How to Build Rankings in Google’s New Mobile-First Index

Discover how Google looks at links today and what it means for your site’s mobile ranking ability.

Links have always been important to Google. Google has only recently opened up a bit about its ranking process; clueing marketers in to how it weighs pages and lists them in priority order for search queries. Links are part of the ‘top 3 ranking factors,’ and with good reason; they help establish the authority of a website. If enough quality, highly relevant sites link to a website, then, in Google’s eyes, that website is potentially worthy of ranking well for a particular key phrase (provided the site offers rich content, includes Google RankBrain criteria, and contains a number of other factors).

Links Have Always Been the Backbone of Google’s Ranking Algorithm

Since the dawn of the Google age, marketers have tried to gain a high quantity of quality links to their sites. They’ve worked on it themselves and hired search engine optimization agencies to assist in the effort. Thousands of hours have gone into this establishment of link authority, and ironically, it could be Google itself that could shake up this entire structure, by moving to a mobile-first index.

Mobile-First Does Not Mean Mobile-Only

With the push to mobile-first, Google has established a priority for indexing. It is careful to explain that mobile-first doesn’t mean mobile-only; Google will still recognize and crawl desktop sites; giving priority to mobile versions of websites. What’s intriguing is how this mobile-first crawling will potentially affect the Google-imposed link structure of its index.

What Happens When Google Crawls & Finds Fewer Links on Mobile Sites?

Imagine this scenario: Google already has a link graph established, due to its pre-mobile-first crawling priority. As mobile-first continues to take hold, a smaller link landscape may be crawled, due to some sites offering stripped-down mobile versions of their main website. These stripped-down sites will contain not only less internal, site-specific links, but less external links, as well. If one were to examine desktop versions vs. mobile versions of some websites, especially beyond the first level crawl, one could see a reduction of second level internal and external links present in the mobile sites. These websites could then look very different to Google, for ranking purposes.

Responsive Sites Should Retain Their Link Authority in the Mobile-First Index

Responsive sites should offer Google the same link presentation across all devices. In Google’s mobile-first index, these sites should retain their link authority and thereby, their ranking ability. In fact, responsive sites potentially should have an advantage in this new mobile-first world, because they should, in theory, outrank stripped-down mobile sites, i.e. sites with a specific mobile domain, such as m.mycompany.com.

Making Sense of Mobile-First & The Link Graph

So what does all of this mean for marketers? Links will remain a vital Google ranking signal. A responsive website offers the best chance to retain its link authority, vs. a mobile domain, that may offer a truncated link presentation to Google, and thereby, a potentially less than optimal user experience. If a company is using a mobile domain, it’s recommended that the mobile site be analyzed by a search engine optimization specialist, to determine if the site’s construction may be impeding optimal ranking capability in the new Google mobile-first index. That analysis should include a review of the entire site, because as explained above, user experience is another key factor in mobile rankings.

Please note: If you decide to retain a mobile version of your site versus a responsive design, and  less content is present on your mobile site, a search engine optimization specialist can consult Google’s Best Practices for Mobile-First Indexing, and work with you to create an optimal mobile experience for users.

Need help positioning your website to rank well in mobile search results? Engine-ius Marketing offers the expertise you need to outrank your competition in Google’s new mobile-first index.

Bonus Resource: Read our post on Google’s mobile-first index and be ready as the changes roll out!

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