The Google Mobile First Index is Coming – What You Need to Know

Close Up of Mobile Device

The mobile first index has been a hot topic in the search world recently, with Google’s announcement that they are beginning roll-out. This means they will be looking primarily at the mobile version of a website over the desktop version for indexing and search rankings.

We discuss the key points to consider, along with any changes that need to be made before full roll-out takes place.

Why mobile first index?

The world becomes more technologically advanced and mobile-friendly by the day, which is why Google’s Mobile first index may not be too surprising to many of us, particularly since a greater number of searches are now made through mobile devices over desktops.

Despite this, Google’s search index is still being based off the desktop version of a site, meaning that the content delivered may not always match what Google views as the ‘most relevant to the user’ since many mobile pages contain less content than their desktop counterparts.

The mobile first index is, therefore, another example of Google’s long-standing endeavour to keep up-to-date with search trends and reflect user behaviour.

What exactly is the mobile first index?

A search engine’s index is the number of pages or documents that the search engine has found while crawling the web via links. This has historically happened through the desktop browser method, but now, Google will be changing this so that the web is crawled from mobile browser instead.

With mobile-first indexing, the clue is in the name. It simply means that Google will first and foremost look at the mobile version of your website for what to include in its index, based on content, links and structured data, and then decide which pages of the site to rank in the search engine results.

It is important to point out that this does not mean your website will not be indexed if there is no mobile version – Google will simply fall back on the desktop version in such cases. However, a lack of mobile-friendly user experience could affect your rankings, meaning a competitor of yours which has a site that is mobile-ready may receive a rankings boost, even if searches are made through desktop.

This is Google’s attempt to improve and standardise the way web designers and developers work, and incentivise positive change through a possible search rankings increase.

It is for these reasons that we highly recommend ensuring your site is as mobile responsive as it can be for better search engine optimisation.

Do I need to do anything?

Google have themselves stated that if a website is already mobile responsive - meaning the content and structure is the same across desktop and mobile - then you won’t have to make any changes, thus your rankings will most likely stay the same.

On the other hand, where a site’s content and markup are different across desktop and mobile, Google recommends making changes to prepare for the algorithm update, which you should be undertaking as soon as possible. Your UK SEO company, digital agency or web developer should already have discussed this with you and began working on the necessary website changes.

Even where a website is mobile-ready, you’ll still want to ensure your mobile page speeds and load times are significant enough, and you can start by using Google’s Page Speed Insights tool to determine this. Moreover, your images should be mobile optimised, navigation should be user-friendly and content should be engaging when shown through a mobile device.

Mobile-first indexing will not create a new, separate mobile index, but it will instead alter the way content is added in the existing, single index, and if a web page does not cut it, it might not be included in Google’s index, which means it will not be able to rank.

What if I have no mobile version?

Existing desktop sites which have been successfully indexed will continue to be indexed even if being viewed from a mobile device, but they may not rank as highly as websites which are mobile-ready. We are all aware by now that content which is not seen by Google as ‘mobile-friendly’ will not rank as well and that will continue to be the case with the new index.

That being said, an official recommendation from Google states that once the mobile first index occurs whilst you are in the process of building a mobile site, it would be better to have none at all (and just a desktop version) as opposed to one which is broken or incomplete. It is therefore wise to wait until a mobile site is completely ready before launching it, or you could risk losing your rankings altogether.

What if my mobile site has less content?

Google will be looking at the mobile version of your website primarily, which means that if there are gaps in content on the mobile version of a page which is content-heavy on desktop, there may well be an issue. Google will therefore likely only view the mobile version with the shorter content. As such, Google recommends using the mobile responsive approach in that content should be the same across pages on both mobile and desktop.

When is it happening?

Don’t panic! The index change is still in the experimental phase and is only being gradually implemented on sites which Google deems prepared enough to have little impact. They are therefore taking a cautious approach and moving slowly so that site owners can ensure their websites are ready for the change, of which Google’s Gary Illyes says is still a long-way off in terms of full roll-out. There is, therefore, no set date for full mobile first index – so for now, we’ll just have to wait and see.

As the mobile trend continues to grow, more searchers will be using mobile instead of desktop to search. A website which is mobile responsive, user-friendly and has lots of great content will continue to rank successfully as the new index rolls out in the coming months.

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