How the Upcoming Mobile-First Index Will Impact College and University Websites

By Janet Driscoll Miller | Jul 7, 2017
More Articles by Janet

July often means the beginning of a new fiscal year for colleges and universities, bringing with it new marketing plans and initiatives. One of the more important priorities for this year for colleges and universities should be prepping the website for Google’s Mobile-First Index. Last November, Google first announced its mobile-first indexing effort, which will switch Google’s indexing priority from desktop-first to mobile-first. Essentially Google aims to index the mobile version of a website before the desktop version of a website.

Why Mobile-First Indexing Is Important 

So why is the shift to mobile-first indexing from the current desktop-first model an important SEO shift? When Google launched the mobile-friendly algorithm update (lovingly termed “mobilegeddon” by SEOs) in April 2015, many webmasters began making a shift to ensure that the mobile display of their websites followed good mobile-friendly guidelines, which are mostly focused on design aspects.

There were two main options that webmasters used to create a mobile-friendly site. One option is to make the site responsive. A responsive site is the same content as the desktop site but the design is rearranged to fit the smaller mobile screen. The second option is to make a separate mobile site, often called an “m-dot” site. In this scenario, the mobile site is actually a different site than the main desktop site. Perhaps some information doesn’t appear that would normally appear on the desktop site, prioritizing content that is most useful for mobile visitors.

Google has primarily recommended responsive designs, although before now it did not penalize m-dot sites. However, with the mobile-first index, it will be imperative for websites to represent all of the content in order for all of the great site content to be indexed. Therefore Google is reminding webmasters to change m-dot sites to be responsive versions of their desktop sites prior to the mobile-first indexing rollout.

With colleges and universities, another issue that often occurs is that portions of the website will be mobile-ready while other pages or sections will not be.


Mobile-friendliness is measured on a page-by-page basis, so just having a mobile home page, as shown above, isn’t enough. It’s critical with the upcoming mobile-first index to ensure that all pages of the site are mobile-friendly in design. Test the pages of your site using Google’s Mobile Friendly Testing tool.

Don’t Forget Mobile Pagespeed

Also don’t forget your site’s mobile page load speed, which is already a ranking factor for the mobile algorithm. Unfortunately many sites just don’t focus enough on mobile page load time, but this represents an opportunity for others. One of the most common problems on college and university websites comes down to images. Because so many different marketers may be working with different sections of the website and uploading images, it’s not uncommon for large images to be uploaded to the site that only need to display in a small area.


The image on the left represents the actual size that the image is displayed on the website. The image on the right is the actual image that was uploaded and is being resized via HTML to display on the site. The larger image is a larger file size and therefore requires a greater load time. Be sure to update images before uploading to ensure that you’re not uploading larger file sizes than you need.

Not sure how ready your website is? Google has a fantastic tool that can give you mobile pagespeed information and show you how your site compares to other college websites.


Mobile is one of my top seven list of priorities for colleges and universities for SEO this year. Read the whole list over on Search Engine Land.


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