Google’s mobile-first indexing was promised several years ago, had a small roll-out in 2018, and on July 1st, 2019 every website will be indexed by this standard. The impact of this change has the potential of improving organic search traffic for the sites that designed well for mobile or sending sites to the bottom of the heap.
Every website owner needs to take a moment and understand exactly what this change will mean for their websites.
Is This Mobilegeddon 2.0?
The first concern we want to address is Google’s Mobile-first Indexing is not another Mobilegeddon. Back in April of 2015, Google updated its algorithm to favor pages it deemed were mobile-friendly. The disruption it caused was significant and earned the name Mobilegeddon by many website owners who suffered massive losses in traffic due to changes in rankings on the search engine results pages.
Google Announces Mobile-first Indexing
To combat this disconnect, Google began experimenting with the idea of Mobile-first Indexing. The basis of which is to first look at a webpage in the way a mobile device would. This version of the webpage would be parsed and indexed by Google, not the desktop version.
On May 29, 2019, Google announced all websites will be indexed according to the mobile-first indexing algorithm starting July 1st.
What Does Mobile-first Indexing Mean for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Not to be too on the nose about this, but obviously this kind of change by Google has an impact on hotel seo. The level of impact depends upon your specific situation.
Do you have a separate mobile site (m-dot site)?
If your website was designed after 2015, it was most likely built to be mobile-responsive. Most web designers started using frameworks using CSS which allowed the website to respond to the device displaying it. This meant changing the layout of the content based on screen size.
More advanced designers implemented adaptive content for their websites. This was content that not only reformatted itself based on the device being used but also adapted the content to the device. For example, on a desktop computer, loading a video masthead is not a problem and looks great. On mobile, that video masthead is too small to look good and the extra bandwidth to download it is not worth the payoff. Adapting the content for the device can improve the user experience a lot.
With mobile-first indexing we have to be aware that the mobile adapted version of the page, is now the “official” version of the page, which means we do not want critical content needed to make the site relevant for search terms to be ‘adapted’ out of the mobile version.
Do you have a mobile version of your site?
Many websites were built with a mobile version. These are sometimes completely different sub-domains of the site. The main site would be www.example.com and the mobile version would be m.example.com. This method of providing a mobile experience was preferred for a long time as it guaranteed the mobile user was getting a version of the web page exactly as the website owner wanted them to get.
Maintaining two versions of the website can become difficult and complex and it is possible, depending on the systems being used, for the content to get out of sync between the two versions.
Additionally, as new strategies for SEO, conversion optimization, and general best practices are developed, they may not be applied to both versions of the website. In many cases, the mobile version of the website becomes the third wheel and does not get the same level of attention.
If you maintain a mobile version of your website, it might be good to do a full audit and make sure it is properly optimized. Check for the following:
- Content Parity
- Verify the content on the mobile site is the same as the desktop site. Title tags and meta descriptions should be the same for both versions.
- Structured Data
- Verify any structured data implemented on the desktop version of the is also used in the mobile version.
- Open Graph Meta Tags
- Check to make sure your open graph meta tags come up in the mobile version of your web pages.
- Look at the sitemap for the mobile version of your site and make sure it is up to date.
- Internal Links
- Look at the links used in the desktop version of the web pages on your site and make sure they are also being used on the mobile version of the web pages.
- Search Console
- Make sure the mobile version of your website is verified with Google search console.
- Especially important for websites targeting international web searches, make sure the mobile version of your website is using the same Hreflang tags (these help Google understand what language the page is written in) as the desktop version.
- Robots.txt and Robots Meta tags
- Robots.txt and Robots Meta tags control how a search engine crawls your site. Search engines use different crawlers for desktop and mobile. Check to see if the robots.txt file and any robots meta tags on your pages work the way you want them to for the mobile version and the desktop version of your hotel website.
- Canonical Tags
- If you have multiple versions of a web page on your site, you need to put some code on the site to tell Google which version is the official version. This code is called Canonical Tags. Verify the web pages on your site are using the correct rel=canonical and rel=alternate elements between your mobile and desktop sites. One version of the page, usually the desktop version, is the primary version and the other is the alternate. This way if someone links to the alternate version, the authority of that link will pass to the canonical version of the page.
