Though we aren’t exactly sure when Google will roll out the mobile first index, we have indication that it is happening soon. As such, everyone in our space needs to prepare by ensuring their website is responsive before the roll out.
There are indications from Google that you should make sure your website is mobile responsive since it helps make sure your mobile pages are equivalent to your desktop pages and Google wants you to do this before it goes live with the mobile first index.
If your website still uses an m-dot (m.domain.com) to handle your mobile traffic, this applies to you.
Step One: Migrate your M Dot Site to Responsive Before Mobile-First Launches
Unless you have already stopped using an M-dot on your domain to handle your mobile traffic, you need to migrate thought to a responsive design before mobile first launches. You can do this with any number of responsive WordPress themes. Many are available for free although there are a variety of attractive premium themes available as well.
If you want to verify that your site is indeed responsive already, you can use this tool to take a look at how the website is displayed on desktop, laptop, and mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.
Changing your website to a responsive theme will automatically make all content adjust to the screen size it is viewed on, so you can delete the M-dot portion of your website. However, don’t delete it just yet.
Step Two: Make Sure Your Mobile Content is the Same as Your Desktop Content
Once you have made the switch to a responsive design, take the time to make sure your desktop content matches your mobile content. If your mobile website does not match the content on your desktop site, you may see a negative effect on your SEO. If your mobile site has less content than the desktop version, you may not rank as high because Google will prioritize the mobile friendly version of your site.
A search engine’s number one priority is to keep their customers happy by delivering relevant content for each search query. While creating quality content does need to remain a primary concern, it is also important for the search engines that their users can easily access the content they deliver in the results. This means your responsive website should also be designed with user experience in mind. Make sure the content is easy to read and the website is easy to navigate. If you need to, use CSS and other frontend languages to make adjustments to improve the user experience.
When you believe your mobile responsive website is ready, check to make sure that Google can see these changes by using the Fetch and Render tool that’s available in the Google Search Console. All you have to do is specify that the user agent is a smartphone and you’ll be able to see how Google delivers your website to a user that’s coming from a smartphone.
Step Three: Setup the Necessary 301 Redirects
If you are switching from an m-dot website to a responsive website, you need to set up 301 redirects from the m-dot version on the domain to the full version of the domain. This way people who are used to going to the m-dot will be taken to the correct page on your website automatically which will then adjust for the mobile device.
Your 301 redirects must be done on an individual basis, pointing each mobile URL to the equivalent responsive URL to prevent anything from breaking. This is why you don’t need to delete the m-dot version from your server as soon as the responsive version is ready. If you need a refresher on how to set up 301 redirects, you can check out this post.
Step Four: Remove Any Mobile URL Specific Configurations Your Site May Have
If your website has any mobile URL specific configurations such as a vary http header or conditional redirects, you need to remove these.
Step Five: Setup Canonical URLs on Responsive URLs That Point to Themselves
Next, you want to set up rel=canonical on all responsive URLs that point to themselves. This ensures that Google recognizes the pages are the same so you avoid any kind of duplicate content issue. You should also do this on an individual basis to make sure you don’t accidentally overlook one or more of the URLs that need the tag.
When Can I Expect Mobile-First to Launch?
There is no set date or timeline for mobile first to launch. It’s speculated the roll out will begin sometime in early 2018, and it will happen gradually, on a site-by-site basis, or in batches. This is why it is important to act quickly, so that you’re ready whenever Google decides to begin making changes.
Failure to ensure you are off the m-dot separate site and on a single responsive site means that you could see a decline in rank. Why? Because Google will index all the m-domain and URLs, so your migration will take longer since they aren’t just updating the URLs, but also the content and signals found within your pages, too.
What if I’m Using Dynamic Serving and Want to Move to Responsive Design?
If your website uses dynamic serving and you want to start using responsive design, Google says you do not need to do anything in terms of redirects.
Don’t let the idea of switching from m-dot to responsive stress you out. While you do need to plan for the mobile-first index, Google will definitely let us know well in advance about how we should prepare for the roll out. If you need help with adjusting your website, the team here at Sachs Marketing Group is glad to be of assistance, so get in touch today!