The use of mobiles has grown exponentially in the last few years, and now Google has taken note, with its move towards mobile-first indexing. Business owners should take note of the implications for their business websites. 

Hopefully most website owners (or their SEO agency) monitor the performance of their website. However, most analysis only focuses on the performance of the website on desktop computers and this can be a big mistake. There are significant differences between the performance of most websites on desktop and mobile devices.

Most websites now get the majority of visitors from mobile devices. As such, your website needs to be optimised for mobile to create a great user experience. Performance, particularly website speed, is critical – 53% of mobile site visitors will leave pages that take longer than only three seconds to load. Usability and readability of the site on mobile are also critical factors.

Google picked up on this trend years ago, announcing in 2016 that it would be moving to mobile-first indexing – using the content and performance of a website’s mobile version to index and rank the site.

It is important to understand that Google has stated that there is only one ranking index, so the performance of a website on mobile will influence its ranking on both mobile and desktop search results.

However, it will take time for Google to index all sites according to each website’s mobile version. As such, until this process is complete, some sites will have been indexed according to their desktop version and some sites according to their mobile version. You can check if your site has been enabled for mobile-first indexing by checking the messages in Google Search Console for your site. The move to mobile first is accelerating, with Google announcing that from July 1 2019, mobile-first indexing will now be the default for all new web domains.

Whether or not it is due to the shift towards mobile-first indexing and its current transitional state, it appears desktop and mobile versions of the same website are being ranked very differently for the same search term.

Data from an analysis carried out by SEMRush on 50,000 search terms using its US database revealed the following:

  • Only 13% of websites retain the exact same search term ranking on both desktop and mobile
  • Over 50% of results had a difference in ranking of +/- 3 places and nearly 30% of results had a difference in ranking of +/- 10 places between device types
  • 30% of pages that are present on the first page (top 10 results) of desktop results are moved beyond the top 10 results in mobile search.

Clearly, the performance of your website in desktop search results and mobile search results can be very different. When the shift to mobile-first indexing for existing websites is complete, in theory the differences in ranking between search results on desktop and mobile should be minimal.

The first key learning here is that until the mobile-first transition is complete (and probably for the foreseeable future), it is vital to assess the performance of your website on both mobile and desktop devices. The second key learning is that if you are not already working on optimising your site for mobile devices, you need to get a wriggle on.

Phil Ridley, Director, Bug Doctor Media

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