It’s Not Too Late! You Can Still Optimize for Mobile-First Indexing

It’s Not Too Late! You Can Still Optimize for Mobile-First Indexing

Right now, 63% of all web traffic is coming from mobile devices. If you don’t believe that number, take a train or streetcar in Toronto. Take a look around. Is anyone not on their phone? And be honest, can you even fathom standing in a long line without your phone these days?

Nobody knows this better than Google, which is why they have been systematically rolling out mobile-first indexing for the last few years. They announced the entire web will be indexed mobile-first as of March 2021. So if you haven’t called a Toronto SEO Consultant to optimize your mobile site, you have a bit of catching up to do.

If you haven’t optimized your mobile site yet, you’re not alone. Even Google estimated that, as of March 2020, 30% of the sites they tested still weren’t ready for mobile-first indexing.

Of course, when you run an SEO services company, you encounter business owners from every sector, and mobile traffic means something different to each one of their respective bottom lines. For example, if you’re selling a food or beverage, 72% of your searches are going to come from mobile. If you sell your goods online, you probably know that about 66% of online shopping time is spent on mobile devices.

However, there are some who still think that mobile searches don’t move the needle for their business. Maybe their data shows that most of their traffic comes from older customers that aren’t tech-savvy. Or maybe they’re in the financial sector and their data shows that most customers prefer to do their online banking at home on a desktop.

There is some logic to that. But that type of thinking is instantly trumped by one indisputable fact: Even if your customers don’t care about your mobile site, Google REALLY does. And your site needs to impress Google before it can be seen by anyone else.

With that in mind, here is how to make sure your mobile site is properly optimized.

Image of a whiteboard with drawings and sticky notes of mobile layouts and a hand placing more notes.

Step 1: Ensure Your Meta Data and Descriptions Match

A few years ago, mobile sites were just watered-down versions of the desktop site. Now, that’s no longer the case. Mobile-first indexing means that your mobile site needs to be optimized just as well (or better) than your desktop site. And you need to offer the same things on both the front end and the backend.

First of all, you need to make sure that all the meta data on your mobile and desktop sites match. You need to ensure that you use the same descriptive titles and meta descriptions across both versions of your site. This actually gives you a great excuse to audit your existing keyword usage and optimization.

You might even decide to update your keyword plan, which never hurts.

Step 2: Ensure the Content Matches on Both Sites

That last step was easy. It’s done at the backend and it’s imperceptible to human users. But you also need to make sure that the actual on-page content is the same on both sites. This is considerably more challenging, as you have to fit all of that content on a much smaller screen.

Google has warned that mobile sites that have less content than their desktop counterparts can “expect some traffic loss when your site is enabled mobile-first indexing, since Google can’t get as much information from your page as before.”

When it comes to your blog, this is easy to do. People are used to thumb-scrolling down further to read a blog. If the blog is good and engaging, they will soon forget they’re scrolling. But how do you ensure that your product and service pages have enough meaty SEO content for Google to crawl, without ruining the layout?

We’ve had good luck with the following method when building and optimizing mobile sites:

The Page’s Top Third

Reserve this space for your Call-to-Action (CTA) or your offer. If people see one thing on your mobile site, this is what they should see, and they should see it first.

Of course, make sure your button/ link is easily clickable and not situated too close to any other elements. Be sure to use Google’s guidelines for buttons and clickables to make sure you’re compliant and offering a good user experience.

At the same time, use clear action words to describe exactly what the user will get from clicking this button. Don’t simply say “Learn More” or something nebulous like that. Make sure the benefit is in there with the verb with something like “Book My Room” or “Schedule my Appointment.”

The Page’s Middle Third

We recommend using 3 to 5 icons and your top speaking points here. This is also the perfect place for your social proof. Be sure to proudly display award badges such as:

  • ‘As Featured in’ or ‘As Seen on’
  • People Love Us on Yelp
  • Industry awards or certifications
  • Client logos
  • Testimonials

Everything in the middle tells the visitor why clicking the button up top is a great decision for them.

The Bottom Third of Your Webpage:

This is where you will want to add your more text-heavy and extra-rich SEO content. Consider using a dropdown menu and/or a ‘Read More’ button. This allows you to easily add 500 to 750 words of really SEO-rich content and crucial contextual interlinking.

