By: Adam Lawley, SEO Specialist
Google’s mission as a search engine is simple and successful: provide web users with the highest quality search and surf experience available. Search queries completed on mobile recently surpassed desktop as the majority Google search type, a trend that is expected to continually rise as mobile searching becomes more ubiquitous with smartphone usage and the popularity of voice search continues to bloom. As the shift in the digital landscape moves through its many stages, Google has followed suit with the obvious and sustaining transformation that the mobile web is here to stay, placing a greater focus on the mobile experience with Google’s announcement of mobile-first indexing.
What does this mean for hoteliers and their digital marketing? It has been obvious that the hospitality industry must deploy a digital presence that places an emphasis on mobile engagement while coalescing with its overarching all-device strategy. What is less obvious is how hotels should review and prepare for Google’s mobile-first initiative for mobile searchers and search engine crawlers alike.
So what can hoteliers actually do from a technical and content/SEO perspective to prepare for Google’s mobile first-indexing?
First, let’s review what Google mobile-first indexing is, and isn’t.
What exactly is Google’s mobile-first indexing?
Google’s mobile-first indexing aims to draw more attention to the mobile experience by viewing websites through the lens of a mobile device. Google will soon begin to use the mobile page versions of a domain for indexing and caching in its search results, and subsequently, for ranking. Historically, the desktop version of a page was primarily used when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user's query.
Google is not creating a second index for mobile users. It is maintaining one index that will be updated with mobile page versions as domains are crawled. Desktop content can still appear in desktop and mobile search results if it is the most relevant to the user’s query, but it is expected that mobile page versions will soon replace these results. Mobile page versions will appear on all device type searches.
In late April 2018, Google began its roll out of mobile-first indexing for domains that it believed qualified under best practices guidelines. Site owners began receiving notifications via Google Search Console stating that their domain had been enabled for mobile-first indexing, and an increased crawl rate from Smartphone Googlebot may be observed.
If your domain has not received a notification for mobile-indexation, there is no reason to panic. Google has explicitly stated that the rollout will be a slow, careful process. As their crawlers meticulously move through the web, a completely mobile-first index in search results may not be witnessed for a few years.
Still, this should cause alarm for domain owners that have not touched the mobile version of their website in some time. These pages will eventually become the content that signal to search engines its relevancy and ranking, and Google has already stated that mobile page speed is a ranking factor and is actually increasing in importance in July 2018.
What should websites do to prepare for mobile-first indexing?
Now is the time for hotels to optimize their websites for mobile-first indexing and the mobile user experience. The action steps you can take for your domain depend on the type of website design you currently utilize: mobile responsive (same URL for mobile and desktop) or adaptive (different URLs for mobile and desktop; “m.” or “/m” site designs). With that in mind:
1) The most impactful, beneficial action step hoteliers can do for mobile-first indexing is to redesign their website to a mobile responsive design.
Responsive redesigns are well documented at increasing a domain’s conversion, booking, and ROI, and improving the user experience overall, but another benefit is its full compatibility with mobile-first indexing and mobile SEO in general.
In fact, hoteliers that currently utilize responsive website designs can largely ignore the mobile-first initiative as they are most likely well equipped to meet its requirements. It is clear that Google is pushing for this type of website design as universal in the web experience moving forward. This is for good reason: When optimized fully, responsive websites offer the best experience for the user with near-identical content and functionality across all devices.
2) Optimize your content and speed for mobile users.
Accessing the hotel’s website through a mobile device changes the nature of the user experience. More than ever, it’s important that a page’s content clearly states information that the traveler is looking for in a clear and concise fashion. Although it is less likely that a visitor will sift through paragraphs of body content when reading and scanning a hotel’s website on mobile, text will always remain paramount to page design. Utilize headers to break up body content and increase readability with the smallest screen in mind.
Mobile page speed is a significant ranking factor in Google mobile results and is expected to increase in July 2018. Optimize your page content to cater to the mobile user accessing the page through typically less-than-average load speeds achieved on desktop. Images, back-end coding, and other dynamic elements should be minimized in total download bandwidth as much as possible.
Optimizations for adaptive website designs
When a responsive design is simply out of scope or budget, the following steps are mandatory for adaptive designs. These communicate to Google crawlers the location of the mobile page, and how it is related to its desktop version.
3) Update mobile version pages to mirror desktop.
Traditionally, mobile version pages have contained less body content, images (with alt-attributes), and functionalities as their desktop counterparts. As much as possible, these elements should be duplicated across mobile page versions. This optimization makes sense for both users and crawlers. For users, they receive the same information across any device type and do not miss information critical to the booking process. Search engine crawlers can scrape all content intended for the search query regardless of device.
4) Provide near-identical structured data on both page versions.
Structured data (otherwise referred to as schema or JSON-LD) continues to grow as an important factor in Google’s push for a totally semantic understanding of the indexable web. Structured data implemented on mobile version pages should be identical to desktop versions except for the URL listed. The mobile version should reference itself in the URL field.
5) Use identical metadata for both page versions.
In similar fashion to updating content to mirror its desktop versions, mobile pages should use equivalent metadata as well. This includes meta titles and descriptions. Titles should be less than approximately 575 pixels in length, and descriptions should be less than 160 characters.
6) Ensure that canonical, alternate and hreflang tags point to proper page versions.
When using rel=hreflang, canonical, and alternate link elements for proper internationalization and internal reference, link between mobile and desktop URLs separately. Page versions should use different set-ups.
Example of a desktop page version set-up: <link rel="canonical" href="https://example.com/"> <link rel="alternate" media="only screen and (max-width: 640px)" href="https://m.example.com/"> <link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="https://example.com/es/"> <link rel="alternate" hreflang="fr" href="https://example.com/fr/"> <link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="https://example.com/de/"> <link rel="alternate" hreflang="th" href="https://example.com/th/">
Example of a mobile set-up:
<link rel="canonical" href="https://example.com/"> <link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="https://m.example.com/es/"> <link rel="alternate" hreflang="fr" href="https://m.example.com/fr/"> <link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="https://m.example.com/de/"> <link rel="alternate" hreflang="th" href="https://m.example.com/th/">
7) Verify both versions of your domain in Search Console.
This allows you to view data, messages, and errors specific to each domain version. You may experience a shift in smartphone crawling when mobile-first indexing occurs.
Google’s mobile-first initiative is a reminder for every hotel management company to review their ongoing mobile efforts. Touchpoints on a mobile device will continue to increase as the hospitality industry engages in optimizations that improve the booking experience. HEBS Digital is well versed in and has experience with migration to mobile responsive designs, as well as the implementation of action steps for adaptive designs to assimilate to the upcoming changes. In addition to our smartCMS platform, HEBS Digital offers Premium and Professional Ongoing SEO services that provide clients with continual optimizations and retainer hours to fulfill these needs.