Google Announces the Beginning of the End for Desktop-First Indexing

Cat stuck in a boxThe end of Desktop-First indexing was inevitable, and now the time has come. Google’s webmaster has officially announced that the world’s leading search engine will begin to prioritize mobile versions of sites within their index. This index is what Google uses to save sites for easy look-up when you type in your search for “dancing baby”, “cat fails”, or because you’re a professional as well as somebody who enjoys laughing at cats, “dow impact on tech industry”.

The index allows the search engine to display results in seconds, rather than minutes. Previously, Google adhered to Desktop-First indexing; but the first iPhone hit the market nearly eleven years ago now, and the devices are now driving a majority of Google searches and significant numbers for every other major website in the world. From Google’s perspective, it is now of vital importance to ensure that as many of their listings as possible have a mobile-friendly design.

How does this impact you?

If you’re looking to create a website, then you’ll need to decide on your approach. If you’re thinking about your existing site, you’ll want to know what to look for and whether changes are worth your time and money. Allow us a few moments to help you make an informed decision.

Exactly What is a Mobile First Website?

There are two approaches for website development on today’s internet: Desktop First and Mobile First. The “platform-FIRST” just means that the site is designed and developed with that device type in mind, and is optimized for that specific platform. It is this way because the user interface is vastly different between these two primary options. Keyboard-and-mouse vs touch-screen is at the root of the Desktop-first vs. Mobile-first decision that you have to make.

measure screen sizeWhile desktop computers typically have fifteen to twenty-five-inch screens, top-of-the-line mobile devices from the last few years have screens ranging from four to seven inches.

So, back to the question: what is a mobile-first website?

Mobile-first websites have proper image sizes and formatting to fit a slimmer screen than their Desktop counterparts.

There is less screen space, so these must be information-driven, typically, and use formatting that makes navigation painless.

Both approaches have their challenges, and one or the other may not be feasible for your business (or other online endeavor). Therefore, it’s best to assess the pros and cons of mobile vs. desktop first design and your analytics before you launch headlong into new site development or major updates.

determining cost is similar to the gas pumpWhat about price? Mobile development is typically the more expensive of the two options, and it includes optimizing a Desktop-First site for mobile access. If you are prioritizing development for your site for desktops, you could save yourself (and your budget) down the line if you do a little research and use only tools and formatting that will carry over easily to mobile.

While it is still perfectly valid to design your site with desktop and laptop users as your target audience, such as a site geared toward being useful for office workers, you must keep in mind that there will always be some who want or need to attempt to access your site through a mobile platform. Therefore, it is best to try and ensure that the site is mobile-friendly even if you’re using a desktop first approach.

One Screen Size Does Not Fit All: Responsive vs Adaptive Sites

Just as a great website needs direction in how its development begins, it must also try to be accessible to as many users as possible. Even if your site is prioritized toward Desktop users, it should still be accessible on a phone, or smaller desktop, laptop, or tablet screens. There are few faster ways to get someone to click the back button than to have too-small-to-read text or blown up images.

There are two primary approaches available. So, let’s talk about responsive vs adaptive sites. Both have the same objective – make a site look polished in any resolution. But the approach differs slightly, and one requires more work and a bigger budget than the other.

Adaptive sites

These are programmed with pre-set sizes to allow for easy viewing and navigation on most screens. Any screen sizes that are not directly accounted for will utilize the closest setting. But this means that some users will be on devices that are not perfectly optimized. It’s usable, but lacking polish.

Responsive sites

Are designed with fluid transitions in mind. Every possible screen size is accounted for, so users have similar experiences on every device. This gives the site a fluid, polished, professional feel across all devices, but comes at a much higher cost in time and money.

sketch of an app or website planWebsites vs Apps: Another option to keep in mind, especially if you want to maintain a Desktop First focus on your design, is the ability to create mobile applications. Apps are more flexible than websites, though they can also be expensive to create and maintain. But if you’re looking for added functionality with a desktop-based toolset that your users may find useful on mobile, you may be able to utilize an app more efficiently than tweaking your website. Remember to research before committing first!

What To Do With This Information

With all of this said, none of what has been mentioned will necessarily impede your Search Engine Optimization efforts. Mobile-First sites will not outrank Desktop-First sites, according to Google’s announcement. Nor does it matter whether your site is responsive or adaptive. Currently, the pros and cons all deal with weighing what your budget can support to make things easier and more convenient for your users – which can, of course, help with retention and monetization.

Check Your Site

If you want to check on how mobile-friendly your site currently is, check out Google’s web tool designed explicitly for that purpose. It even gives suggestions on how your site can be improved for mobile users. Even better, Google built the tools, so you know they approve. 

Here’s a quick list of google indexing tips:

    1. Include links: It helps to think of the internet as a ‘net’. It’s interwoven with pages linking to other pages. Search Engines employ bots called “crawlers” to explore and index or sort everything for easy access. Therefore, you should ensure there are at least a handful of links to various sources (internal and/or external) on every page.
    2. Link formatting: When placing your links, DO NOT hide them in applets like java, in images, etc. Plain-text hyperlinks are the easiest for the crawlers to utilize. If your site design benefits from something more eye-catching, then ensure that the link is usable by crawlers elsewhere on the page.
    3. Don’t rely on text within images:Here's an example of text in an image

      Crawlers can’t read images and that includes logos. Ensure that your business name is on the page in plain text somewhere.

    4. Use alt text for images: Make sure you are using alt text to provide an accurate description of every image on your site.
    5. Use keywords carefully: Don’t overuse keywords or use inappropriate keywords. The search engines can tell when a page doesn’t line up with some keywords. I could lace this entire article with “llama petting”, but it wouldn’t help to rank the page for anybody looking to pet llamas. If you have specific keywords you want to use, then write the article normally and incorporate them where it makes sense and feels organic.
    6. Correct any speed issues: Google has also announced that starting this year, it will lower the rank of slow-loading pages. Keeping your servers running efficiently will help to keep your rankings high.

Desktop First and Mobile Friendly: The Best of Both Worlds?

The way to go for most business-to-business right now is Desktop First and mobile friendly. The way to go for almost everybody right now, no matter the clientele, is going to incorporate mobile-friendly design into the service’s foundation. Whether you do this with an adaptive or responsive website or a mobile app is entirely up to your business needs.

Before Making the Decision Desktop-First vs. Mobile-First

Before you make your final decision on approach, however, make certain you do your research. Talk to your design and development team, consult with third-party experts, and do research online to find firm numbers about what your costs would run. If you decide that Desktop is going to be your primary platform, ensure that your team keeps it as open as possible for easy mobile access – which will make conversions easier later, if or when they become necessary. The way things are going, it seems like it’s just a matter of time.