Google is Starting to Migrate Sites That Follow the Best Practices to Mobile First Indexing.
What this means is that your mobile version of your website will be the origin point for their index database, as well as the baseline for how they determine rankings.
Google’s ranking system, indexing and crawling systems all formerly used the desktop versions of websites when ranking websites. With the increase in mobile traffic, which has surpassed desktop traffic, has led Google to recognize mobile users as their primary visitors. The new indexing will provide better results for mobile users and desktop users. The mobile version of your site will now be considered the primary version of your site.
This Does Not Represent a Change in How Google is Regarding Your Content
Up until now your desktop version has been considered the “primary version” of your site and the mobile version an “alternate” version. This is just the start of a transition in how Google is prioritizing the way they will index your website.
Google also explains that it will have one index for search results, not a mobile-first index that’s separate from its main index. In other words, it will start to look to the mobile web pages to index the web, not the desktop version.
It is about how they go about crawling and indexing the web. Before, they crawled and indexed the web as a desktop browser would see the web page. Now with this change, Google is crawling and indexing the web as a mobile browser would see the web page.
Here’s what the official post from Google Webmasters has to say about the mobile-first index. (https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2016/11/mobile-first-indexing)
“To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.”
Mobile Users are Pushing the Change to Mobile-First Indexing
This change to mobile first indexing is primarily driven by the increase in mobile traffic over the years. Mobile is far outpacing desktop as the number one method of searching.
Google is referring to this as “primarily mobile” that the majority of people who use Google search today now do so from mobile devices, and have done so since 2015. Mobile-friendliness has long been one of the many factors in determining how a site is ranked, but it’s not the only factor. For example, there are times when a non-mobile-friendly page still has the best information and will appear higher, Google says.
Google has begun to prioritize mobile sites in several ways. For example, it began to boost the rank of mobile-friendly sites on mobile search results back in 2015, and more recently said it was adding a signal that uses page speed to help determine a page’s mobile search ranking. Starting in July 2018, slow-loading content will be down ranked.
While Google today claims the mobile-friendly indexing won’t directly impact how content is ranked, it does note that having a site’s mobile-friendly content indexed in this new fashion will likely help the site “perform better” in mobile search results.
Is the Mobile-First Index Live and Affecting My Site Now?
Google has been experimenting with mobile first indexing on a small number of sites which were selected based on perceived “readiness”. A wider rollout will take much longer. In June 2017, Gary Illyes stated that it will probably take a few years before “we reach an index that is only mobile-first.” Google reassured site owners who are not included in this rollout that rankings would not be affected and that sites which only have desktop content would still be indexed.
“Sites that are not in this initial wave don’t need to panic. Mobile-first indexing is about how we gather content, not about how content is ranked. Content gathered by mobile-first indexing has no ranking advantage over mobile content that’s not yet gathered this way or desktop content. Moreover, if you only have desktop content, you will continue to be represented in our index.”
However, the push towards mobile-friendly sites continues with Google noting that mobile-friendly content can perform better, and that slow loading content will be a ranking factor for mobile searches from July 2018 on.
Is Mobile-First Indexing Adding Mobile Pages to a Separate Mobile Index?
With mobile-first indexing, there is only one search index (the same one Google uses now). The change to mobile-first indexing does not generate a new “mobile-first” index, nor is it creating a separate “mobile index” with a “desktop index” remaining active. Instead, it simply changes how content is added to the existing index.
So What Does This Mean for You?
You Might Have to Make Some Changes to Your Website if You Want to Continue to Rank Well Into the Future.
If your website is responsive and both the mobile version and desktop are identical, you might not have to do anything. However, you want to make sure that your website is both mobile responsive and has content that is mobile-friendly. Meaning that your users are having the same great content experience across all devices. This will help you rank well on both mobile and desktop. It follows from a mobile-first indexing standpoint that your content should be produced with mobile-first users in mind. Google has already prioritized mobile-friendly content, and this official indexing move is just making it more official.