What is Mobile First Indexing? What we learned in early 2015 about “mobile-friendly” was the first shoe. Now at the end of 2016 the other shoe has dropped.
Ever since Google announced back in early 2015 that mobile friendly websites would get a boost in mobile rankings, we’ve cautiously waited for the other shoe to drop. Now it has.
What is Mobile First Indexing?
So what is mobile first indexing? In essence, the Google announcement is actually the first move in Google’s planned shift to looking primarily at mobile content, rather than desktop, when deciding how to rank results across both platforms.
How it Works Now
To fully understand exactly what is mobile first indexing, it’s helpful to understand how it currently works. From the user perspective, it appears that a Google search has two possible outcomes. One for desktops and laptops and one for mobile.
But right now, Google has just one index based on desktop sites. It creates signals based on Googlebot with the desktop user agent. Google then crawls with their mobile Googlebot to gather mobile friendly and other signals – but they aren’t creating a new index based on the the mobile site.
Currently, when a user searches Google (either desktop or mobile) the retrieval part of the algorithm looks at the desktop index created by the Googlebot desktop crawler. It finds relevant results based on the desktop index, then ranks them based on the desktop index and even shows the searcher a snippet based on the desktop index. Then, since early 2015, Google looks at the mobile signals collected by the mobile crawler and then adjusts the rankings accordingly.
The problem lies in the fact that there are still many websites that serve a second mobile site. Before responsive websites, many businesses created a second website for their mobile users. Additionally, many mobile sites are leaner on content that the desktop site. The problem arises when Google uses their desktop Googlebot to index the desktop website, but when the user clicks on that while on mobile, the information Google “thought” was there, isn’t there.
What is Mobile First Indexing And What You Need To Do
Think About Your Mobile Page
Many site owners make their mobile page a much lighter version of the page. But with Google doing a mobile first index, this means that site owners will need to think very carefully about what they place on those pages. If the content of your desktop version of the page has does not appear on the mobile page, a site owner will lose traffic to those pages for those keywords.
Site owners that serve two different versions of a page, depending on whether a visitor is on mobile or desktop, will need to think about this change and how to react to it. This may be the final push they need to go to a responsive mobile-friendly website. And speaking of responsive design…
Sites with Identical Desktop/Mobile Content (Responsive Design)
For websites that use responsive design for example, which has the exact same content on both desktop and mobile, sit back and relax. You will be fine with this change. Because there isn’t the loss of part of the page, which is what the mobile first indexing change is all about.
What is mobile first indexing and how does it affect me?
The Bottom Line
Since the dawn of the internet, Google has crawled the web from a desktop browser point of view, and now Google is changing that to crawl the web from a mobile browser view.
Eventually, Google plans to have only one index, one which is based on mobile content, to serve listings for both mobile and desktop users. During this roll-out period, there will be two: desktop-first and mobile-first. A small group of users will get results out of the mobile-first index. As Google grows confidence in the mobile-first index, eventually that will be the only index used.
With this change to mobile first indexing, Google will primarily index mobile content and use that to decide how to rank the search results, regardless of whether you’re on desktop or mobile.
As of this moment, if your website is not mobile-friendly your website is likely degraded only in mobile search results. In a few short months, if your website is not mobile-friendly, this now has an impact even on how you appear for desktop searchers as well.