Google’s Mobile-First Indexing

By Gregory Keegan

In the coming months, Google is planning to roll out a new search engine shift: mobile-first indexing. This modification will prioritize mobile-optimized websites over desktop websites for search ranking purposes. Google’s decision to make this change speaks to the growing shift from desktop searches to mobile searches. Currently, Google is in the process of testing mobile-first indexing to evaluate the performance of this new practice. According to Google, an ever-increasing number of people are using their mobile devices to conduct searches, and more people opt to only use their smartphone in a day (27%) versus only a computer (14%). Google released a report showing that on an average day, 39% of people do a search on a smartphone, 32% on a computer and 28% search on more than one device.

So, what is mobile-first indexing?

A search index is a way for search engines—in this case Google—to create a collection of web pages by “crawling” website links. Web crawling is the way search engines build their indexes. Web crawlers scan different words within the pages, links, titles, meta tags, and other important aspects of a webpage to collect data. That data is then sent back to servers where it is used to create a search index.

Indexing is important for search engines because it helps speed up search results and creates a better user experience. By indexing all the data ahead of time, search time is drastically cut down. Previously, the desktop version of the website was the one to be “crawled” by search engines. However, Google will now look at the mobile website first when creating its search rankings. One of the main reasons that Google has decided to make the shift towards mobile-first indexing is to have its index better represent the majority of people who are doing Google searches on a mobile device.

What does your bank need to do to prepare?

This change will have the greatest impact on banks that do not have a mobile optimized site, or that have different content on their desktop site than the mobile version of their site. Though it is strongly recommended that businesses have a mobile optimized site, Google will continue to crawl the desktop site if a mobile version is not available. This could impact search rankings, as the index will prioritize mobile-friendly rankings. For those who do have a mobile optimized website, there is not much to be done, aside from making sure that your company’s mobile site has similar content to the desktop site, and is not a “light” version of the full site. This is an important step to ensure that Google can continue to rank your site just as well and as appropriately as it ranked your desktop site. If there is pertinent content on the desktop site that does not appear on the mobile optimized site, it can negatively affect search rankings and be a misrepresentation of your website. Those websites that use a dynamic and responsive design should not feel the effects of this change if the content on the mobile and desktop sites is the same or similar.

How does this change affect the banking community?

The financial industry—and more specifically banks and credit unions—should note that this change may affect visibility on search engine results pages. Every bank wants to be at the top of the Google results, or at the very least on the first page, to maximize organic exposure and visibility, which can lead to more brand recognition for your bank and increased traffic to your site.

Now that Google will crawl websites from a mobile-first perspective, rankings will be based on the mobile optimized site rather than the desktop site. If your bank’s desktop site has more information or is more user friendly than the mobile site, your ranking could be lower. Subsequently, when a potential customer is searching for a product, they may not see your website because it was relegated to the second page of search results.

According to data collected by Google Webmaster Tools Search Queries, on average, 71% of clicks come from the search results on the first page, whereas only 6% come from page two and three combined. To further emphasize the importance of search rankings, about 68% of clicks come from the first five search results, based on data Google gathered in September 2016. If your bank has a mobile optimized site that is both user-friendly and contains all relevant information, your search ranking could improve—potentially reaching the top of the search results-leading to more clicks and website visits.

The final version of Google’s mobile-first indexing is still months away, and Google has yet to set a date for the implementation. This date will be predicated on a performance basis: Depending on how the mobile-first index performs during this current testing phase, the date for a full release could be moved up or moved back. Ideally, this change will lead to a better user experience with faster and more relevant search results, which will benefit all parties involved, from Google to banks to consumers.

Gregory Keegan is a Digital Media Coordinator at Pannos Marketing based in Bedford, NH. Pannos Marketing is an award winning, full service communications firm specializing in strategic marketing, branding, digital marketing, social media, e-commerce and website solutions for financial institutions. Email:gkeegan@pannosmarketing.com. LinkedIn.

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