Mobile First with John Mueller (NEWBIE)

Mobile First with John Mueller (NEWBIE)
Reading Time: 15 minutes

Best practices and what it means for your business website


On Monday, March 26, 2018 Google announced that after a year and a half of careful experimentation and testing they’re migrating sites that follow best practices for mobile first indexing.

The much talked about Mobile first index is finally here.

But what does this mean for the average small business website owner?

How will this site affect their web traffic, and what changes do they need to make to their websites to ensure they maintain their rankings, today I’m talking with John Mueller from Google all about this momentous change.


Tune in to learn:

  • What does mobile first indexing mean
  • Why Google are making this change
  • What are the best practices for mobile first sites
  • What impact will mobile first have on the average business website owner
  • Is having a responsive site enough
  • How important is speed when it comes to mobile sites
  • And other super important Google questions



About John


John is a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google in Switzerland, which means he tries to connect the world that’s creating websites, with the Google-internal world of search engineering. Google wants to optimally understand the web as it is, and they sometimes need help understanding what’s important, what’s changing, and where folks publishing content have problems. Similarly, Google teams occasionally have information that’s important for people to know about when making websites.



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Google’s Mobile first announcement




Kate Toon: Hello and welcome to the Recipe for SEO Success podcast.

On Monday, March 26th, 2018, Google announced that after a year and a half of careful experimentation and testing, there were migrating sites that follow best practise for mobile first indexing.

The much talked about mobile first index is finally here.

What does this mean for the average small business owner?

How will this effect their web traffic and what changes do they need to make to their websites to ensure they maintain their rankings.

Kate Toon: Today, I’m talking with John Mueller from Google, all about this momentous change.
Kate Toon: Hello, my name is Kate Toon and I’m the head Chef here at the Recipe for SEO Success, an online teaching hub for all things related to search engine optimisation. I love SEO and today I’m talking with John Mueller.

Hello John.

John Mueller: Hi Kate.
Kate Toon: How lovely to talk to you.

We also have a dog barking relentlessly in the background, which always adds a certain something to the podcast.

We’re going to be professionals though, and just keep on pushing through.

Can you hear the dog, John?


John Mueller: Yeah.
Kate Toon: Yeah, he’s not happy about mobile first.

That’s – he’s got issues with it. That’s why he’s barking so much.

Anyway, let me explain to the listeners who you are and what you do. Apparently, you are a web master trans-analyst at Google in Switzerland, which mean you try to connect the world that’s creating websites with the Google internal world of search engineering. Google wants to ultimately understand the web as it is, and they sometimes need help understanding what’s important, what’s changing and where folks publishing content have problems. Similarly, Google teams occasionally have information that’s important for people to know about when they’re making their websites. As a note of trivia, the Web Master part of the name is getting really complicated. Nobody calls themselves a Web Master, why are you still a Web Master?


John Mueller: I don’t know. It’s … I don’t know, we just kept that name to move forward with. It is kind of weird, when talking with people at conferences, they’re all SEOs or marketers or all kinds of different names.
Kate Toon: We’re going to get stuck into this episode because it’s something a lot of my students have a lot of questions about. I’m going to start off with the absolute basics, for the newbies listening to the podcast.


What does mobile first ranking actually mean?

John Mueller: Okay. I guess, first of all, it’s kind of important to understand the different steps that take place when it comes to a search engine showing content.

Essentially what we start with is we try to crawl the web, we try to understand what is out there on the web.

Then we take the content that we found and we index tabbed, and then at some point later, when someone searches, we use this index to try to figure out what was actually available and what we can point people at.


John Mueller: Our change here with mobile first indexing is that we crawl with a mobile user agent, which means essentially Google Bot goes from having a desktop to a mobile phone and using that to access the web as it finds it, clicking on all of the links, looking at all of the content that comes up and saving that in our index.

This means our index becomes more of a mobile index, rather than a desktop index.


John Mueller: It’ll be crawling the same websites, but with a mobile phone.

You can imagine you using your mobile phone, you can access a desktop website as well, you just have to zoom in and scroll around with your fingers. You can still look at the same websites.

That’s kind of the change that’s happening is when people or when websites show different content to users on a mobile phone, we’ll be taking that different content and using that for our index.

