit. 

Google announcement of a move to a mobile-first index – that ranks website pages primarily based on the mobile experience – is in line with local and international trends of mobile-use. 

Australia, like the rest of the world, has adopted the smartphone as its platform of choice. Ownership of smartphones increased from 11.1m in 2013 to 15.3m in mid-2015, revealed IAB Australia

The mobile-first index was a hot topic at Magento Live in Sydney in November 2016. The conference brought together online retailers and eCommerce developers from across Australia to discuss the latest trends in the space – mobile being a central talking point.

Delegate questions repeatedly returned to the subject of the mobile-first index and what it would be mean for their business.

Shortly after the conference, Google revealed that it has begun experimenting with a mobile-first index on a small-scale and will “ramp up this change when we’re confident that we have a great user experience”.

What can you do now to prepare for the change?

There are a number of things that Google has outlined that you can do now to prepare your website for the change. Below we will explain what these are and, in layman’s terms, how you can implement them in your eCommerce business.

Take a responsive approach to your website

Google has revealed that those of you with a responsive or a dynamic serving website are all set for the introduction of a mobile-first index. 

“If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything,” wrote Doantam Phan, Google Product Manager in a recent blog.

This is great news for companies that already have a responsive website. 

However, it is food for thought for retailers that currently have a desktop and/or mobile website. In this instance, Google’s recommendations were to: 

Google's advice:

  • Make sure to serve structured data for both your desktop and mobile site.

  • Make sure your mobile version is accessible to Googlebots by testing it on the robots.txt testing tool.

  • Verify your mobile version in the Search console.

If you are looking to move to a new eCommerce platform, ask your developers if the new eCommerce platform is responsive when considering whether to move. Magento, for example, is the most popular eCommerce platform in the world, with more than 250,000 merchants around the globe. All Netstarter’s eCommerce websites are built on this responsive eCommerce platform. 

Download our free mobile-first index checklist

Optimise your mobile website’s SEO

Even before the index switch, it is worth optimising your SEO with the mobile experience in mind. 

Consider that 74% of Australians rely on their phones at least as much as they rely on their desktops, when searching for information, ideas or advice, according to a joint study conducted by Google and Galaxy in June 2015

Advise your SEO specialist to focus on optimising your mobile website (or the mobile version of your desktop) first and base changes to the desktop version on the mobile version. Important factors to consider when it comes to mobile optimisation are site design, site structure and page speed.

For mobile site design, HTML5 is the standard as it does not rely on plugins. In comparison Flash does rely on plugins, meaning that it might not be available on a user’s device. Google is also cracking down on intrusive pop-ups as they are often hard to close. Buttons and links on your website should be easy to click and not sit too close to each other. 

When it comes to pagespeed, websites with servers and back-end infrastructure that quickly deliver web content seem to have a higher search ranking than those that are slower. Other things to consider are page size and lower image content, both in terms of byte sizes.

Consider changing your pages to AMP

According to Kissmetrics, approximately 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. As little as a one second delay can result in a 7% reduction in conversions, Kissmetrics reports. 

Google has developed an initiative called the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project to address the issue of load time on mobile pages. The open source initiative is designed to improve the load speed of the mobile web by loading webpages with rich content like video and images instantaneously.

The initiative was announced by Google in October 2015 when Vice President Search, David Besbris revealed that the company was trialling AMP with 30 publishers, including Twitter, WordPress.com and LinkedIn, amongst others. 

There was keen interest in AMP from retailers at Magento Live in Sydney. The possibility of increasing the load time of content-rich pages was appealing, but some were nervous about the possibility of side-effects, such as loss of formatting and the fact that there are no direct ranking benefits. 

Speakers encouraged delegates to start experimenting with AMP today to find out how the program affects the formatting and performance of your web pages. Although AMP is currently only available in the news carousel internationally, it is only a matter of time before it rolls out to the main search results.

Final thoughts 

Finally, it is a good point to remember that any roll-out of a new algorithm would take months to take full effect. Often these changes are first applied to Google.com (US) first and Google.com.au follows. However, that does not mean that you can’t prepare for the change now. 

As we’ve explained, there are plenty of things you can do now to prepare for a mobile first index. Regardless of the algorithm change, these actions will only benefit your eCommerce business in the long term. 

To learn more about Salmat's digital marketing services, get a quote or call us on 1300 725 628.

About the author
Rick Elenbaas
SEO Operations Manager

Rick Elenbaas is the SEO Operations Manager for Salmat with more than four years of digital agency experience, working for strong brands in competitive markets across Australia. Specialising in technical SEO operations, Rick is passionate about continuously improving and automating processes to accelerate the optimisation and organic growth of his client's websites. He has also strong web analytic abilities and advanced knowledge of web based technologies, including Wordpress.

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