Google’s mobile first index and SEO implications

Google’s mobile-first index announcement by Gary Illyes at Pubcon last year made it clear that they will change the way how sites are indexed and ranked in the search engines. What this essentially means is that Google will look at the mobile version of a site first, index and rank it accordingly. We have seen it coming…

Google’s previous announcements related to mobile search

February 2015 – Google made its first announcement related to mobile search where it stated mobile friendliness will be used as a ranking factor.

May 2015 – In a blog article, Google internal data confirmed that more searches take place on mobile than on desktop in 10 countries.

November 2016 – Google officially announced they will be experimenting with Mobile-first indexing.Google announced this almost a year after they officially confirmed that Google searches are more on mobiles than on desktops. In fact, more than 85% of their results are mobile-friendly and more than 50% of their search queries are from mobile devices.

So, if you don’t have a mobile-friendly site yet, your rank will somehow be affected in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

How Google evolves to mobile first indexing

But what does this all mean to you? Before we delve into further details, let’s understand the meaning of ‘indexing’ and ‘ranking’. Indexing is a process where your website will be crawled in order to discover pages of your website. Once your pages are indexed, Google will proceed to rank them in the search engines based on over 200 factors.In the past, Google crawled websites from the perspective of a desktop user, hence, they only maintained a desktop index.But today we are living in a world where our lives revolve around mobile devices. Our pace of life has quickened. This gave rise to micro-moments where consumers use their mobile devices when they want-to-know, want-to-go, want-to-do and want-to-buy.This seismic shift in user behavior prompts a fundamental change in the way Google ranks websites. Therefore, Google sees the need to create a mobile index and use it for primary rankings. It will index websites from the view of a mobile user.

Google mobile index and impact on SEO

Well, for starters, the way your website is displayed to a mobile user can be completely different when it’s displayed to a desktop user. In certain cases, the links that appear on your desktop version may not even appear in your site’s mobile version.This is a major concern because your site won’t be indexed and ranked correctly. This is why your site can suffer in SERPs.If you don’t have a mobile site at all, then you don’t really need to worry. Google has said that they will continue to index your desktop site just fine.However, if you do have a mobile site, then you need to ensure that the content and links that appear on your desktop site must appear on your mobile site. This will make sure that Google is able to crawl and index your mobile site properly.Another aspect that you need to consider is that if your desktop website had content hidden in expandable boxes, accordions or tabs, then Google didn’t really give it any preference. However, Illyes said the same content would now be given full weight in the mobile version.The main reason being that such kind of expandable content makes more sense in a mobile version than on desktop because it enhances user experience.If you notice Google is obviously in favor of how convenient and user-friendly your web pages are for the people visiting your website through mobile devices.

So, what can you do to ensure your website meets Google’s mobile-first index requirement?

– The very first thing that you need to ensure is that both, your desktop and mobile versions serve structured markup data. You can verify if the markup is same across the desktop and mobile versions by typing URLs of both versions into the structured data testing tool and comparing the results.

Important Tip: When adding structured data to your mobile version, don’t add large amounts of markup, especially if it’s not relevant to the content on that page.

– The next key thing you need to remember is to use the robots.txt testing tool. This will verify if your website is accessible to Googlebot or not.
– Also, if only your desktop version is verified in Search Console and verify your mobile version as well.
– However, there’s no need to make any changes to the canonical links. Google will continue to make use of these links as guides in order to serve suitable results to users searching on their mobiles or desktops.

Moving forward, when given a choice between the mobile version and the desktop version, Google will look at the mobile version first. Hence, if content on your mobile site is lesser as compared to your desktop site, then that could pose a problem.This is one of the reasons why Google recommends a responsive site. The content will remain the same on your mobile as well as the desktop version.

The good thing, however, is that Google is still months away from rolling this out completely as they are still testing the ‘mobile-first index’ concept. This means that you have time to make the necessary changes to your website and get your website ready for mobile.

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Kelvin is the principal of Emarsity, an academy which coaches Internet Marketing skills.

About the author

Kelvin Koh brings with him close to 10 years of digital marketing experience. He worked as a senior digital strategist for a top SEO agency in Singapore, and is also a very experienced internet marketer and search specialist. Since then Kelvin has been providing over 6 years of search consultancy services to MNCs and SMEs. Some of his most notable SEO work includes Huawei, Fuji Xerox, Singapore International Foundation, Raffles Design Institute. Kelvin went on to attain his Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment (ACTA) with WDA. He is also a certified PA trainer.