Google has been working on mobile-first indexing for some time. It was created as a response to the dramatic change in how people use (and browse) on the internet, as well as the increasing use of smartphones in everything we do in our lives.
It's safe to say that we work and live in a mobile-first world.
It was the first time that Google was shifting away from their algorithm typically focused on their desktop versions of the website towards a mobile-first approach was made in the year the year 2016.
In the same year, Google announced that:
" Today, the majority of users are browsing Google on mobile devices. However, our ranking algorithms tend to look at the version that is displayed for desktop users of the page's content to determine its relevancy to the person using it. This could result in issues when a mobile-friendly page contains less information than the desktop version since our algorithms don't consider the actual page that a mobile user views. "
However, between 2016 and now, we've witnessed an almost complete shift by Google in its shift to search on mobile devices first.
At the end of March in 2021, Google changed ALL websites from desktop-first indexing to mobile-first indexing. They have had a transitional time of transferring sites after their systems realized their readiness for the change.
All new websites created after July 2019 automatically switched to mobile-first indexing. Some of the sites that are already in use have not yet moved over.
While many of you may have had your websites crawled by smartphones Googlebot for a long time, it's something all SEOs and marketers must pay with a close eye.
In the next few years, Google will be 100 percent mobile-first. That means you must ensure you know what it means and how you can optimize your business to take advantage of it.
In this guide, we'll assist you in doing just that, specifically focusing on:
What Is Mobile-First Indexing?
9 Things You Need to Know About Mobile-First Indexing
1. You Can Check If Your Site is on Mobile-First Indexing
2. You Can't Opt-Out of Mobile-First Indexing
3. There Is Only One Index
4. You Can Test Your Site's Mobile-Friendliness
5. Your Website Should Provide the Same Experience Across Mobile and Desktop Devices
6. Google Gives Advice On Mobile-First Best-Practices
7. Don't Confuse Mobile-First Indexing and Mobile Usability
8. Page Speed Is Hugely Important
9. Handling Separate Mobile and Desktop Sites
What Is Mobile-First Indexing?
Mobile devices aren't going away. As of the year 2019, an astounding 63 percent of US internet traffic was generated by mobile devices. It means that the site's mobile version ought to be the first choice over the desktop version, and Google recognizes this by implementing mobile-first indexing.
Although it sounds complicated, it's actually fairly easy to grasp around.
Google them-self refer to it as follows:
"Mobile-first indexing" refers to Google mostly using mobile versions of the content in its indexing and ranking. "
At one time, Google-bot mostly relied on a desktop-based version of a website to determine a site's relevancy to a specific search request; however, the focus has since changed to mobile-friendly versions.
For the majority of businesses, this shouldn't pose any issues since the site which is accessed by mobile users is an adaptive version of the desktop website, with no changes to the content being served. If a website is serving both mobile and desktop versions, there are some factors that need to be taken into consideration.
If you're still one of the very few businesses that do not have a mobile-friendly site (sadly, there are some of them which exist), You can expect to see a negative effect on the search results for both desktop and mobile searches.
“A well-thought-out mobile-friendly website can result in a rise in organic search engine visibility.”
Even in the event that you don't believe it's something you have to be concerned about, it is important to be aware of the concept behind mobile-first indexing and how it operates and the decisions you should be taking into account, not only right now but in the near future as well.
A 2019 study revealed that "only 13% of websites get to retain the exact same position across devices," showcasing in itself the importance of getting your site's mobile experience and search-engine-friendliness right.
In simple terms, mobile-first indexing implies that Google's algorithm is using your site's content on its mobile site to rank your pages in the SERPs.
Mobile-first indexing is an aspect SEOs must be aware of completely.
After you've grasped the most important facts and are aware of how it can possibly affect your website's organic reach, you'll realize that it's quite simple to alter your procedures to be mobile-first.
Here are the 9 points you need to know about mobile-first indexing. They can assist you in checking your website for any issues and address any issues that have been discovered.
You Can Check If Your Site is on Mobile-First Indexing
Although the majority of websites have made the switch to mobile-first indexing, there are only a few more months before Google will begin to analyze and rank your website's mobile version.
If you've already switched to mobile-first, you've probably been notified via a Google Search Console notification telling you that. If you've missed this and have not yet seen it or just want to confirm that you're on mobile-first indexing, there's an easy way to verify this.
Install Google Search Console and conduct a URL inspection of one of your pages by typing this into the text box located at near the bottom of the screen.
