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Mobile-first indexing has been enabled…

A small but steady stream of website owners are receiving a message from Google Search Console saying that “mobile-first indexing has been enabled” for their site. I monitor about 100 Google Search Console accounts, and have just seen the first such message, so don’t worry if you’re feeling left out. When you do get it, however, what will it mean?

Mobile sites differ from desktop ones, even if the content is the same (things get rearranged, even if content stays the same). Google traditionally indexed the desktop version of a site, so when mobile users clicked through from Google results, they may not have seen what the results promised – especially from the ‘snippets’ lifted from the pages. And we know that if there’s a mismatch, it can often lead to web users bouncing straight back to the search engine. Some sites are now seeing more traffic on mobile devices than on desktops, so it makes sense for Google to index the mobile version if possible, to give the majority of users a more ‘accurate’ experience.

What will the difference be, if Google starts indexing your site ‘mobile first’? Very little, I imagine. However, it’s worth being aware of how your site presents itself on mobile screens, and as I’ve said many times before, that presentation is a good place to start designing your site. It shouldn’t be an afterthought.

There’s a good article here if you want to read more.

Is Google a portal or a destination?

A couple of readers kindly took the time to email me and point out an epic article about what Google is up to nowadays, so how can I not mention it? Google’s Walled Garden: Are We Being Pushed Out of Our Own Digital Backyards? on takes a look at how far we’ve come from ‘ten blue links’ on a Google results page, and whether this is all ‘fair’ to content providers. Spoiler: it ends: “I think the time has come, though, for Google to stop and think about the pact that built their nearly hundred-billion-dollar ad empire.”

Well worth a read, and the discussion in the comments is good too.

Using the canonical link smartly

There’s a fairly obscure bit of code available for web pages which can improve your search engine performance noticeably if used well in certain situations. It’s called the ‘rel=canonical tag‘ or ‘canonical link’. You don’t have to know exactly how it works, or how to implement it (there are website designers for that), but it’s useful to know what it can do (because many website designers have no idea).

What the canonical link does is to specify the ‘preferred’ address of a web page. It allows a page to be accessible through various addresses (URLs) but only be seen as one page by search engines.

For example, one of our clients’ websites has a structure which lets the product pages be accessed via several routes, such as:

  • website/manufacturer/product
  • website/application/product
  • website/product-class/product


Now, many sites do this, but with most, the product page has the same address, however you reach it. With this particular site, that’s not the case – the actual address changes, and search engines see the same content several times over as apparently different pages. While they’re clever enough to know there’s no deception going on, the arrangement can cause problems: the search engine is left to choose which one to show, and (far more significantly), the link benefits are diluted around the ‘different’ pages.

Other content management systems might put ‘query strings’ on the end of addresses, while referencing the same page. So these might all be seen as different by a search engine, when they’re not:


In all these cases, if the page has a canonical link behind the scenes, the search engines will see things as you’d want them to.

Do you have canonical links in place on your site? It’s fairly easy to find out: take a look at the page source code and search for ‘canonical’. It’s possible that your site only has canonical links on pages where they’re specifically needed, but it’s more normal for sites to have them on every page.

What few people know is that canonical links can be used across sites. So if you run multiple websites, it’s quite legitimate to run the same article on them all, but with a canonical link on each pointing to the ‘master’ version. Also, as this excellent article describes, “if a publication wants to re-post your content on their domain, ask for (a canonical link) instead of – or in addition to – a link back”. The article also points out that the feature is built into, which is a very interesting option if you have any articles with fairly broad appeal.

The key to better search engine ranking

We all know that getting links to your site is one of the keys to better search engine ranking. No matter how much more sophisticated Google and its contemporaries get, that remains the case. The off-putting thing is that if you read the SEO experts, they’ll be talking about the need to get thousands, or tens of thousands, of incoming links. And your response would rightly be that there can’t be that many sites in the world which would be remotely relevant to what you sell, so what’s the point in even trying?

But you’re probably at a distinct advantage here over many other marketing managers. You’re not selling shoes, or hotel rooms. Check out the results for a competitive search in your market, and see how many ‘root domain’ links the page or site at the top has. you’ll probably find it doesn’t have thousands of links – more like dozens. Sometimes even fewer. That’s your target.

So, now that we know what we have to do (and I admit it’s not an appealing job), how do we go about it? If you’re thinking about marketing budgets for 2018, you really should specifically allocate some time or money for this. I’ll talk about some techniques tomorrow.

Is search engine optimisation worth it?

Long-time readers will know my view on this. Great search engine optimisation should easily be worth the time, effort and expense. In technical business to business markets, generating a website visit from a prospect can easily cost £5 or more. For a small company, even if Google or Bing natural search sends you just 100 interesting people a week, increasing this by 20% will be worth £5,000 a year straight off.

And yet… great search engine optimisation is unlikely to be available for £5,000 a year, not if you want your involvement to be limited to signing a purchase order. Many companies are spending this sort of money, just passing £500 a month or something like that to a web design agency, but I doubt that many are getting results from it; the exercise is more like an act of faith, and being seen to be doing something.

If your budget is this small, I believe you’d be better off managing things yourself. That doesn’t mean you need to be an expert. You can research or buy in advice on what needs doing (we give this to our clients for free), and you can get many of the resulting tasks done quite cheaply (or in-house for nothing). Don’t be bamboozled by anyone claiming it’s some sort of magic which can’t be explained to the likes of you.

For those whose budget for SEO is decent (and I can’t believe how few large companies in technical B2B markets push for an appropriate budget), then you can talk to a proper SEO specialist agency. But expect to pay well into five figures a year for this sort of thing. To prepare for this, have a read of 34 Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring an SEO Agency on