We also recommend leveraging a section for Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on your homepage in a dropdown. This is a great way to make sure you have enough content, while also optimizing for some great long-tail keywords.

Remember: Any content that appears on your desktop site, but doesn’t appear on your mobile site, will no longer be crawled by Google. Google’s John Mueller recently confirmed that this will be the norm effective March 2021, saying, “One of the things that we noticed that people are still often confused about is with regards to, like if I only have something on desktop, surely Google will still see that and it will also take into account the mobile content.”

“But actually, it is the case that we will only index the mobile content in the future.”

So, simply put, if it’s not on your mobile site, it simply does not exist anymore.

Step 3: Make it Fast… Then Make it Even Faster

Image of a person holding a phone that has a loading icon and under the text reads 'Yup... Still loading'.

Google has gone all-in on mobile browsing because they are acutely aware of the fact that mobile is defining the new world of search. Our phones are getting exponentially faster with each generation, while 5G coverage continues to expand throughout Canada. This is changing our idea of how long we think a mobile page should take to load.

Consider that:

The need for speed has never been more important than it is right now. And it’s poised to be even more important when the Google page experience update and The Core Web Vitals are officially rolled out. To be clear, site speed has been a (confirmed) key ranking signal for several years now. But this year’s updates will take that to the next level.

The Core Web Vitals are putting mobile speed and the user experience (more on that in the next section) front and centre. But fortunately, they’re also giving webmasters and marketers 3 new stats to help them understand speed.

Your load speed is no longer simply just about how long it takes your page to load.  It’s now about:

  1. How long does it take your page to fully load? When is the largest asset done rendering? [Largest Contentful Paint]
  2. How much time passes after your user first interacts with a page (i.e. they click, tap, or use a JavaScript-powered control) to when the browser is actually able to begin processing those event handlers? [First Input Delay]
  3. How long does it take for the assets and elements to stop shifting around during the loading process? [Cumulative Layout Shift]

These new KPIs give you a whole new perspective into how your site is actually performing. They can also help you fix popular user-annoyances like accidentally clicking on the wrong link because the layout moved at the last second.

What types of scores should you be shooting for?

  1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Within 2.5 seconds
  2. First Input Delay (FID): Less than 100 milliseconds
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): A CLS score of less than 0.1, measured by a complex proprietary score

However, in the world of SEO, the answer to any speed question is “As fast as humanly possible.” Or “faster than your competition.”

How to Properly Measure Your Site’s Speeds

The first thing we should point out is that you need to measure your entire site’s speeds.

You can’t simply test the home page and assume that this score/time applies to the rest of the site. Your home page is just your home page. And all of your other product, service, and blog pages might have completely different assets that impact each one’s respective load time.

This is a site-wide exercise in auditing your speeds. You may find a site-wide issue, or you may simply find a few pages that need to be fixed.

When measuring your site’s speed, here are a few tools we recommend:

  • Find out how to fix potential speed issues on your site
  • Page Speed Insights: Gain a good desktop vs. mobile perspective
  • Pingdom: Compare your speeds to other websites that have already used the tool

Or, if you want to see how ready your site is for Google’s Core Web Vitals, we recommend using the following tools:

  • Your browser’s Developer Tools – Network Tab (You can find bloated Scripts or plugins)
  • Lighthouse Developer Tools
  • PageSpeed Insights
  • Chrome DevTools
  • Search Console
  • The Web Vitals Chrome extension and a Chrome UX Report API

Many other popular third-party tools like Moz and SEMrush also have Core Web Vitals integration.

Step 4: Ensure Your User Experience is Frictionless

It’s important to know that there is a major difference between being mobile-friendly and providing a frictionless mobile experience to your users. Sure, your site may display well enough on a mobile device. But are your users frustrated because the buttons are too close together? Are people clicking on About Us when they’re trying to click on Book an Appointment?

Your mobile experience is important to your SEO, and it has always been a crucial part of your conversion rate optimization (CRO).

In 2012, Google estimated that half of your users would leave your site and go directly to your competitors after a bad mobile experience. Today, almost a decade later, that number is likely considerably higher. Keep in mind that the Blackberry Curve 8980 and the iPhone 5 were the hot phones back then. Mobile devices have evolved and so have our expectations of what’s acceptable.

