The mobile revolution is here and Google Announced New ‘Mobile First’ Indexing that will affect every website and can impact your site’s ranking dramatically.
What is mobile-first indexing?
In Google’s own words: “Our crawling, indexing and ranking systems have typically used the desktop version of a page’s content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is vastly different from the mobile version. Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.” – Webmaster Central Blog
Essentially, it all comes down to the fact that the majority of Google searches are made on mobile but the results are still formulated by a system that ranks desktop pages first. The problem is, mobile pages often differ from their desktop alternatives and it makes little sense to send people to pages optimized for desktop when they’re using mobile.
Mobile-first indexing shifts the priority to the mobile version of pages to create better results and experiences for Google’s predominantly mobile users.
This doesn’t mean Google is going mobile-only or creating a separate index for mobile and desktop results. It simply means mobile pages will be crawled first and Google will fall back to desktop if no mobile version is found.
So if your website doesn’t have a mobile-friendly version, the desktop site can still be included in the index. But the lack of a mobile-friendly experience could impact negatively on the rankings of your website, and a website with a better mobile experience would potentially receive a rankings boost even for searchers on a desktop.
How will this affect my search ranking?
if your website is designed responsively – in other words, your mobile and desktop pages are one and the same – then you shouldn’t be affected by mobile-first indexing. In these cases, your mobile and desktop pages are the same and simply adapt to accommodate different screen sizes, which is the design approach Google recommends for mobile optimization.
The websites that’ll be most affected by mobile-first indexing are those that provide separate mobile and desktop pages for users, depending on which device they’re using. In this scenario, the mobile version will now be crawled first and this could impact your search ranking for a number of reasons:
You serve different content on the mobile and desktop versions of a page
Your mobile pages lack structured data
Your mobile pages lack metadata
The mobile version of a page isn’t correctly verified in Search Console
The link profiles pointing toward your mobile pages are weaker than the desktop versions
Your mobile pages are poorly optimized for mobile
Most of the potential problems here come down to poor mobile optimization. There are also a couple of technical SEO issues that could cause serious problems if you don’t know what to look out for.
First of all, make sure the mobile and desktop versions of each page are both verified in Search Console. Secondly, the link profile for your mobile pages will be different from their desktop versions, for better or worse. Which means you could see a change in ranking based on the quality of link profiles your mobile pages currently have.
You can find out more best practices for mobile-first indexing at Google Developers Center or simply contact our expert team at Meridian Health Solutions today and receive a FREE Mobile First Website Analysis report.
What should I do ahead of mobile-first indexing?
If you serve separate mobile and desktop pages or use dynamic content delivery for different device types, make sure you have the following covered before mobile-first indexing rolls out.
Your mobile and desktop pages contain the same content
Both versions of your page have the necessary structured data
Both versions of your page have the necessary metadata
Both versions of your page are verified in Search Console
Any rel=hreflang tags for internationalization include separate links for mobile and desktop URLs
Your servers can handle any increase in crawl rate for the mobile version of your site
Your robot.txt directives are the same (and optimized) for both desktop and mobile versions
Correct use of rel=canonical and rel=alternate link elements between mobile and desktop versions
Once again, all of these points are part of the usual mobile optimization. There’s nothing wrong with having separate mobile and desktop sites, as long as they’re optimized correctly. If it’s going to take a lot of work for you to get your pages ready for mobile-first indexing, then it might make sense to make the jump to a responsive design while you’re at it. However, a well-optimized experience shared across mobile and desktop pages is always going to be better than a poorly optimized responsive experience – so don’t lose sight of the end result for the sake of a more popular process.
How will I know when my site is migrated to mobile-first indexing?
Google will notify you that your site has been migrated over to mobile-first indexing when the time comes, so you won’t be left guessing. You’ll get a message in Search Console telling you that mobile-first indexing has been enabled for your site.
After this, you’ll see a significant increase in crawl rate from Google’s mobile bot and the mobile version of your pages will start showing in search results.
The main takeaway from our look at mobile-first indexing today is there’s nothing to panic about. If you need any help with running audits and a website analysis before or after mobile-first indexing, get in touch with our team of technical SEO experts to
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