Kate Toon: Okay, so why are you making this change? What’s prompted this change?
John Mueller: The main reason we’re making this change is we want to make sure that the search results represent what users would see when they click on our page. We’ve seen that most users are using mobile phones now for searching. A lot of people are using mobile phones almost exclusively for accessing the internet. We want to make sure that we reflect that reality and also do things with the mobile phone.
Kate Toon: Does it have anything to do also the rise in conversational search and search assistants like Siri and Hey Google, that people aren’t actually typing search terms into search engines anymore, they’re talking into their devices. Is that another reason that you’ve pushed this forward?
John Mueller: No. That would be kind of unrelated, there. I do see people searching differently. It’s very noticeable when you look at how the younger generation is searching.


When I see my kids searching, they don’t enter just a bunch of key words and hit enter and hope that the keywords match and tweak the keywords, they enter a whole question. That’s something that has been happening over time anyway, but that’s unrelated to this change.

Kate Toon: Okay, so it’s not about conversational search cool.

There were a lot of question that came up around that, that that was the drive behind it.

As we know, most people don’t have a separate mobile site anymore. In the olden days, you might create a separate mobile version of your site. Instead, most people have what’s called a responsive site.

For example, they’ve maybe built a site on Word Press or some similar content manager system and they bought a responsive theme. Is that going to be enough to make their sites mobile friendly?


John Mueller: That’s perfect, yeah. That’s the ideal set up from our point of view. If it’s a responsive site, then the content that’s shown to the user is essentially the same content shown to every user. It might be formatted slightly differently, some parts might be visible, some parts might not be visible immediately. That’s perfectly fine.

The HTML that is sent to the user is exactly the same. That means that when we switch to a mobile phone for indexing, we see exactly the same content, we can index the website exactly the same way.


Kate Toon: What about those old school people who did build a separate mobile site, that actually has, possibly, different content on it.

What will be the impact for those guys?


John Mueller: That’s where this change will perhaps have more of an effect. I think, first of all, one thing we’re doing here is we’re trying to take it slowly and taking it step by step.

We’re only switching those sites over to the mobile first index when we feel that they’re ready for this. When we look at their website and we can tell the mobile site is actually pretty good, it matches pretty much to this website, then that’s something where we would feel comfortable with flipping that over. Of course, we don’t do that manually, that’s all done with our algorithms. That’s the first step there.


John Mueller: The second step, if you are in this situation where you have different content shown on mobile, or you even have separate mobile URLs then that’s the case where I would really double check the website to make sure that you have everything in place. In particular, the text, that the text is really important, that the text is the same across the desktop in the mobile site so that, or equivalent, at least, so that when someone searches and they land on the mobile site, they see exactly what they were looking for. Images, videos, these multimedia content, that’s something that’s important for us too. Sometimes we’ve seen mobile sites not include all of the images, and of course if they’re not included, then we wouldn’t be able to show them [inaudible 00:09:14].


Kate Toon: Okay, that’s interesting. I know obviously one thing that many people do, even with responsive sites, is they turn off some of the bells and whistles. If you have a slider on your desktop homepage, maybe you don’t show that slider on your mobile. It’s important to know if we move to this mobile index, if the site’s moved over, anything that’s not visible there is just not going to be visible at all, from now on.


John Mueller: Exactly. With responsive, that’s less of a problem because you’re just making it visible or not visible, but still on the page itself.


John Mueller: That’s why responsive, essentially just works. If you do change the content that’s actually sent to the user, then that does play a role.
Kate Toon: Okay, that’s interesting. Now, for the average site owner, I have a responsive site. You talk a lot in the guidelines around having a best practise mobile site and making sure your site really works for mobile users. What does that mean for the average business owner? What should they be looking out for with their responsive site?
John Mueller: For the mobile first indexing, if you have a responsive site, you’re all set. The other best practises there are mostly just around being mobile friendly in the sense that mobile users should be able to do everything that is possible to do on a desktop, so that they don’t have to switch. In particular, if you have maybe an eCommerce set up or if you have something where people need to sign up, or if you want people to sign up and actually do some actions, then make sure that works really well on mobile. Speed obviously, is really important there, to make it easy for people to try things out.
John Mueller: Also on mobile, things like filling out forms or entering your credit card number can be really tedious. Those are the kind of situations where there is some neat things that you can do to make it possible for your browser to auto complete content including your name, your address, that it automatically fills out your credit card number, all of that. If you can make that as easy as possible, then chances are people will be able to at least do whatever it is that you want them to do on a mobile device as well, which means as more and more people use mobile devices almost exclusively for the internet, that makes it a lot easier for people to do what you want them to do on your website.