This is why the mobile experience matters, and why it has been a focal point of a number of Google updates over the last few years. At the same time, Google has also estimated that simply preparing for the Core Web Vitals update can lower your abandonment numbers by 24%.

Here are some of the biggest mobile UX problems that you need to be aware of:

Slow Load Speeds:

We have already taken a deep dive into this one. Use any of the tools to seek out and destroy absolutely anything that is slowing down your pages.

This needs to be priority number 1!

The Touch Elements are Too Close

People are trying to buy from you, or learn more about your offering. But they’re clicking on the wrong link or button by accident. This is an absolute SEO and CRO killer.

There are two resources that you can use to find and fix this problem. The first is Google’s free mobile-friendliness test. The second resource is Google’s guidelines for mobile design.

At the same time, you should also take a look at Google’s guidelines for text and copy on mobile sites.

Cumbersome Interstitial Ads

Good interstitial ads are a great way to get people to try your free demo or sign up for your mailing list. However, bad interstitial ads ruin the user experience and hurt your SEO.

Intrusive interstitials are a big part of the Core Web Vitals and they are a major search signal for page experience.

Image of two phones on The Home Depot website one with no popup and the other with a popup. The one without a popup has a green circled checkmark and the the one with a popup has a red circled X.

Courtesy of Google Developers

We all hate feeling trapped by an interstitial ad. You just want to read the content, but you can’t seem to click this ad away. So what do you do? You probably go back to the SERPs and find another page.

Give your audience an easy exit from your ad, and allow them to quickly read your content if they’re not interested in your ads.

The Page’s Video Doesn’t Play

A video is most likely going to be the page’s biggest asset, so make sure it actually plays properly.

Your video may not play because:

  • It contains license-constrained media
  • It was taken down by the original host
  • Your media player isn’t widely supported on all mobile devices

In any case, consider Google Web Designer. It makes it easy to create these animations in HTML5, which will play easily in most mobile browsers.

Step 5: Avoid an M-Dot Site

2021 should be the year we can declare an official time-of-death on m-dot sites. There is really no point in having them anymore.

If you were hosting your mobile site on a separate subdomain like, you were probably not ranking very well. However, now that we live in a strictly mobile-first world, it’s now just about impossible to rank using one.

Mueller said that using an m-dot causes an ongoing issue/ bug and that Google has trouble indexing them. He said, “what will happen is we will only index the m-dot version of the site and it can happen that we show the m-dot version of the site in the desktop search results.”

He also said that the only solution is to redirect your visitors from the m-dot version to the desktop version when they use a desktop browser. He also said that it’s unlikely Google will ever change/fix this.

When Do I Need to Worry About Mobile-First Browsing?

Just to be clear: It’s not so much that a bad mobile experience will hurt you in the near future. It’s hurting you right now!

It could be costing you SEO clout, conversions, and sales at this very moment.

We know it can be a bit confusing. Mobile-first indexing has been a slow burn. It’s been rolled out in different phases over the last 5 years.

Here is a brief history.

An image the history of mobile-first where November 2016 there was an announcement and warning. December 2017 mobile-first was slowly rolled out and tested. Dec 2018 webmasters were notified that they have been switched over. March 2018 mobile-first indexing rolled out more broadly. July 2019 mobile-first indexing will be default for any new sites. Lastly, March 2021 mobile-first indexing for the whole web and Google announced that desktop only sites are no longer indexed.

As you can see, Google has given us all plenty of forewarning. They know that a change this big requires a tremendous amount of preparation, so they wanted to give webmasters, site owners, and marketers enough time to make any required changes or upgrades.

Mobile-first is here – Right here, right now. If you haven’t done anything to prepare, you’re a bit late. But you’re not too late!

Improving your mobile experience can help you unlock more SEO clout, more organic traffic, and even more sales.

If you want to find out how, feel free to call me at 647-448-4449 or click the big green Connect With Paul button at the top of the screen.

About the Author

Paul Teitelman - SEO Consultant

Paul is a well-respected Canadian SEO consultant and link-building expert with over 15 years of experience helping hundreds of companies rank for competitive keywords on Google. He is a Toronto-based SEO consultant who is passionate about search engine optimization and link building. Over the years, he has made a reputation for himself as a leader in the industry by consistently delivering phenomenal results to his growing client base.