What Does the Mobile-first Index Mean for your Keyword Strategy? (A How to Prepare Guide)

Written by Devin Sizemore

November 30, 2018

You’ve probably heard of mobile-first indexing, and you may be worrying about how it might affect your keyword strategy.

So what does mobile-first indexing mean? It just means that the mobile version of your website becomes the starting point for what Google includes in their index – and how they determine rankings.

It’s called ‘mobile-first’ because it’s not a ‘mobile-only’ index.

For example, if a site doesn’t have a mobile-friendly version, the desktop site can still be included in the index. But, if you don’t provide a mobile-friendly experience for the visitors to your site, this can impact negatively on the rankings of your site.

The mobile version of your site will now be considered the primary version of your site.

So if your mobile and desktop versions are the same (if you’ve optimised your content for mobile) this change should not affect your search results.

There are some simple steps you can take:

First, check how mobile-friendly your site actually is. You can do this by using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. Simply enter your website URL, and Google will let you know how mobile friendly your website is.

It will come as no surprise that a huge 72% of people want mobile-friendly websites- so it’s important to become mobile-friendly.

The Difference Between Mobile and Desktop Keywords

The move to mobile-first means that you’re potentially going to have to think about ranking for different types of keywords.

There are three main differences:

1. Typo errors vs typo-free queries

It’s much more likely that typographical errors will be made on a mobile device.

This is simply down to the fact that typing on a screen with fingers and thumbs is harder than typing on a keyboard.

The competition for the misspelt keywords is a lot smaller, so it’s easier to rank for them. The search volumes are obviously lower too- but there’s still quite a lot of traffic behind commonly misspelt words.

Obviously, we aren’t suggesting misspelling lots of keywords on your website, that could really harm your credibility!

But there are a couple of ways you can include them, without damaging your reputation:

  1. Use expressions such as ‘Commonly misspelt as….’
  2. Apply misspellings in uncommon places e.g image tags.
  3. Place misspellings in user-generated sections of your sites e.g forums.

2. Spoken queries vs typed queries

This is a key difference between mobile and desktop queries. Voice search on a desktop is used infrequently because it’s generally easier to type.

However, on a mobile device, it’s more popular. Especially when users are on the go (driving, walking etc) it can be easier and safer to use voice commands.

So make sure you think like an average human when you’re creating your site’s content, (sounds obvious right?). But concentrating on a phrase that a person would actually say is a great step to take.

For example, people tend to talk to their voice search function as if there’s a real person behind it:

“I need car insurance.”

“What’s the number for the car insurance company?”

“What are cheap rates for car insurance?”

3. Local queries vs International queries

We’re much more likely to use our mobile devices for a local query than we are to do substantial searches- in fact, 88% of people use their mobile device to conduct local searches.

For example, it’s more realistic to search for pizza restaurants on your mobile device, whereas it’s much more practical to do extensive research for a project using your desktop. (Of course, you can still do any kind of query on a mobile device!)

The searches are also conducted in a different way nowadays! Instead of searching ‘Cafe’s in London’, people will search ‘Cafe’s near me’. They are expecting their device to already know where they are.

The types of queries made on mobile vs desktop are significantly different. That’s why it’s important to optimise for mobile queries.

But why is it so important?

81% of mobile searches are driven by speed and convenience.

Read more on building your website for speed here.  

Mobile search traffic also tends to convert quick. 55% of purchase-related conversions occur within 1 hour of initial mobile search.

Possibly most interesting of all is that 77% of mobile searches are made in an environment where a desktop is available. This means that people are actively choosing to mobile search over desktop.

How to Perform Mobile Keyword Research

People lean towards mobile because of the convenience, and there are a few key things that are prominent with mobile keywords:

Not surprisingly, keeping keywords short is popular when using mobile searches. Typing lots on a phone can be a bit of a hassle, so the fewer search terms a user has to input- the better!

To have any chance of ranking, your keywords need to be concise, keep it to 2-3 words max.

Use Google AdWords to search for the keywords that will perform best on mobile vs desktop.

