Google’s Mobile First Index: Here’s What You Need to Know


A few days ago, Gary Illyes of Google made an announcement about Google experimenting with mobile first index at Pubcon.

Ever since that, there has been a lot of speculation about what it actually means. While Google made it clear on their blog that they are still figuring out way to handle issues, there is still widespread panic among small business owners and SEO professionals about how this announcement will impact their sites.

Google's Mobile First Index: Here's What You Need to Know

Recently, Ryan Jones from Search Engine Journal made an attempt to make sense of this situation in this post, based on the conversations he had with Gary Illyes and other members of the Google staff. Based on his assessment, here’s how Google’s mobile first indexing is going to impact websites and what you can do to ensure your site is ready for mobile first indexing.

What is Mobile First Indexing?

Search engines have four important parts to their search algorithm – crawling, indexing, retrieval, and ranking.

Crawling is the process by which Google follows links on the web to discover pages. Indexing is where Google turns a particular webpage into something useable for its ranking algorithm and stores it in their database. Retrieval is the part where the engine says “give me everything relevant to this query.” And finally, ranking is where it all boils down to.  It’s where they order the results based on the number of ranking factors we are talking about these days.

As of now, Google has just one index based on the desktop site. When a user searches Google (desktop or mobile), the search results that come up are based on desktop index created by Googlebot desktop crawler.

The problem here is that oftentimes a user may click on a particular result by finding the search snippet relevant and then taken to the mobile version of the site, only to realize that the content they saw in the search snippet is not available on the mobile version of the site. This will clearly result in a bad user experience and there have been way too many cases such as these for Google to take notice and do something about it.

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So What Does Mobile First Index Do?

When it comes to mobile first index, there are only 3 scenarios we need to consider:

  1. Where a website is responsive
  2. Where a website has a separate mobile version of the site
  3. Where a website doesn’t have a mobile version at all

Let’s take a deeper look into of these 3 scenarios.

Responsive Websites

If your website is responsive, meaning mobile-friendly, then there is nothing you need to worry about Google’s new method of indexing websites.

The content which was indexed by Googlebot desktop will be indexed by Googlebot mobile. This will have little to no impact on your site’s current rankings.

Separate Mobile Websites

If your site has different desktop and mobile versions, then Googlebot will index only the mobile version of the site.

This means that if some of your site’s content is available on desktop only, then Google will not crawl this and it won’t end up in Google’s mobile first index.

No Mobile Site

The last scenario is where there is no mobile version of the site and the site is not mobile-friendly. Does this mean Google will not index this site at all? Not exactly!

Googlebot mobile will crawl these pages, even index them in their mobile first index, but they won’t receive the ‘mobile-friendly’ designation.

This is because mobile-friendliness of a site has nothing to do with Google’s mobile first index. These sites will definitely be indexed, but they won’t rank as high as other mobile-friendly websites. Since Google’s ‘mobilegeddon’ algorithm update in 2015, these sites are not ranking high in Google’s search results anyway.

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If your site has separate mobile and desktop versions, it’s time to make it responsive. 

If you examine the 3 scenarios above, the only websites which will be affected by Google’s mobile first indexing are sites which have two separate versions of their website – desktop and mobile. In this case, the solution is simple: make a responsive website.

How do you go about making your site responsive? Check out this “Optimizing for Mobile” guide from Moz or this step-by-step guide by 1stWebDesigner on how to make your website responsive.

Hope you found this article useful. Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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