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By Monica E. Oss

As the world’s leading search engine, Google gets to set the rules and we all play by them. This matters because 77% of consumers research provider organizations online before making a health care decision and 44% of people researching health care options online made their decisions based solely on their web research (see Running A Best Practice Digital Marketing Program: Using Online Marketing & Social Media To Your Advantage). The power of Google in the health and human service field was made clear recently when they embargoed addiction treatment search advertising in the U.S – a move that had marketing teams scrambling (see Google Suspends Addiction Treatment Ads – How Do You Compete On An Uneven Playing Field?).

But Google is getting ready to make another change that will prove a challenge for marketing teams – mobile-first indexing. Mobile-first indexing is a change in how Google’s search engine indexes web pages and displays search results. Google has announced that going forward, their algorithm will primary use the mobile version of a website’s content to rank pages in search engine results. The rollout of mobile-first indexing will happen in batches sometime in 2018 (see Mobile-First Indexing).

As Google explained when they made the announcement in November:

… our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.  

Why is Google making this change? More searches are now done on mobile devices than on traditional desktop computers. According to a recent report by Hitwise, 68% of health-related searches on Google take place via mobile devices (see Report: Nearly 60 Percent Of Searches Now From Mobile Devices). Because of this trend, Google is trying to improve its users’ experience on mobile devices by giving better rankings to websites that have mobile-responsive sites.

What does this mean for the marketing teams of health and human service organizations? If your website is not mobile responsive, you will not rank as high on Google. Top ranking websites get a much higher percentage of web traffic. Not ranking high on Google’s search engine results pages (SERP) could mean that potential consumers, referral sources, or other stakeholders will not be able to find you easily.

Heidi Holman

How can marketing teams ensure that their website is ready for mobile-first indexing? To answer that question, I reached out to my colleague and OPEN MINDS Senior Associate, Heidi Holman, who noted:

When Google finishes rolling out mobile-first indexing, how your current website is experienced on mobile devices will impact your search rankings. So how do you know what your website looks like on a mobile device? Well, you could get out your smartphone and explore your website to get a better understanding of your users’ experience on your site. But I recommend that you check your website’s current mobile-friendliness online according to how Google’s indexing robots see your website (for an example of how to test your website, visit The simple test will give you a direct answer on how the “Googlebot” understands your site.

Once Google has told you how it interprets your site, you will have a be able to develop a website development strategy to implement changes. Keep in mind that in addition to your website adjusting to fit into the smaller screens of a smartphone or tablet device, it should be easy to navigate on a touch screen, have buttons and links that are easily clickable, and have images and text that can expand for easier readability. If the list of changes needed is small enough, or if your marketing team is up for it, you could make many of the changes internally. However, if you have a lengthy list of changes or lack in-house web development experts, you might have to consult with an external web developer to help you manage the process of enhancing your website to become mobile-friendly. Working closely with professionals who understand your business and your consumers ensures that your website will continue to be a marketing asset that helps you grow your organization.

Your website is just one piece of your organization’s digital marketing strategy, but to deliver the results you need to compete in an increasingly digital world, you need to ensure that you’ve positioned your online presence for maximum impact. For more on what you need to know in the world of online marketing—including for desktop, smartphones, and social media—check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:

  1. 40%+ Of Consumers Won’t Know You Without A Social Media Plan
  2. Planning For The Digital Reinvention Of Your Market
  3. Online Ratings Are All Wrong. Consumers Don’t Care.
  4. Marketing Is Strategy In Action
  5. When Consumers Find Your Organization Online, Will They Pick You?
  6. Want More Referrals? Step Up Your Web Marketing Game
  7. Navigating The New Marketing Paradigm – Web & Social Media Presence Are The New Essentials
  8. SEO Basics For Health & Human Service Professionals
  9. 5 Keys For Optimizing Your Online Brand
  10. Why Execs Can’t Ignore Online Marketing Anymore – Even In Health & Human Services

Looking for more info on how to stay on top of your online marketing game? Join OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Kristi Hamilton on August 14 in Long Beach, California, for her executive seminar, “How To Develop A Successful Marketing Plan: The OPEN MINDS Seminar On Marketing Strategy,” during our management best practices week at The 2018 OPEN MINDS Management Best Practices Institute.

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