Since last year, Google has forewarned users of incoming changes to its ranking algorithm. With mobile search traffic accounting for nearly 60 percent of all traffic in the last 12 months, growing drastically and expected to do so on a year on year basis, the search engine giant has announced that the switch to a mobile-first index algorithm will take place in 2018. Google has yet to reveal when the transition to the mobile-first index would be set into motion but they did assure practitioners of online marketing and SEO that this year is the best time to complete the transition.

This is not to say desktop search results will soon be obsolete or unnecessary; more than 40 percent of traffic is still a big deal. This change, however, brings into question users’ search priorities. Should users focus on mobile experience for maximum results after the transition is completed? Desktop online search patterns and corresponding user experience were once the basis for indexing and ranking a site. Back then Google did not pay attention to users’ mobile experience of the same site and so did online marketers who launched websites and landing pages following such a system.

After mobile search behavior overwhelmed search engines in the last few months, Google decided to change with the changing times. Websites with responsive design are now taking center stage. Once the switch to mobile-first index is fully implemented, websites optimized for mobile and tablet will see a positive impact on their rankings. If you are worried about mobile-first index affecting your online marketing negatively, the good news is you still have enough time to prepare your site for the switch. Adhere to the new system as soon as you can with these steps in mind:

  1. Adopt a Responsive Web Design

In a nutshell, a responsive web design allows readers to read a web page or website on any device – be it desktop, mobile or tablet. While format and appearance differ from one device to another, responsive web designs retain content and all other elements of the page or website. Some websites may have taken into account the growing number of smartphone users but have utterly failed to update their site infrastructure into a more responsive one.

What separates a non-responsive design from a responsive one is basically content and markup retention. If you have a mobile version of your site but that version does not have the same content as your desktop version, the new mobile-first algorithm will ultimately treat the desktop and mobile versions as different websites. Expect rankings to fluctuate. This will be bad for online marketing unless digital marketers step up to the plate and pay attention to mobile responsiveness early in their campaign.

Remember that a responsive design has the following qualities:

  • Same content, header tags, alt tags, markup and on-page elements on all devices
  • One website URL instead of two separate websites with different URLs
  • Clean and updated HTML and CSS codes so that pages scale well and are compatible with any browser or device
  • Faster loading time and low bounce rate through compressed images, scaled iframes and strategic use of inline codes (it pays to know when and when not to use an inline style)
  1. Be in the Loop and Follow Google’s Activities

What if you already have a responsive site? Is there a need to do more? Well if your site complies with all the requirements of a responsive web design, no need to make drastic changes until you hear from Google. Just to be on the safe side lest you miss some new update, keep yourself in the loop by wading through Google’s Webmaster Post. There you will find all the guidelines you need to prepare for the mobile-first transition.

Truth is you can never have too much information on Google. Hear it straight from the source rather than through the SEO grapevine prone to excessive opinions or filtered information. Google’s Webmaster Post lets you in on their latest direction such as preferred HTML and CSS structure and necessary markups to increase a site’s mobile responsiveness. At times, different devices require different markups. When you are in the loop, you can adjust your online marketing priorities based on Google’s warnings (and they always warn users, mind you) long before any algorithm change affects your SEO ranking.

  1. Retain Your Content if Website is Not Mobile Responsive

So you think you will not be able to install a more responsive website in time for the mobile-first index? Content occupies a big chunk of your online marketing. The moment you take it out of the picture, your marketing will suffer a blow. There is one way you can address this issue while still in the process of upgrading your design.

If your website is laden with outdated codes, has separate URLs for mobile and desktop, and is fundamentally not responsive according to Google standards, the least you can do is make sure your mobile site has the same content as your desktop site. By retaining the same content on all devices, you avoid negative ranking fluctuations when the switch to mobile-first index happens.

Note that maintaining the same content on sites with different URLs, even if one site is tweaked to appear only on mobile, is only a temporary solution. Eventually, you will have to adhere to all guidelines put out by Google for your digital marketing to take off during the new indexing era. The best plan of action is still to update your website and use a single URL.

Establish a Mobile Friendly Online Marketing Campaign

Besides web content and design, pay attention to external websites you intend to use for SEO or client generation purposes. Do not wait for Google to tell you the exact date and time the algorithm will take effect. As early as today, in any SEO or digital marketing campaign you undertake, make sure you publish content on mobile-friendly platforms. Mobile traffic share is more than half of all Internet traffic. The sooner you get rid of non-responsive sites or platforms, the quicker you will be able to reach out to your target market whether or not transition to mobile-first index occurs this year.

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