Mobile searches factor in location as part of their optimisation. This is done for a very good reason! A massive 94% of smartphone users search for things based on location.

This comes with the territory, seeing as a lot of mobile searches are conducted on the go.

Two important keywords for locations optimisation are ‘near me’ and ‘nearby’. They are incredibly common in mobile searches.

Another thing to consider is that people doing mobile searches may not be even typing at all.

They could be using voice search.

Non-text search options such as Siri and Cortana make it easy for people to conduct a search- just by talking to their device.

Voice queries are a two-way conversation between you and your device. The aim is to direct the user to answer to their query in real-time.

55% of teens and 44% of adults use voice search more than once a day!

Also, think about how a user might find your site, don’t limit yourself to desktop context.

Mobile usage does, in some cases lead to new types of search behaviours. So ask yourself what you might look for if you were looking for your content?

Deliver Tailored Content for Mobile

If you have a responsive site- the good news is, you won’t have to do much to make yourself mobile-friendly.

But now is the time to 100% make sure that your site caters for a mobile audience. When people are using their mobile devices- they’re usually aiming to get something done quickly.

A checklist you should follow in order to prepare for mobile-first index should be:

  • Structured data– In the simplest terms, this refers to any data that’s organised. This helps search engines retrieve your content.
  • Verify the mobile site– Add the robots.txt to your mobile site and verify in Google Search Console that it can be crawled.
  • Hreflang– You need to ensure that any hreflang tags on the mobile version of your site point to the mobile versions of your URLs.
  • Metadata- You should revisit metadata to see if you can optimize for a higher click-through rate on mobile devices.
  • User experience– Analyze your site, and look for things that could be improved. For example, pages that take a long time to load, content that is too long to read on a smartphone and places where people would have to zoom right in.
  • Test for speed- Use Google’s mobile speed test, this will highlight any areas that need speeding up!

Remember, 40% of people will abandon a site after 3 seconds if it doesn’t load!

Cohort Analysis

The old adage goes that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. It’s important not only to optimise your search to rank for mobile-first keywords – but measure the traffic/UX of those visitors who end up on your site by searching for them. Cohort analysis is one simple but effective way to do this

A cohort is essentially a group of customers who are grouped together by a common characteristic- that they’ve shared for a specific period of time.

For example, when it comes to eCommerce, it could be a group of customers who have shopped with you in the last six months.

Or you can group customers together based on their actions, like these examples:

  • Customers who signed up for a trial period in May
  • Customers who came to you via a social media ad in the last three months.
  • Paying customers in October.

In these cohorts, customers are grouped by actions taken over a specific period of time.

Cohort analysis looks at groups of customers who have performed the same or similar activities. So when you perform cohort analysis, you’re not looking at your customers altogether, you’re breaking them down into different categories. That way, you can start targeting the right people with the right marketing campaigns.

So what does cohort analysis mean for your mobile keyword strategy?

From the data, you build up from cohort analysis you can develop a quantitative, systematic approach to looking at your mobile site. Then adjust your keyword strategy accordingly.

In turn, you can learn what you need to do to retain the visitors of your site. You will know exactly when they leave your site, what they engage well with and so on.

Thanks for Reading

Everything is going mobile- SEO included, so you need to get prepared.

How people are searching for things is changing fast, people don’t even have to type anymore!

So what does the mobile-first index mean for your keyword strategy?

It means you need to tailor for mobile users needs and optimise your strategy for mobile. Otherwise, you may lose out.

The information and tactics above will help your preparation for the mobile-first index and help you to prioritise your user’s mobile experiences.

About the Author

Charlie CarpenterCharlie Carpenter is the co-founder and CEO of Kite. He is a mobile advocate with over ten years of industry experience.

After working for large and small agencies for many years, he co-founded Kite; a software solution for print-on-demand, zero inventory merchandise, and personalised photo print goods. As well as an entrepreneur, Charlie is a seasoned product strategist with experience of various types of digital projects which include: Responsive and Adaptive Websites, Mobile & Tablet Apps, Hybrid Apps, Cross Platform App development.

You can connect with Charlie on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter.

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    • Long Tail Pro Team

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