Mobile-First Indexing: What You Need to Know

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Written by: Tom Donohoe
Last updated: July 22, 2018

In 2016, Google announced via their Webmaster Blog that they would move to a mobile-first index.

The announcement wasn’t a surprise as mobile searches had surpassed desktop searches. Now in 2018, Google is rolling out mobile-first indexing to sites that are ready.

Mobile-first indexing is a hot topic in technical SEO, and you might be wondering:

“What do I need to do to prepare my website?” In this guide, I will cover everything that we know from Google.

Let’s dive in.

What is mobile-first indexing?

In the mobile-first index, Google will use the mobile version of a website to index pages rather than desktop.

The switch is because more people search on mobile devices than desktop. If Google continued to use the desktop version of a site to index pages, it could lead to bad experiences.

As with most Google updates, there are a few common misconceptions. I will cover some of these misconceptions below.

Common misconceptions about mobile-first indexing

Now I want to cover a few common misconceptions I’ve heard about mobile-first indexing.

Google will have two separate indexes for mobile and desktop.

There will only be a single index for mobile-first indexing. It clearly states in Google’s documentation:

“We continue to have one single index that we use for serving search results.”

That mobile-first indexing is a ranking factor (it’s not)

Being in the mobile-first index will not give you a ranking boost. Google cleared this up in a series of tweets saying:

“The mobile-first index doesn’t change anything for ranking other than that the mobile content is used. While mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor on mobile, being in the mobile-first index is not. ”

The takeaway here is that mobile-friendliness is a ranking signal, so if your site isn’t following best practice you will suffer anyway.

You can’t rank on Google without a mobile website

You can still rank on Google without a mobile website. Google said:

“Pages without mobile versions still work on mobile, and are usable for indexing.”

However, you’re unlikely to rank as well as if you had a responsive website.

How to prepare for mobile-first indexing

To prepare for mobile-first indexing, you will either have to do very little or a lot.

If you’re using a mobile responsive design it’s likely you don’t have to do anything. If not, you will have a bit of work to do to position your site with the best chance to rank well.

Review the best practices outlined below to determine if you need to do anything on your site.

Steps to get ready for mobile-first indexing

Google recommends that sites use responsive web design over other methods. So, it’s vital that you consider moving to a responsive website.

Deciding on the configuration of your site for mobile is the first step. Next, there are three crucial steps you need to take to be ready for mobile first indexing:

Your mobile site should contain the same content as your desktop site

It’s crucial that important content displayed on your desktop site be also present on your mobile site. This includes body copy, headings and internal links. If this is not the case, Google will not see it once you’re site is eligible for mobile-first indexing.

Structured data should be present on both versions of your site

If you are using structured data to add markup to a website you must make sure it’s consistent across mobile and desktop. If not, you could risk losing search features. Furthermore, not providing the context Google needs to understand your website.

Metadata should be present on both versions of the site

Crucial on-page SEO elements, such as title tags, meta descriptions and canonical tags should be the same on desktop and mobile.

Other considerations for mobile-first indexing

Mobile-first indexing is a sign that great mobile experiences matter to Google.

So there’s more you can do to ensure you’re aligning your website with Google’s goal to make the mobile experience on their search engine better.

Let’s look at a few other considerations.

Make your mobile user experience awesome

Now it’s clear that the mobile user experience is very important to Google, so how does your site stack up?

Traditionally, when designing a website, we have always looked at the desktop version first. Then adapted the design of the page to mobile devices. With the mobile-first index in mind, it’s a good idea to review your sites mobile experience.

I’d recommend taking a mobile-first design approach and redesign your page templates. The new templates should be optimised for mobile visitors. By going mobile-first, you will have long-term benefits, such as a boost in conversions.

Improve your website’s page speed

Since July 2018, Google considers page speed as a ranking signal on mobile. They’ve said officially that the page speed update is independent of mobile-first indexing.

However, they also say that “fast sites are awesome for users, especially on mobile”. So there’s no reason not to look at improving your sites page speed.

Many studies have shown that faster page load times can improve the conversion rate.

Writing content for mobile users

The way people consume content on mobile is very different to a desktop. They are on a smaller screen and usually on the move.

Big blocks of text are cumbersome to read, and you can often lose users attention. I’d recommend auditing your existing content and optimising it for the mobile users.

Optimising for mobile devices can be as simple as creating more whitespace or adding more images. It’d be even better to break your sentences down to be shorter and more concise.

Over to you

I hope this article has helped you to understand mobile-first indexing better. Also, gave you some other takeaways to consider.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment, I’d love to discuss your thoughts.