Kate Toon: Yeah, I think that’s so true. I think often the sites that fall down are the ones with forms or shopping carts. I think the truth is though, just because you bought a responsive theme, it doesn’t always mean that it’s actually easy to use. Sometimes these themes say they’re responsive, and then when you actually try to use them, the buttons are too small or it’s impossible to get your finger over the navigation or whatever so it’s important to try and use your site on different devices and see what the experience is like, not just rely on tools, online tools that say, “Yes, your site’s responsive.”

Actually watch someone try and do the theme on a phone. You often find that that tiny little button that you’ve created is impossible for fat fingers to get over.


Kate Toon: Do you find that when you’re trying to buy stuff online that that’s the bit that you really struggle? Often, you don’t go to the desktop site, you just give up and go to a different site all together.
John Mueller: Exactly, yeah. At least, that’s the case where we … I think speed is another one of those things where if a site is just really slow, I’ll just give up on my mobile and do something else. Once you’ve given up, it takes a lot of work to actually get people to come back to your website.
Kate Toon: Do you have to be faster now than for a desktop?

Are people a bit more patient on a desktop than a mobile?

The second part of that is how fast should a site load?

What’s your benchmark?


John Mueller: I think that’s really hard to say. I think on mobile, on the one hand you have an additional difficulty in that mobile devices tend to be a little bit slower and mobile connections tend to be a little bit slower. If you have a reasonable desktop site, that doesn’t automatically mean it will be reasonably fast on mobile as well. It’s worth testing that.

There are a bunch of different testing tools out there from simple things like page feed in sites to, and a whole collection of other sites that you can use to test. If you’re looking for a theme for your website, I would definitely use these benchmarking tools to figure out which ones are kind of fast, which ones are kind of slow.


John Mueller: What I’ve noticed is that a lot of themes that have a lot of bells and whistles, they tend to be the slower ones because obviously, all of this stuff that’s added into the theme, means that it just makes it a little bit harder to actually process on the user’s side.


John Mueller: With regards to what is a good speed, I think that’s really hard to say. One thing that I’ve noticed works really well when talking to people is to just look around at what other people are doing from a speed point of view, testing their sites as well. You can test any site with these speed tools. Seeing where they stand. If you think they’re pretty good, then maybe aim to be a little bit better than your competition.


Kate Toon: That sounds good. Well, I’ll include some of the links to those speed testing tools in the show notes. Another factor I think that’s always a big one, apart from jazzy, sexy bits on your website that slow it down is just really looking at those images and making sure that you’ve uploaded them with the right dimensions, you’ve compressed them as much as possible. People don’t want to be waiting five minutes for an image to load. Speed, that’s an easy win for you. Most of these tools will highlight images that are taking a while to load.
Kate Toon: Now, you mentioned earlier in the episode that there’s going to be an algorithm judgement  on whether a site is ready to be moved over to the mobile first index. How do we know if we’ve been moved over or not?


John Mueller: That’s a good question. We’re sending out messages to sites that were shifting over, primarily just to let them know. It feels a bit awkward from our sides, because essentially our algorithms are saying nothing should change for this website when we switch it over, but at the same time we know Web Masters are kind of worried about this change. We want to let them know when we’ve made this change, and essentially tell them, “By the way, nothing should be changing for your website because you’ve done everything right.”
John Mueller: For sites that have separate mobile URLs, this message is a little bit more important because your data will now be shown in search consul, under that separate mobile URL. If you have an m-dot site for example, then all of a sudden your data will be shown on the m-dot version, in search consult.
Kate Toon: Okay, so these messages are being sent out via search consoles. If you haven’t verified your site on Google Search console, that’s top priority, I guess.
John Mueller: Definitely.


Kate Toon: Who hasn’t done that?

You all should have done that. Anybody listening to this podcast should have done that by now. Now, just a final question and sorry, this is a bit left of centre, it’s not in our notes. What are the impacts of this going to be on Google Amp. Many people are moving to have and Amp version of their blog posts and their content and their recipes. Is this going to have a major impact on how Amp works?


John Mueller: It shouldn’t affect how AMP works but obviously you can make a great mobile site with AMP as well.

