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The time has finally come.
After testing Mobile-First Indexing for over a year, Google has finally begun to migrate sites over that follow the best practices of this new index. Website owners will be informed via Google Search Console whenever Mobile-First Indexing becomes enabled on their site.
To understand why Google is making this change, it’s important to look back at the trends that led to the Mobile-First Index.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Google is making this switch of indexes as they have always catered to the majority of searchers, now being mobile users. This can be traced back to 2015 when the “Mobilegeddon” algorithm update first launched and Google began rewarding sites with responsive designs and mobile sites to favor these devices
Since that update, it’s estimated that over 60% of all internet usage is now mobile. This introduces a variety of implications for search engines to consider.
Two of these implications are the rise of voice search and increased ranking factor of website speed. The rise of voice searches, especially including “nearby” and “near me” keywords, can be traced back to 2008 when Google launched the Voice Search app for the iPhone which was the start of voice recognition for mobile devices. Just 3 years later, Apple launched Siri on the iPhone 4S, the ability to search with your voice being a central part of the marketing campaign.
Now, only 7 years later, comscore estimates that there are over one-billion voice searches each month, and by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches. This is where the Mobile-First Index comes into play.
In the past, Google indexed a website based on the desktop version (Desktop-First Index). This means Google’s algorithm would look at the content, backlinks, meta and so on to help determine where the site would show up in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Now Google’s web crawlers will look at the mobile version of your site first (i.e. Mobile-First Index) as the primary reference.
It’s important to understand that Google search bots will still look at the desktop version only this will not be primary index. Google does not estimate this change in indexing will cause a noticeable shakeup in the SERPs, but it is still important to follow these best practices.
If you have a responsive website, you’re already ahead of the curve. The desktop and mobile versions of your site are the same, so this should not affect you.
For those of you that only have a desktop site with no mobile version, Google will still crawl your site using the secondary desktop browser index. However for best practice, and to give your rankings a boost, it would be best to move to a responsive design or add a mobile version of your website.
Separate URL Sites
Any site in which the mobile and desktop versions have separate URLs, such as an m. before the domain, may have the most work to do.
One of the most important aspects is to make sure both versions of the site contain the same content. This traces back to the Mobilegeddon update as well, in which Google de-ranks sites that have illegible (hidden) content on their mobile sites. This includes all text, images, videos and even metadata on the backend.
Another important practice is to make sure that structured data is present on both versions to allow the Google bots to easily crawl through the website. There will be an increase in Google Smartphone bots, so make sure your server capacity can handle the escalating crawl rate.
Last, but definitely not least, is the speed of your site. Website speed has grown to be a bigger and heavier weighted ranking signal to Google. You can see the importance of this factor based on Google’s partnership with Project AMP. There are a number of optimizations to put on your website to increase the speed - one of Atypic’s favorite tools to test page speed is Pingdom.
All in all, Google doesn’t expect this new index to shake up the rankings in a big way. However, taking care of these optimizations and being prepared for the indexing update would be a competitive advantage for two sites going after the same keyword.