Once you have done all these things, you have no reason to panic. The mobile version and the desktop version exist in harmony and are not sending incorrect signals to Google.
If you find the mobile version of your site has significantly less content, different content, or provides an obviously inferior different user experience, then you might have cause to be concerned and contact your web developer to get things sorted out as soon as possible.
Do you have a mobile-responsive website?
As mentioned above, if your hotel website was built after 2015, it is most likely responsive. There is a quick and easy way to find out. Pull out your smartphone and visit the site. Does it look normal or do you have to scroll from side to side to see all the content? If it looks normal but different than the desktop site, then it is responsive. If it looks normal and exactly the same as the desktop site, then the desktop site is probably designed for mobile and looks weird when displayed on a giant monitor.
With a responsive website you have very little to worry about, but there are still several things you should check on, just to be sure.
- Page Speed
- How fast does the web page load on a mobile device? Is the page pulling in giant graphics, embedded maps, videos, or other components that are not necessary on a mobile device? Maybe the images being used are desktop ready but not mobile ready. Make your pages as fast as you can on mobile, removing anything that is not necessary to the page.
- User Experience
- When a potential guest is on the mobile version of your site, is it still easy to book a room or are all the links tiny text links or tiny button that make clicking on with a finger difficult? Is any aspect of your website difficult to use or navigate too on a mobile device?
- With some websites that allow adaptive content, it is easy to hide a lot of text from a mobile device in service of providing a clean experience, but some of that text may be vital for showing Google the page is relevant for many search terms. Before mobile-first indexing, this was not a concern since the desktop version had all the relevant text. Now, in a mobile-first indexing world, text not on the mobile version is text not being considered by Google.
Do you not have a mobile-friendly version of your website at all?
If this is where you fall, you might think you are in a dire situation. Truth be told, you might be in a very dire situation. The first question to ask yourself is how much does your hotel rely upon web traffic to drive direct bookings? If it is a lot, then getting a mobile-optimized website needs to be a priority. If it is not much, then you have some wiggle room.
If your competition does not have a mobile-friendly site, then not much is going to change for you. You are now in a race to see who can launch a mobile-friendly site first to compete for the Awareness and Consideration keywords that best map to the Dreaming and Planning stages of the 5 Stages of Travel.
If your competition does have mobile-friendly sites and you do not have the budget to build out one for your hotel, you still have options. For hotels, the local pack on the search engine results page plays a significant role. This means putting some effort into optimizing for local search; this can be done through citation building and getting better reviews of your hotel.
Additionally, spend time optimizing your Google My Business listing. This includes uploading new photos. Commit to getting fresh content on Google My Business once a week.
Consider the above a bandaid. A very small, temporary bandaid which is not a real solution to the issue you are facing. Relying on Local SEO and Google My Business does not change the fact your website is not mobile-friendly and is not going to rank well in Google after mobile-first indexing goes into place. You will need to commit to building a new website.
How to Press the Advantage of Your Mobile-friendly Website
You have verified your hotel’s website is mobile-friendly and is ready for mobile-first indexing but your competition is lagging behind. This is the time to press your advantage.
Get a list of the keywords your competition is ranking for. From that list, find keywords relevant to your site that your site is not ranking well for. You will want to make sure you have content on your site able to target those keywords. Your website is primed, with mobile-first indexing, to outrank the competition for these keywords. You may have to make some adjustments to the copy on the page to make the most of your advantage. In SEO there is nothing more thrilling than outranking the competition for keywords they have relied on for traffic.
Blue Magnet loves to talk funnels, and search funnels are a particular favorite of the SEO group. Expanding the search funnel is essential for growing traffic to the site and times of disruption when your website has the advantage is the time to reach for more. You can do this by adding more landing pages and adding more content to the site.
What if You Just Have No Idea Where to Start with Mobile-first Indexing?
Topics like this can get into the technical weeds really quick and it can feel overwhelming. We want to assure you that while this is a complex change to Google’s indexing, it is not something beyond your understanding. If you are wondering if you have to worry about your site, then we can help you. We can offer you a very simple audit to determine if your site is mobile-friendly.
If your site is not mobile-friendly, we can discuss solutions to bring your site up to the modern standard.