What Google’s Mobile-First Indexing Means for Your SEO

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As Google finds most people are now searching on mobile devices, Google is now altering the ranking systems to boost the rankings of relevant content for users on mobile devices. This is a key development for SEO, especially if you rely on traffic on mobile devices.

Google Mobile First Indexing SEO

What is mobile-first indexing?

Google’s ranking systems look at the desktop version of any website content to evaluate the relevance to the user and what they have searched for. Indexing is where Google makes a copy of your web page in a way that’s useful for the ranking algorithm.

The “Googlebot” crawling your website has a desktop user agent. The mobile Googlebot helps to gain mobile-friendly signals, but it does not create a new index based upon the mobile version of your website.

However, this may create issues when the mobile page that is presented to a user is stripped-down, and has less content that may be relevant to the user. This is down to Google’s algorithm not evaluating the actual mobile-friendly page a user on a mobile device will end up seeing.

In order to tackle this issue, Google has begun experimenting to make their index mobile-first, which means the search index will eventually use the mobile version of websites as the primary example.  This also includes understanding structured data, and showing relevant snippets for mobile devices in the search results.

Why is Google’s indexing going mobile-first?

Due to the rise of people searching on mobile devices, Google is attempting to provide a better experience for mobile users.

For instance, many users will see something interesting in the search result snippet, and get redirected to a mobile version of the site which is a stripped-down version of the site which doesn’t include the content seen in the search results.

When is mobile-first indexing happening?

At the moment, Google is simply experimenting, so it is difficult to say when this will come into play. However, Google did state:

“We understand this is an important shift in our indexing and it’s one we take seriously. We’ll continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale and we’ll ramp up this change when we’re confident that we have a great user experience. Though we’re only beginning this process, here are a few recommendations to help webmasters prepare as we move towards a more mobile-focused index.”

What does mobile-first indexing mean for my SEO?

While Google does offer a mobile-friendly ranking boost that will help mobile websites rank higher on mobile devices, mobile-indexing is different.

Many webmasters, SEOs and business owners are concerned over their search engine rankings due to a change in indexing, the ranking isn’t the top concern.

If your website is responsive, you should not see any changes with indexing, as in most cases the same content will be seen by Google.

If you have separate desktop and mobile versions of your website, and you have a device type redirect or rel=alternate and canonical tags setup, then Google’s mobile crawler will only see the mobile version of the site. This means if you have any content only displayed on the desktop website, Google won’t see this, and it won’t be featured in the mobile-first index.

However, if you don’t currently have a mobile website, the mobile Googlebot will still see your website, as it crawls everything. These will continue to rank on mobile devices, but due to Google’s mobile-friendly ranking boost, it’s likely mobile-friendly content will outrank your site on mobile devices.

Pages which will be affected by the change to mobile-first indexing are ones which feature a mobile version of the site that doesn’t contain the same content as the desktop version. Desktop pages without a mobile version will still continue to rank with mobile-first indexing, but will provide a poor user experience, and may continue to be outranked by mobile-friendly websites.

Essentially, if the desired content isn’t on your mobile website, then the information isn’t deemed most important, and users should most likely be redirected elsewhere. If your website isn’t already responsive, then you should be looking into investing in a responsive website that provides a great mobile experience, without losing essential content that could affect your rankings.

Google’s recommendations are the following:

  • If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.
  • If you have a site configuration where the primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes to your site.
  • If you are a site owner who has only verified their desktop site in Search Console, please add and verify your mobile version.
  • If you only have a desktop site, we’ll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we’re using a mobile user agent to view your site.
  • If you are building a mobile version of your site, keep in mind that a functional desktop-oriented site can be better than a broken or incomplete mobile version of the site. It’s better for you to build up your mobile site and launch it when ready.  

If you’re looking to get a mobile-responsive website and improve your SEO rankings, or if you have any questions, get in touch and we will be happy to help.