Internal linking for mobile-first indexing

Nov 19, 2021 by
Internal linking for mobile-first indexing

Mobile-first indexing might have been only a whisper on the grapevine a few years ago but from this summer onwards, it’s officially the new normal. The fundamental problem with this is that there’s still a major disparity between the desktop and mobile versions of the internet, particularly as far as internal links are concerned.

How did this happen?

Essentially, this happened because we now use our mobile phones just as much as our desktop and laptop computers to browse the internet and Google is fully aware of this. Google was factoring mobile-friendliness into its rankings as far back as the early 2010s but it wasn’t until 2016 that the term “mobile-first indexing” started popping up.

Five years later and the transformation is almost complete but for those of us who have simply let this change wash over us, there could be a price to pay. You see, if your mobile site doesn’t have a clear internal linking structure, it’s going to make Google’s web crawler have to work a lot harder.

The importance of internal links

Like all links, internal links exist to let search engines discover new URLs and to develop page authority. From a user perspective, they also provide a way for site visitors to explore all of your offerings organically, without having to leave the page.

There is, however, a notable disparity between desktop and mobile internal links, which means it should be best practice at this point to make lists of both versions of a page and search for discrepancies. We understand this is a laborious process but if you want your site to operate as well on smartphones as it does on desktop computers (and vice versa) then it might be necessary.

Of course, some differences are worse than others.

Anchor links – Given the scale of the mobile internet, anchor links are simply less necessary. On a typical Amazon desktop page, for example, you’ll see lot’s of anchor text but on the mobile page, you’ll see barely any. This isn’t really a concern anyway, as anchor links are essentially pages linking to themselves.

Non-indexed pages – Again, no big deal. While links to non-indexed pages might have different internal tracking tags on desktop and mobile, they’ll generally share a canonical tag leading to the same place. The same is true when linking to user-specific pages (my account).

Desktop-only navigation – If you’ve ever found yourself on a mobile version of a site you’re familiar with and wondering where certain navigational elements have disappeared, you’re not going crazy. Many desktop sites include navigational links that won’t be found on their mobile equivalents. This could be from a purely practical perspective (mobile is smaller, after all) but Google is likely to treat a prominent homepage link very differently to one that’s buried in navigation. Simply put, if something is a main category on your desktop page and a subcategory on your mobile page, you might have an issue.

Subcategories – Most larger desktop sites such as Amazon manage their vast number of subcategories by using a huge menu at the top of the page that collapses into different sub-sections. This is, however, much harder to implement on mobile.

What’s the solution?

The main problem here boils down to potentially absent navigational elements on mobile. This could be solved by pushing links to the bottom of the page and using extra elements such as tabs and other expandable sections to make better use of mobile screen space. If you have any more elaborate ideas for improving mobile-first indexing, feel free to let us know in the comments below!