One of the things that I have noticed happening in the bigger web ecosystem is that a lot of people are taking this Amp model and saying, “Well, actually this Amp framework is pretty useful and it’s pretty fast. We’re going to shift our whole site over to that.” Depending on the type of site that you have, that might be pretty reasonable to do.

A lot of blogs, for example just have textual content. There’s not a lot of interaction happening there. That’s something that’s easily shifted to a pure AMP website.

John Mueller: If you do that, if you make that change to a pure Amp website, then again, you’re in this responsive set up again, where you have one single URL. That URL is desktop, mobile, and Amp. You have everything in one URL, you don’t have to worry about multiple URLs about redirect, anything like that. It makes is possible for you to have a really fast mobile website that also provides the advantages of Amp.


Kate Toon: Interesting. Now, we did an episode with Dawn Anderson about Amp many moons ago and we’re hopefully going to do a refresh, because it’s evolving all the time and it’s a flexible, fluctuating beast, so we’re going to hopefully get Dawn back to talk about Google Amp.


John Mueller: There are a bunch of sites that are all ready pure AMP. Amp is just a special format of HTML. It’s not like flash or anything where the content is completely hidden away, it’s essentially HTML. You can view these pages without java script, all search engines can process these pages completely normally. That’s perfectly fine. I think one of the things I would do here as a small business owner is just keep an eye on the plug ins that are available for your CMS, if you’re using the CMS like word press or if you’re using a hosted platform. I suspect that a lot of these platforms will be seeing more plug ins towards Amp or even canonical Amp, as we call it, where you shift the whole website over to Amp.
Kate Toon: Yeah, I think for Word Press, there’s a very imaginatively titled plug in called Amp and that’s evolved a lot in the last few months. It does the job. It might not be as perfect as hand coating various bits and bulbs, but it does the job and as you said, it’s almost the plug-ins responsibility to stay up to date with the changes of Amp and you don’t have to worry about it too much
Kate Toon: Now, I think just to finish off, I guess a little bit of reassurance is always nice. Google terrifies people, we’re always wondering why the hell are you always changing everything? Obviously, you’re doing it to make it a better experience for users, but should we be panicking about mobile first? Or can we sleep easy in our beds?


John Mueller: I think for the most part, sites don’t have anything to worry about. Especially if you’re a smaller business, if you’ve had your website on Word Press, on any of the other CMSes that are more common out there, then you probably have either responsive set up or you’ll have a pretty good mobile set up all ready. In a case like that, that’ll just continue working.

If you have a bad mobile website, if you have a mobile website that really doesn’t contain all of the content that it should, then that’s something that you should be fixing anyway, or you should be finding a way to improve anyway. This change will probably happen a bit later for your website, and in the meantime, you can fix those things that you’ve been meaning to clean up on your mobile site, anyway.


Kate Toon: Yeah, it’s a final push. If there’s anyone still out there that doesn’t have a site that looks good on mobiles, now is your time. Really, you should have got it years ago, but now is the final push. Well that’s great to know. Thank you so much John, for clearing up the confusion around mobile first. I think a lot of people rest a lot easier, having listened to this podcast. Thank you very much.
John Mueller: Thanks Kate.
Kate Toon: As you know, listeners to the show who listen regularly will know that we love to give a shout out to one of our listeners. This week, the testimonial is from Laura Matuchi I hope I’m saying your name correctly.


She says, “I very recommend podcast for SEO lovers for beginners. I love it. Its a huge mine of tools, tips, guidelines, dos and don’ts. As an SEO learner, I am following all the icons in the domain, and Kate is among them.” Oh, I’m an icon, there you go. “She has had a lot of experience and yet she keeps explaining everything in such an easy way and understandably too. I never get an ‘Oh my God, I’ll never make it’ feeling after listening to her podcasts. On the contrary, she is very encouraging and makes you want to learn, do and succeed.


Thank you very much for all your help. Keep it up.” What about that?

That’s a good testimonial.

Thanks to you for listening. If you like the show, don’t forget to subscribe. You can also, if you feel like it, leave us a five star rating and review on iTunes, STicher or wherever you heard the podcast. You can head to the website for the show, where you can learn more about John, check out some of those speed tools and leave a comment about the show. Finally, don’t forget to tune in to my other two podcasts, the Hot Coffee podcast, and the Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur. Until next time, happy SEO-ing.