Recently, Google announced on their blog that they have started experiments to make their search index mobile-first. Today, they still index from desktop versions and adjust for “mobile-friendly” to improve rankings. What does this “mobile-first” indexing mean exactly?
Google is experimenting to make their index mobile-first, stating the “search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps;” however, “our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, understand structured data, and show snippets from those pages in our results.”
While the change won’t be instantaneous, updates are along the way and it’s important to ensure all versions of your website are ready. Here are four key things you should know about mobile-first indexing to prep for Google’s future algorithm updates:
1. It’s going to be better for both users and your website
Currently, the results users receive when searching on Google with a mobile device are actually geared toward what’s available on desktop, not mobile. Right now, if a mobile website has less content or information on the desktop version of the site, it could still show up at the top of the ranking when you search, regardless of device.
A mobile-first index can impact websites that display different content on their mobile site compared to their desktop site. If the mobile website was created with less content on the site (often trying to appeal to the transient nature of mobile users), Google’s crawler may see this as less relevant to the user’s query and lower the site’s overall ranking.
When you search on Google, the rankings would be optimal if they took into account the best information and content available on the device you are using. To build an index and search ranking, Google starts by crawling the site for information. With Google’s new experiments with mobile-first indexing, it will change the order in which Google crawls the site, starting with the mobile version.
2. It aligns with the nature of mobile searching
As more and more searches come from users on mobile devices, it has become apparent that mobile users search many times a day in micro-moments, rather than spending lengthy amounts of time researching. How often have you been in a conversation with someone, only to pause and search something quickly when someone suggests “Google it!”? Google wants to ensure their index is updated with relevant information for mobile users that’s easily accessible for short-term, quick answers-focused research.
In addition, the new updates will align with the rise of voice search and strive to provide more information on the search results page itself, rather than just the websites. With voice search and phone capabilities like the iPhone’s Siri, users are interacting more with search engines than digging through website pages to find answers to their questions.
3. You should start ensuring your website is ready for a mobile-first index.
There are many mobile website configurations, so this often depends on exactly how your site is built. If your website is responsive and serves the same content to all users regardless of device, then there is no need to make any changes.
If your website is non-responsive or serves different content to users on mobile than on desktop devices, then Google recommends making changes that accommodate their mobile-first index. Some of these changes include serving structured markup for both versions, adding structured data, and ensuring your content is accessible to the Googlebot with the robots.txt testing tool.
4. Keep in mind Google is still experimenting, and hasn’t officially rolled out changes.
Currently, the mobile-first index is an experiment and has not officially rolled out—this gives you time to explore your site’s configuration and determine if changes are needed.
Google expressing a strong desire to have webmasters change their sites to a mobile-first index shows Google’s attempt to lead by example. A mobile-first index will ideally allow Google to capture better information about mobile users and create a better user experience for the majority of daily searches.
For those in the industry, this information has not come as a shock as we have been hearing about the possibility of a separate mobile index for the past year. Google has always been clear about their support for a mobile-first environment, including last year’s mobile-friendly update. With this latest update from them about changes in progress, it’s essential to ensure your website is optimized and ready for the mobile-first update.