Understanding Mobile-First Indexing
In what may be its biggest algorithm update in years, Google has formally announced that mobile-first indexing has taken effect this week. Mobile-first indexing means that the mobile version of a website will be considered the primary version when Google determines how to crawl, index, and rank the site in search listings. The “initial wave” of mobile-first indexing has so far only affected a small subset of sites and has not yet rolled out across all sites indexed on Google. However, as of March 26th, webmasters have begun receiving formal notifications in their Google Search Consoles that mobile-first indexing was being enabled on their sites.
The Impact on Site Design Considerations
What does the change to mobile-first indexing mean for corporate and e-commerce sites? Here are the major implications:
- If your website is not mobile-friendly, it will be at a disadvantage when mobile-first indexing is rolled out across the board. Sites that are built to cater to mobile users utilize methods such as responsive design, adaptive font size, and other tactics outlined in Google’s documentation. Google’s own mobile-friendly testing tool can be used to check the status of any website for whether it meets the search giant’s criteria for mobile-friendliness.
- If your website serves different URLs to mobile users, such as by using “m.” before your domain name, there will be a significant amount of work to do to ensure that the mobile version of your website meets all of the same SEO best practices developed for your desktop site.
For example, SEO elements like meta tags, XML sitemaps, Robots.txt files, hreflang tags, and canonical tagging must be set up correctly on the mobile URLs to preserve organic rankings. Backlinks and other authority signals may need to be updated to point to mobile URLs.
- Even if your website uses responsive or adaptive design, there may still be additional work to do to guarantee search engines can find all your website content, and to ensure that visitors are having the best possible experience on your mobile site. For example, if your website’s responsive design pushes important content below the fold on mobile devices, Google may consider this a poor mobile experience.
Proactively Managing Algorithm Changes
Google offers an intuitive table of recommendations for webmasters who want to leverage optimized website designs and features such as AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). Mobile websites using responsive design types or exclusively AMP HTML will have no issue with content being crawled and indexed just as well as their current desktop versions.
Another factor that will become increasingly important as mobile-first indexing becomes the norm is page speed. In conjunction with rolling out the mobile-first index, Google has also recently announced a new algorithm update, scheduled for July 2018, which will downgrade the search rankings of pages that load slowly on mobile devices. Unlike mobile-first indexing, Google has no plans to explicitly notify users if they have been impacted by this algorithm update. But, Google has released two new tools in recent months to encourage webmasters to speed up their sites on mobile devices.
These tools allow webmasters to both compare their site’s speed to that of competitors’ sites, as well as to visualize slow page load times in terms of potential lost revenue. Clearly, Google is putting pressure on webmasters to take these recommendations very seriously.
When it comes to analyzing how ready your site is for mobile-first indexing, you need to ensure your design and content meet all mobile SEO and design best practices. Path Interactive’s team of search specialists can help prepare your site for mobile-first indexing and ensure no organic traffic is lost as your website undergoes the switch. Contact us today to chat about how we can help you manage the mobile-first transition.