Why You Need a Responsive Design Before Google’s Mobile-First Index Launch

Reading Time: 5 mins

Google announced the mobile-first index is coming back in November 2016. Google is essentially altering the ranking systems to boost rankings of content for users on mobile devices, as it’s much more commonplace for users to search on mobile devices than before. This is a key development for anyone concerned about their SEO efforts.

However, more recently, Google has warned that anyone looking to move m-dot domain websites over to a mobile-friendly, responsive website should do so soon, before the mobile-first index goes live.

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

As it stands, Google’s index is desktop-first. This means Google is not indexing your m-dot part of the site, but are annotating the m-dot URLs.

Google is looking to change how all of this works. As it looks at the desktop version of sites, and evaluates the relevance to the user on this, it is looking to basis this on mobile instead.

The Googlebot crawling the site has a desktop user agent, and it does have a mobile version to look for mobile-friendly signals that helps your ranking. However, this doesn’t create a new index.

Why Adopt a Responsive Design Now?

With the rise of mobile device searching, Google is looking to provide better experiences for mobile users. And this is why mobile-first indexing is coming to fruition. A better experience means happier Google customers, and if they find your site, they will be happier with the experience on your site.

When you go responsive and migrate m-dot domains to the main www, Google does not actively have to index anything more as it is updating mobile annotations which says the main site is mobile-friendly, thanks to the responsive design.

However, if you were to wait until after the mobile-friendly index is in action, the m-dot URL and all of the content that comes with it will be fully indexed, which isn’t great going forwards if you’re planning to upgrade to a mobile-responsive design regardless.

What’s the difference with Responsive Designs vs M-Dot Websites?

When mobile devices became a big thing, many websites adopted a separate m-dot website for mobile devices. Having two separate websites was fine, and gave a good experience on both platforms. And as Google currently crawls desktops, it wouldn’t miss any vital content.

However nowadays m-dot domains are seen as fairly old-fashioned, and responsive design is the way forward. There’s still a time and a place for m-dot, but largely responsive designs are the norm. This is where the design of your website scales down to fit on a mobile device, meaning the same website and design fits all devices perfectly.

Websites should be able to display the same content on mobile devices as on a desktop device. M-dot websites are often stripped back in order to display less information on a mobile device, due to the smaller screen. Responsive websites however, display the same information across any device. It’s simply the layout and the design that changes based on what device or screen size the user is viewing it on.

The mobile-first index is likely to be coming in 2018, and will most likely roll out in batches, on a site-by-site basis.

Google’s previous recommendations were as follows:

  • 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.

To read more on the mobile-first index roll out, check out our previous blog post found here.