Then you'll be able to see your "coverage" result for the URL you inputted after the results are displayed:
You can see that it crawls with the tag "Googlebot phone"? This is a fast and simple way to check the way Google is crawling your website, In this instance, mobile-first.
You Can't Opt-Out of Mobile-First Indexing.
It is essential to be aware that once you've been switched to mobile-first indexing, there's no turning back. There is no option to unsubscribe. In addition, you haven't been able to manually opt-in.
This means that you should be thinking mobile-first when developing and designing your website, planning the content, and evaluating how your website will display for mobile devices.
But don't panic. Most sites won't require you to make any major adjustments.
Google has previously stated the following:
"If you've got a responsive website or dynamic serving website where the content and markup are identical for desktop and mobile, it shouldn't be necessary to make any changes."
Talk to your designers and developers, informing them about the necessity of thinking about the impact mobile-first indexing has on the way they work and ensuring that they are aware of what they are and shouldn't do.
Don't be afraid to take a stand against changes that might result in your site's mobile version being different from your desktop version regarding the content available.
Mobile-first indexing will be around for a while, and there's no way to alter that. If your company isn't readily looking to shift to a mobile-first approach, this is the right time to do it.
There Is Only One Index
One of the most common myths that emerged from the announcement on mobile-first indexing in 2016 was that Google holds two indexes, an index for mobile devices and a desktop index.
However, this is not the case. There are only two indexes, and mobile-first-indexing is tied to the Googlebot, which crawls and indexes websites but contrasts to the database of websites that Google has. It is the reality that if websites offer similar content across their desktop and mobile websites and desktop sites, they are unlikely to be affected by switching towards mobile-first indexing.
In the past, Google crawled your desktop site first and thought that a mobile website would be an alternative version if it had one (rather than an adaptive design). Your mobile version is the main version.
The problem is that if you own an additional mobile website and have a mobile app, these will be the URLs displayed to users of the SERPs.
However, there exists only one index.
You Can Test Your Site's Mobile-Friendliness
It is easy and quick to test the responsiveness of your site by using Google's mobile-friendly testing tool.
Find the web page's address and look for mobile-specific issues that may be present.
As we'll discuss in the following paragraphs, mobile-first and mobile-usability aren't the same things. It is crucial to know the way Google crawls your mobile version.
In this case, the page can pass the test for mobile-friendly, but it shows a variety of issues with page loading that might require additional examination. An issue that you should pay particular focus on is his blocked resources. This is something which Google states that "If an unblockable resource is significant in any way, it may impact the way Google perceives the site. For instance, a blockage of a large image may cause a website to appear mobile-friendly, even though it's not, or the blocked CSS file may cause incorrect font styles applying (for example, font sizes that are too small for a phone).
This impacts both the score for mobile usability and Google's capability to visit your site. Ensure that the most important resources aren't restricted to Googlebot via robots.txt and are easily accessible. "
You can also assess your site's mobile accessibility by clicking on the relevant tab within the "enhancements" menu within Search Console. This allows you to spot any flaws that require attention.
Your Website Should Provide the Same Experience Across Mobile and Desktop Devices
It's fairly typical for developers and designers to concentrate their efforts on websites' mobile UX, which is a great thing.
The issue frequently encountered is hiding many desktop elements when a web page is viewed via a mobile device. It can lead to all sorts of problems with mobile-first indexing.
Google recommends that websites offer the same experience on both desktop and mobile devices. This is especially relevant when it comes down to content. Particularly the guidelines for indexing mobile-first websites say:
"If your mobile website has more content than your desktop website, you should consider making changes to your mobile site to ensure its main content is comparable to that of the desktop version. The majority of the indexing that occurs on your site is sourced directly from your mobile site. "
It's not much clear than that.
However, to prove this, it is recommended to follow this advice the following warning:
Although designers may be enticed to enhance mobile usability by eliminating content, this could result in traffic loss.
We recommend taking the time to inform everyone who is involved in the creation of a website and provide a rationale for why it's essential to display information in a manner that is friendly for mobile users rather than concealing or taking it off.
This is another reason SEO should be part of the larger website team of a business in order for these decisions to be considered before the time it's too late.
However, there's more to consider other than the content you post, in spite of that being a crucial aspect.
Important considerations to consider when it comes to ensuring that your site is compatible between desktop and mobile sites are:
Meta robot’s tags
Videos and photos
It is crucial to maintain these elements in the same way for desktop and mobile devices to avoid issues caused by indexing for mobile-first.
