Mobile-first design: what you need to know

Mobile-first indexing has long been enforced by Google.

This means that websites that are optimised for mobile use will be listed above “desktop” websites. Why are they doing this and what are the implications? If you don’t know the answers to those questions here is what you need to know.

A quick checklist

Hey, we’ll save you some time with a quick heads up!

1)   Does your website…
  • Use “responsive design” (e.g. delivers content to mobile, tablet and desktop views with the same content but deferent layouts)
  • Use lightweight, mobile optimised and compressed code and images
  • Use client-side and server-side caching to reduce network payloads
  • Leverage PWA technologies such a client-side data stores
  • Pass Google Lighthouse audits with flying colours
2)   If your site uses “site configuration” to deliver mobile…

(e.g. instead of for mobile and desktop respectively)

  • It is suggested you serve structured data in line with Google’s requirements (structured data tool) to ensure the mobile version is maximising its performance
  • It is suggested you run your Robots.txt through Google’s testing tool to ensure the mobile site is accessible to Googlebot
  • Canonical URL declarations should remain untouchedVerify your mobile site in Google’s Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools)
3)   If you only have a desktop version of the site…
  • It is important to have a fully functioning mobile site, as a partially functioning and slimmed down content version of your site can be almost as detrimental as not having one at all.
  • We would recommend you upgrade to a PWA (preferred) or responsive website template as soon as you can.

Ubiquity of smart phones

In the last five years, there has been a sea change in digital consumption and the way we access the web. Smart phones capable of delivering rich media and web experiences are ubiquitous and omnipresent. We all have them, and they are on us or within hand’s reach most of the time!

Smart phones have changed the way we search
Having these ubiquitous and omnipresent devices has changed our behaviour. If you need to look something up, you probably don’t go and get your laptop to “Google” it, but rather whip out your phone. Hell, if you’re feeling lucky you might even use its voice activated search!

From pub trivia and “what was the name of the guy in that show ” through to finding the telephone number or address of a business or restaurant – there are countless examples where the smart phone is the-line-of-least-resistance – the easier option!

Google's artful use of the 'nudge'

Most businesses and website owners are busy people. Behavioural economics tell us that if you tell them that having a responsive website will make their websites better and improve the UX, about 30% will respond and get mobile optimised, about 50% will procrastinate until it becomes imperative and 20% will not get the message or ignore it completely.

So, with its “mobile first indexing” algorithmic policy, Google is attempting to create a paradigm shift where having a mobile optimised website becomes “imperative”. They are shaping the web to help improve mobile UX.

Google’s drive for improved user experience (UX)
Google’s main revenue stream is driven through paid search; therefore, they need people to have good search experiences to keep the search traffic flowing. Now, if most of us punters are using our smart phones to search and browse, it is safe to reason Google has a vested interest to incentivise websites to get their mobile user experience (UX) in order. Hence this nudge in the algorithm to get the lead out of the bum of the 50% who will only respond to a situation when it becomes imperative.

Mobile takes over

This change in behaviour is born out in the data. In Q4 2014, Google signalled that mobile search had overtaken desktop search in 10 countries including the USA and Japan1.


In October 2016, the Guardian highlighted that mobile devices overtook traditional desktop and laptop computers as the preferred method of browsing the web2.


If you look back through your own analytics, you’ll probably see a similar trend with mobile and tablet visits outstripping desktop visits.

Time to go mobile

If your website is not responsive (one that handles mobile, tablet and desktop layouts equally well with the ‘same’ content) then you really ought to consider getting it revamped and optimised for mobile and tablet users. However, if you’re going to be redeveloping the front-end of your website you might what to consider building a progressive web app (PWA) which allows you to deliver native app like experiences using web technologies.


Either way, both of these options will allow your site to improve you SEO performance – which ultimately will increase your bottom line and growth.

Want to find out more?

For a mobile first audit and recommendations on how to improve your site for mobile-first algorithms, speak to our team and we can show you what we can do.

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