With more than 50% of searches taking place on mobile devices rather than desktops, Google has announced that they are going to adapt to this trend by indexing the mobile version of your website first (called mobile-first indexing). This change is expected to take place this year. In fact, Google has already started testing mobile-first indexing with a small number of websites.

What Google includes in their index and how they configure search rankings will be based on the mobile version of your website first. Indexing happens when Google sends its robots to crawl your site. What the robots find determines how your site will rank on search engine result pages. With a mobile-first approach, Google will consider the mobile version of your site the primary version and crawl it first before crawling the desktop version.

How Does Mobile-First Indexing Affect My Business?

You might be wondering if and how Google’s Mobile-First Indexing will affect you. Google does not actually anticipate mobile-first indexing to change search rankings drastically. Depending on what type of mobile website you have or don’t have, you should take this change into consideration and plan accordingly:

  1. If you have a responsive site with equivalent content across the mobile and the desktop version, you shouldn’t have to worry about changing anything.
  2. If the primary content on your website is different across the desktop version and the mobile version, you should consider making changes to your site.
  3. If you do not have a mobile site at all, Google will crawl the desktop version instead. Keep in mind that not having a mobile website may negatively affect your overall rankings.

Tips to Prepare Your Business for Mobile-first indexing:

Check Your Analytics. Find out what percentage of traffic to your website is currently coming from mobile devices. Analyze the trend. Is traffic from mobile increasing while desktop traffic is decreasing? If so, this is the trend Google is wanting to reflect in their transition to Mobile-First Indexing.

Make sure your site is mobile friendly. A mobile-friendly site will look good and load fast on a smartphone. Its content should be crawlable by Google’s bots. If you’re not sure if your mobile website is crawlable, use a robots.txt testing tool to verify that Googlebot can access your mobile website. Be sure to check your images, videos, and text to make sure content can be crawled and is not slowing down page speed.

Prioritize mobile for SEO and other digital marketing efforts. Google won’t penalize your site for having a robust desktop version (with lots of indexed pages) and a thin mobile site. However, if you have a separate mobile site, now would be a good time to make sure that it has as much relevant content as the desktop version. If your site is fully responsive, you should concentrate on user experience (page speed, navigation, design).

There’s No Need to Worry About Mobile-First Indexing

This is a gradual transition! Google does not expect to have complete mobile-first indexing for a couple of years, so you have time to prepare your mobile site.

Google is not going to completely remove your desktop content from the existing index and start over with your mobile site. However, the more relevant and valuable content found on your mobile version, the more likely it is to rank well.

If you don’t have a mobile version of your site, Google is not going to completely trash your current search rankings. Google Bots will crawl your desktop version.  If you are in the process of developing your mobile site, it’s better to wait to launch your site until it is fully completed. Not having a mobile site is better than having Google crawl an incomplete or broken mobile site.

Ultimately, Google wants to make results more useful for its users. Since more than half of searches take place on mobile devices, Google wants to focus on mobile searches. While change may be daunting, transitioning from desktop to mobile indexing will ultimately make the web more mobile-friendly and reflect user behavior trends.

Common Questions About Mobile-First Indexing

Is mobile-first indexing adding mobile pages to a separate mobile index?

Google is not creating an additional index or two separate indexes. Instead, mobile-first indexing changes how content is added to the current index.

Why is Google changing the index?

With a majority of searches taking place on mobile devices, Google has found that the current index can create problems when the desktop page has more content than the mobile page because their algorithms are evaluating the desktop version – not the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher. By transitioning the index from desktop to mobile-first, Google has encouraged websites to become more mobile friendly.

Should I be nervous if my mobile version has less content than my desktop version?

There’s no need to be nervous. As mentioned earlier, this is a gradual transition, so you have time to prepare. However, you do want to take proactive measures. If your mobile version has less content than your desktop version, Google will just see the mobile version as having less content and rank accordingly. This is why Google recommends you have a mobile responsive website meaning that content is the same on a page-by-page basis on your desktop version and your mobile site.

What should I do if my mobile site is separate from my desktop site?

Make sure your mobile version has all of the high-quality content that is available on your desktop site including text, videos, and images. Include the same structured data markup on both versions.

Google does not have a timeline for complete mobile-first indexing because they want to give webmasters time to get their mobile sites ready. This change could have a significant impact on your business if you completely disregard this transition. Therefore, taking next steps when it comes to mobile-first indexing is critical if you want your business to maintain visibility in search engine rankings.