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January 17, 2018 By Barry Bright

How Google's Mobile-First Indexing Works

Over 60 hours of video are published each minute. And every day, over hundreds of thousands of new content pieces—from photos posted to Instagram to blogs on websites to tutorials and “How To” articles and more—find life on the web. The Internet is a place that never sleeps and, thanks to its user base (i.e., us), it is continuously evolving.

Our habits in the “real world” influence changes that occur in the digital space. So, with the rise of mobile devices in terms of both technological capabilities and increased adoption (and sometimes increased ease of use), more and more individuals are accessing the Internet through mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. It has forced Internet-based companies like Google—whose core identity revolves around its search engine offering—to evaluate their processes and make adjustments to improve, all based on how users access and interact with the Internet. And one of those changes involves moving to mobile-first indexing. 

What is Mobile-first Indexing?

In an effort to cater to both user base and how users interact with the search engine, Google has introduced what is known as “mobile-first indexing.” This is because more and more individuals are accessing the Internet via mobile devices. According to Statista, mobile phones accounted for 52.5% of website traffic worldwide in 2018; this percentage has grown each year since 2009 (the first year of statistics shown). 

Mobile-first indexing considers the mobile version of a website as the primary. Now, it will look for a mobile version of a website and index the mobile version of the content. But while the mobile version of the content will be indexed, the URLs to the website or page will be different: Mobile users will see a URL to the mobile-optimized site whereas desktop users will see a URL to a desktop-optimized site.

While this change began to roll out in March of 2018, there was still confusion, which caused Google to publish some clarifications regarding how mobile-first indexing works. How does this change affect websites, and what steps do website administrators need to take, if any?

When Might Desktop Sites be Used Over Mobile Sites?

The new method of bots crawling mobile versions first means that now mobile versions are considered a website’s primary version. It's important to take action to make your site work for mobile-first indexing. But if a website does not have a version that is optimized for mobile, then the desktop version of the website would be indexed instead. If you do not have a mobile version of your website, it’s necessary to get one. Not only is it important for this new method of indexing, but it will also improve user experience for each individual that visits your website. They won’t become frustrated with your website and they are more likely to make a return visit (and recommend your site to their peers).

How Are Rankings Now Determined?

As previously mentioned, Google’s bots would crawl the desktop version of a website if no alternate (i.e., mobile) version if available. However, the lack of a mobile version could potentially impact the website negatively in rankings by lowering its rank in mobile search results.

Another consideration is the content available on your mobile website versus desktop website. If your desktop website has more (and/or better) content than your mobile website, this also will negatively impact your ranking, as mobile-first indexes only the content from the mobile version of the website. So you need to ensure that the content on your mobile and desktop versions are the same. 

To help give you a leg up for both your mobile and desktop versions of your website, be sure to look into having a solid search engine optimization strategy. If you’re not sure where to begin, you can conduct research for this company. If you have a budget for advertising, talk to a PPC management agency to set up some pay-per-click advertising campaigns.

Mobile-First Indexing Optimization: First Steps

Now that you know a bit more about how mobile-first indexing will affect your website, it’s time to implement some changes on your end to ensure that you keep (or increase) your rank in Google’s search results—whether on a mobile device or on a desktop computer. The first thing you need to do is take a look at your mobile website: If you do not have one, create one. If you do have one, compare its content to your desktop version’s content. If it is lacking, you need to make immediate adjustments or be subject to a potential hefty drop in rank. Once you have this main piece out of the way, you can begin fine-tuning both of your websites (such as creating an SEO strategy) to work on improving your rank. Make sure to optimize outside of your site also, like on your Google My Business listing and social profiles.

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Chris Hickman is the Founder and CEO at Adficient with 15 years of experience in search marketing and conversion optimization. Since 2006, he founded GetBackonGoogle.com, helping businesses and websites suspended in Adwords to Get Back on Google.

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