Google is now using a mobile-first index that is based on how devices crawl the web.  This is going to be a big change from the old desktop-centric approach, giving SEOs major ramifications, according to Alexis Sanders, technical SEO account manager at Merkle.  She spoke about mobile-first SEO success at the SMX East conference in New York City on Wednesday.

Mobile use has really taken off over the years, and has gone from over half a billion users globally in 2010 to almost three billion today.  Because of this trend, Google has chosen to go with the flow.  “Everywhere in the world, information is becoming more portable,” said Sanders.

So what is mobile-first?

According to Google’s webmaster guidelines, “Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”  Although Google will still be using a single index of websites and apps, it is adapting its algorithms to primarily use a mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site.  Sanders said that “It’s going to take multiple years for this to come to fruition.”

Sanders suggested steps to take immediately to make sure your sites will fare as well as possible in a mobile-first world:

  • Ensure parity between mobile and desktop with content (text, images, videos), tagging, structured data and internal links.
  • Ensure your servers have capacity to handle changes in crawl rate.
  • Monitor indexation status.
  • Ensure robots.txt are validated.
  • Check your server log files.

And don’t stress to much over the change. “Users will always be served the appropriate version of the site,” said Sanders.

Sanders has said that Google specifically called out some things you shouldn’t do that could possibly have a negative effect on ranking.  These include the use of mobile interstitials and Flash content.

If there is an issue concerning mobile-first issues, Google will send users alerts as it slowly adopts the mobile-first index for all sites.

You can view Alexis’ full presentation below:

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