Google’s Mobile Indexing & The Increasing Need for Adaptive Web Design

By Stephen Alemar

image00In 2017, it’s time for all of us to start adopting adaptive web design as the go-to configuration for serving up websites. It’s not the fault of dedicated mobile sites or traditional responsive sites that this is happening, and, technically, there’s nothing wrong with them. Like many things that happen on the internet, Google’s behind it.

The search giant spent years trying to get people to go mobile, and after essentially accomplishing this goal, they decided it was time to go one step further by switching to a mobile index. And the principles behind adaptive web design (sometimes referred to as responsive with dynamic serving), make it the single best option for dealing with this new reality.

The Difference Between Indexing & Ranking

Before we go over why mobile indexing is having an impact on web design methodology, it’s important to make a quick distinction between “indexing” and “ranking.”

“Indexing” is the act of Google looking at all of the content on your website to find out what your business is about. Your copy, alt texts, page titles, meta descriptions, all of this kind of stuff is looked at and indexed. Google used to look at the desktop version of your site for these things, but not anymore.

Google’s recently announced “mobile index” means the search engine will now be looking at the mobile version of a site for all this information. So if you want Google to know all your favorite keywords, they better show up when you look at your site on a smartphone.

“Ranking” is what happens when a user conducts a search and Google displays your page according to how relevant it is to what the user is looking for. However, the content Google has indexed on your website is not the only thing that matters. The search engine will also take into account things like if the site is secured with an SSL certificate, relevant backlinks, and whether or not the site is mobile-friendly when viewed on a phone. This occurs because Google considers a good user experience a part of relevance, so content is important but so is the way it’s presented.

What It Means for Web Pros

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All of these recent happenings in the world of Google and SEO tell us a couple things.

First, mobile is more important than ever. Not exactly news, but it’s further evidence that we are all addicted to smartphones. Google knows it, and we are never going back.

Second, we all need to decide how we move forward, and our only two real options come down to responsive or adaptive.

And here’s why:

Running a mobile-only website is no longer the best option. There’s nothing really wrong with mobile-only, it’s just we simply have better tools now.

If you have a mobile-only site and have cut down its content at some point to create a more user-friendly layout, the new mobile indexing change means you need to add all of it back in order to keep your search engine ranking across desktop, tablet and mobile. Again, Google is no longer indexing based off of your website’s desktop version, so we can’t stress this point enough.

You also need to ensure all the technical stuff in the backend of your site is setup properly so Google doesn’t think there’s duplicate content (which it hates) on your desktop and mobile websites.

To cap it all off, a mobile-only website means that any time you want to make changes to your site, you have to do it individually for desktop and mobile. Oh, and your stats and analytics are likely to be found in two different places.

Google is constantly pushing for a better mobile experience for users, but it’s nonetheless critical that you manage your web presence well across all device types.

So Why Adaptive Over Responsive?

So we now find ourselves living in a world where:

  • Dedicated mobile-only websites are no longer the best option
  • A mobile-friendly layout is more important than ever for a good search ranking
  • And all of your precious content and keywords need to be on the mobile version of your site, or your desktop will suffer too

As stated earlier, there are really only two ways forward, but the question remains, “Which one?”

Both will make your site’s layout mobile-friendly, and, by default, include all of your client’s site content on every device. Therefore, both of these will put you in good standing with Google, but only one will enable you to easily create a conversion-centric experience across desktop, tablet and mobile.

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Responsive web design simply resizes content to fit the screen it’s being viewed on. Everything will look nice no matter what device is being used to view the content, but you don’t have a lot of customization options for different devices without digging into the site’s code. This can result in long blocks of texts and seemingly infinite scrolling on mobile devices.

Adaptive web design (also known as “dynamic serving”) will change the content depending on the device type. This is a critical difference, as the ability to design by device allows you to create a more customized experience on desktop, tablet and mobile.

Website building platforms that leverage adaptive design, like Duda, make it much easier to adjust the layout on mobile to accommodate for all your content needs while creating a user-friendly, conversion-driving experience. You can easily move around buttons, text, images and more, without ever touching a website’s code, so you can avoid overly long scrolls and shine a bright light on your client’s calls-to-action.

As it seemingly happens every few months in the web design industry, the game has changed. Sometimes the changes are small, sometimes not so much, but they are almost always significant.

The answer to how to address these changes is not always clear, however, this time it is. Adaptive web design is the way to go if you want to set yourself up for success as Google takes us further down the rabbit hole into a mobile-first world.

Quick Side Note: Desktop-only websites will apparently not be affected by this, but will continue to have problems with ranking on mobile search. Their content will be added to the mobile search index, but they will continue to receive a penalty for being mobile-unfriendly.

About Stephen Alemar

Stephen Alemar is the Content Marketing Manager and Chief Morale Officer at Duda. Stephen generally splits his time between writing for Duda and agonizing over the proper use of commas. He once brought in donuts for the office, and it is still considered a landmark day at Duda. His favorite Big Lebowski character is one of the bowling balls.
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