What is mobile-first indexing?
Last year, Google announced that the majority of pages in its search results were indexed using mobile-first indexing. From 1 July 2019, mobile-first indexing was enabled by default for all websites that are either new to the web or previously unknown to Google.
This means that Google’s search engine evaluates, indexes and ranks the mobile versions – not the desktop versions – of new websites. The goal, says Google, is “to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for”.
This makes sense. Since most of us now access Google Search with a mobile device, Googlebot (Google’s web crawler) primarily crawls and indexes pages with the smartphone agent.
In the past, the Googlebot would scan your desktop website’s content and evaluate its relevance to a user’s search. Now, the mobile-version is being evaluated first.
Does mobile-first indexing mean Google will ignore your desktop website?
No. Mobile-first indexing is exactly what it says. It’s about the order of things. First, Google will look at your mobile site when determining rank. Google will not ignore your desktop site.
The reality is that most businesses won’t notice the shift to mobile-first indexing because their websites are already designed to be mobile-friendly and ready for this method of crawling.
As Google says, “It’s fantastic to see that new websites are now generally showing users – and search engines – the same content on both mobile and desktop devices.”
Why mobile-first indexing matters to your business
Mobile-first indexing is not used as a ranking factor per se. It’s simply a method by which Google indexes.
But, and it’s a big but, mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor. This is the main reason why mobile-first indexing matters to your business. It’s all about the user experience.
If your business doesn’t have a mobile version or the desktop site is not mobile-friendly, take stock. Your website may not rank as well as a mobile-friendly site. And this will affect traffic and sales.
What if your business is not ready for mobile-first indexing?
If your website is not mobile-ready, Google will continue to use desktop-first indexing and monitor your site for mobile-first readiness.
Google announced that it will continue to evaluate whether older websites are set up for mobile-first indexing based on parity of content (text, images, video, links), structured data and metadata (titles, descriptions, meta tags).
When a site is ready to be switched to mobile-first indexing, the owner will receive information through Google’s Search Console.
It’s important to understand that there isn’t a separate mobile-first index. Google Search still uses one index and continues to show the URL that’s the most appropriate to users, whether it’s a desktop or mobile URL in Search results.
What is the number one lesson to learn about mobile-first indexing?
The number one lesson – the real takeaway – is this: the mobile version of your website must now be the primary version.
If the desktop pages of your website are different to the mobile pages, ranking will probably be impacted.
Previously, the desktop version was the primary and most comprehensive version of websites. It was prioritised by SEO and marketing teams. A mobile version often had lighter content and would not include the same level of markup and structure. That can no longer be the case. SEO and marketing must concentrate on mobile sites.
Is your mobile website user-friendly and mobile-responsive?
If you don’t know whether your website is mobile-friendly, try this test tool from Google: https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly
Also, consider these questions to help determine whether your mobile site is user-friendly and optimised:
- Has the mobile experience improved in the past few years?
- Is the content for mobile users high quality and valuable?
- Is the content easy to navigate and consume?
- Is the design user-friendly?
- Are page speed and load time optimised?
- Does the page fit a mobile screen?
- Are images distorted?
- Are the video and other dynamic elements optimised (and the formats crawlable and indexable)?
- Are there errors or hard-to-click buttons?
- Is your structured markup consistent and accurate?
- Can a user complete a purchase?
It will take years before Google completes an index that is only mobile-first, so don’t panic. However, now is the best time to start ensuring that your site is mobile-friendly.