It won’t be news to anyone that mobile web browsing is overtaking desktop, and Google’s search engine has always tried to provide a better mobile user experience. At first, it labeled websites as mobile-friendly to show users which pages were optimized for their mobile devices. Then, mobile-friendliness became a ranking signal. Today we will talk about one more Google’s innovation and one more reason to make your site mobile-friendly — mobile-first indexing.
What is the goal of a mobile-first index?
At the end of 2016 Google officially announced they were starting experiments on how to move towards a more mobile-focused index. A full roll-out is expected in 2017. So, for the time being, both desktop-first and mobile-first indexes are used. However, after all testing is completed, Google plans to have only one index, instead of applying separate algorithms for different devices. So, the mobile-first index will soon serve as the listings for both mobile and desktop search queries.
What was wrong with the previous way of indexing, and what is the purpose of switching to this update? Until recently, Google basically looked at web pages through the eyes of desktop users, with mobile pages considered important, but not the main focus. This has often caused mismatch between pages evaluated by algorithms and those actually viewed by mobile users, because mobile pages might have less content than their desktop versions. Thus, Google began treating mobile versions as the primary and desktop versions as the secondary pages to index. This is designed to enhance the relevance of search results.
How to see your site through Google’s eyes?
The best way is to use the Google Search Console. The “Fetch and Render” button in “Fetch as Google” feature simulates the crawl and render process normally done by the search engine. It allows you check whether Googlebots can access all your pages without any obstruction and debug any crawl issues it might detect. Specify user-agent and see how your pages will be displayed at different devices. Rendered results show what Google can see and index from your mobile-oriented pages. If some of your content is missing, fix it and run this tool again.
Google Search Console also enables you to add and verify the web resource you own. So, if you have verified only the desktop version of your site, hurry up to verify a mobile version too.
What sites are best prepared for the mobile-first indexing?
If you own and support two versions of your web resource, check whether the content and markup are analogous on them both. Since your mobile version is going to be indexed first, make sure that smartphone users will be able to see the same pieces of content as computer users, and you won’t risk losing a vast potential audience.
If you have only decided to build a mobile version of your existing desktop website, take your time, plan everything in detail and launch it only after making sure that it’s entirely operational. Remember that the inconvenience of having to scroll left to right on a functional desktop-oriented site is the lesser of two evils, compared to an incomplete mobile version with broken links.
Sites with Accelerated Mobile Pages are considered as having mobile content. As AMP standard is implemented by creating additional AMP versions of pages and designed to accelerate loading speed on mobile devices, these pages are expected to be indexed first by Google.
Instead of maintaining two separate versions, you can also have one responsive website to fit all screen sizes of smartphones, tablets and any other mobile devices. As a matter of fact, sites of this type are already best accommodated for mobile-first indexing and are your best option.
If someone has a dynamic serving website, no adjustment is required, as this site has one URL for all devices and is set up to respond with different HTML and CSS depending on the user agent.
If you have already implemented a responsive web design, dynamic serving or AMP standard, then you are ready to meet the mobile-first index and you don’t need to change anything.
Otherwise, if you haven’t applied any mobile solution yet, think about doing this as soon as possible. Remember, Drudesk can help you get ready for Google’s updates.