Google Gives Advice On Mobile-First Best-Practices
While some aspects of Google's algorithm remain hidden, The search engine provides numerous tips to help SEOs and webmasters comprehend mobile-first indexing. There's a complete guide to Mobile-first indexing best methods, released by Google "to ensure that users get the best experience possible. "
This is an excellent source of information for anyone trying to figure out their way to index mobile devices.
Particularly the guide can help you understand the best practices around:
Make sure that Googlebot can access the content and display it.
Ensure that the content is identical both on mobile and desktop.
Reviewing your structured data
Applying the same metadata to the two versions of your website
Examining the position of your advertisements
Checking visual content
Other best practices for URLs with separate URLs
Troubleshooting mobile-first issues
Make sure to read the article and keep it in mind when you encounter problems that result from your mobile or website changing.
Don't Confuse Mobile-First Indexing and Mobile Usability.
A key thing to know is that mobile-first indexing, as well as mobile usability, aren't exactly the same thing.
Your site could have mobile-friendly problems, yet it's changed into mobile-first indexing.
Google's John Mueller has previously said regarding this issue that:
"A site may or should not be accessible from a mobile perspective; however, it could still have all the information we require for mobile-first indexing.
One extreme example is when you use something similar to an image file in PDF format, and then when you use a mobile device, it would be difficult to navigate. The links would be difficult to click on, and the text would be hard to read. However, the text is in the text, and we can easily index it using mobile-first indexing. "
This means that mobile Googlebot could crawl pages that aren't considered mobile-friendly. But this doesn't mean the mobile-friendliness of a site doesn't affect the mobile ranking of your website.
If you're providing an unpleasant experience, are hiding images or content, or your website has other issues with mobile, all of these are things that can affect your site's ranking.
It is a returning idea to optimize for your user, not just Googlebot.
Make sure you are providing your users with the best possible experience to your users on your website. As you consider those things, we are aware Google is considering by implementing mobile-first indexing. There shouldn't be any problems.
Page Speed Is Hugely Important
Nobody wants to visit slow-loading web pages. Indeed, people still want speedier websites. The velocity of a website is an important factor for ranking.
Also, during a panel discussion on mobile-first on SMX at the end of 2017, Google's Gary Illyes confirmed that page speed is part of mobile-first indexing. In reality, the slowing of a page could be a demotion element rather than being an increase in the rank potential for faster websites.
However, make sure you optimize for users, not just for search engines.
The slow loading speed of your site can negatively impact bounce rates, as well as the number of time users spend on your website and also your conversion rate, and making an effort to speed up loading time could result in a significant impact on several domains.
You can evaluate your website's speed and other issues with this SEMrush Tool for Site Audit that focuses on the site's performance report.
Handling Separate Mobile and Desktop Sites
The last thing you should be aware of but is by no means the most crucial is how you can effectively and efficiently manage mobile-first indexing when you run separate desktop and mobile websites.
Although this trend is less prevalent than it was in the past due to the increase in the popularity of responsive websites, there are still websites with different desktop and mobile versions.
How do you manage these issues to ensure that you do not fall into the trap of indexing mobile-first?
Be aware of these important points:
Make sure you properly implement the rel=canonical or the rel=alternate elements to distinguish between desktop and mobile versions of your website.
Check that your robots.txt file on both versions of your site isn't blocking the most important parts of your site by preventing them from crawling. Particularly, you should ensure that your mobile website isn't blocking crawlers.
Be sure to verify the rel=hreflang configuration to ensure that desktop URLs refer to desktop URLs and reverse the process for mobile URLs.
Install and test the two versions of your website within Google Search Console to allow access to your data, warnings, and other messages.
Make sure that your website's desktop pages also have mobile pages. Sometimes, it's the case that websites are not part of mobile versions; however, they won't show up in Google's mobile-first indexing.
This being said, Google does not recommend Separate URLs to set up a website since it's difficult to maintain and implement. A responsive website is suggested for 2020. If it's not possible to do so due to any reason, make sure you ensure that you check both versions thoroughly to ensure that no issues are happening.
Mobile-first indexing sounds scary, especially to those who remember mobilegeddon in 2015. Still, the reality is that if you are already serving an awesome mobile experience and have ensured that you have got the same content between both desktop and mobile devices, you have got little to worry about.
Mobile-first indexing is here to stay, and the better you can explain what this means to your developers, designers, and other members of your team, the easier it will be to discuss the best practices recommended before they become a problem.
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