Google’s ‘Mobile-First’ Indexing Update – How It Could Affect Your Website’s Search Rankings

Dustin Freund November 21st, 2016
Google Mobile-First Indexing Update

If it wasn’t already clear that an increasing number of people are using their phones instead of desktops to search for information, restaurants, Christmas presents and Pac-Man suits, perhaps the latest news from Google makes it all but official.

On November 4, 2016, it took Google just a 535-word blog post to get the SEO world scrambling: They were experimenting with “mobile-first” indexing.

While the Google team may be underselling the impact of this update a bit, most web developers and search marketers have already taken notice, as developing and marketing websites toward mobile users will now be more important than ever for SEO.

The following is a quick and easy-to-read explanation about what this update could mean for your website.

What is mobile-first indexing?

Google has always taken a “desktop-first” approach, meaning it first crawls a website’s desktop version to index its rankings; then, it crawls the mobile version of the website to provide any necessary mobile-friendly boosts for those who are searching from their phones.

With this new update, Google has begun experimenting with mobile-first indexing, meaning it will first look at a website’s mobile version rather than desktop version to determine where it should rank among its competitors for certain keywords.

So are there one or two versions of search results?

Today, there are technically two separate search results: one that you receive from searching on a desktop and another you receive from searching on your phone, the latter of which is influenced by how Google views the websites’ mobile versions for that particular keyword.

If Google likes what it sees from these mobile-first experiments and chooses to fully green light the update, only the mobile-first version of search results will be displayed – again, regardless of whether the search occurs on desktop or mobile.

For most people, and especially for us as search marketers, having one version of search results will be much easier for a variety of reasons, including for testing, communicating, reporting, and more. So, we are excited about this update, especially for all of our clients who are already well-prepared for the update.

What about the AMP version of my website?

Allegedly, if a website was built using AMP pages in favor of a mobile-friendly website, Google will index the desktop version instead of the AMP version. However, if necessary, some strategic rel alternate attributes can force Google to crawl the AMP pages of your website.

What do I need to do to my website to prepare for the mobile update?

Regardless of whether the mobile update becomes permanent or not, your website should be mobile friendly in the following ways:

  • Consistent Content – They say content is king, and this golden rules remains truer than ever. In the past, some websites used their desktop site as the “full” version and their mobile site as the “abbreviated” version, as some rightly or wrongly believed that people who searched on their phones only wanted to be directed to the important stuff. With this new update, however, it is highly recommended that every bit of a website’s content is accessible on mobile devices, since that version will be indexed first by Google.
  • Load Speed and Mobile Friendliness – Theoretically, how your website ranks for certain keywords will now be tied to the friendliness and load speed of your mobile website. A website that loads slowly on mobile devices will find it more difficult to compete with other websites whose mobile versions load quicker and are easier to use. Things like reducing the resolution of pictures, embedding YouTube videos rather than hosting videos, tidying up the CSS and CMS of your website, and following Google’s other mobile-friendly recommendations can get your website up to <ahem> speed.
  • Hopefully Nothing – Google said that it doesn’t anticipate that this experiment and potentially permanent update will greatly affect search results. Thus, if your website is responsive, carries over all of its content to the mobile version, loads quickly, is user friendly, and has all of the other staples of an informative and easy-to-use website, you likely have nothing to worry about. However, if you have maybe neglected the mobile version of your website a little bit, or you have not offered your full website on its mobile counterpart, this might be a good excuse to rededicate your efforts toward mobile. If that describes your website, we know a guy whose name rhymes with “Hank” who might be able to help.

Remember, Google is slowly rolling out this update, so some people will be served the current desktop-first version of rankings, while others will receive the mobile-first index. It will likely be unclear which version you are viewing.

If you need help better understanding this update or need assistance with your mobile website, don’t hesitate to contact us for how we can help you prepare for mobile-first indexing.

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