Mobile First Index – Why is Google changing their index after so many years?
Google’s “desktop first” index has been around since the very beginning of this search engine. Why is it now getting abandoned and pushed aside as a backup? What is mobile first index and will the other search engines follow?
The fact that mobile searches have topped the number of searches from desktop devices in many countries around the world is nothing new. Google has been trying to make marketers, developers and business owners pay more attention to users consuming content on their phones ever since they announced ‘Mobilegeddon’ in February 2015, which favours mobile-friendly websites in their rankings.
Some website owners took the hint and invested in developing mobile-optimised and responsive websites, while others created “mobile websites” which would be served to users visiting on mobile device through a redirect. The latter solution often led to less than ideal UX, as the content would often be different that on the original desktop site.
As a result, users who click on the link from search results expecting a certain text from the search snippet will be disappointed when they won’t find what they were looking for.
That’s why Google has decided to change the point of view and start gauging the websites in their index with primarily mobile users’ interests in mind. In technical terms it means that the main user agent crawling the website will be mobile and the content that is accessible to the mobile crawler will be the one that will be considered for ranking.
Timeline of Google’s mobile-targeted actions
- 26/02/2015 – Google announces change to mobile search results (‘Mobilegeddon’)
- 21/04/2015 – Google rolls out Mobilegeddon
- 05/05/2015 – More searches on mobile than on desktop in many countries including USA and UK
- 01/09/2015 – Google warns to not use mobile interstitials / APP banners
- 07/10/2015 – Google launches the AMP Project
- 04/11/2016 – Mobile first index announced
- 10/01/2017 – Google starts penalising mobile sites with interstitials
What do all these changes mean for us? If you are using mobile-friendly responsive website, probably not much. But even if your website is mobile-optimised, you can do more to get the most out of your SEO strategy. Here are seven things you should definitely stop doing immediately:
1. Stop redirecting based on the device
Having a separate mobile website is a legitimate strategy for many reasons, for example if your mobile visitor persona is different to the desktop. However in combination with navigating to them through internal redirects based on the viewing device, it can cause a series of problems. To start with, it’s much harder for the mobile first googlebot to discover the desktop version of the site.
The better way to do this is to use rel:alternate tags and canonicals to map the desktop and mobile versions, as Google says that “we’ll continue to use these links as guides to serve the appropriate results to a user searching on desktop or mobile.”
2. Stop using different content on desktop vs. mobile website
It should be an absolute no-brainer that your desktop and mobile version of the same page should show the user the same content. It can be sized differently or lack some visual effects, but it’s important that all the content is the same. Using sneaky redirects for mobile users to show them different content from what the desktop users would see is one of the reasons why Google introduced the mobile first index in the first place.
3. Stop underestimating on page targeting
Mobile screens offer much smaller space to display our content compared to desktops, even if the size of our smartphones and phablets are getting bigger and bigger. This means that we need to get the most out of the available space in a search results page as possible. Mentions of terms in META data, headings, copy & structured data play an even bigger role in mobile search.
4. Stop ignoring structured data
As mentioned above, structured data markup can help make your search results look better, more engaging and thus increase the probability that users will click on your link. Google is constantly increasing the number of supported cases for Schema markup and rich cards, so even if you have ticked this item off your SEO to do list, it’s always good to keep your eye on new opportunities in micro-formats. See how you can easily generate the most common structured data formats here.
5. Start paying attention to local SEO
Mobile searches naturally have very often local intent – we search for restaurants or stores around us in certain areas etc. Whether you are a local business or just have locally-relevant content, it’s important you spend time making sure your page is optimised for local SEO.
6. Stop being oblivious to your site speed
Site speed can influence your rankings for both desktop as well as mobile searches, but loading speed of page is a much more sensitive issue on mobile phones as the speed of connection usually tends to be slower. Regularly checking how long it takes to load and render your website goes a long way. Make sure you:
- Avoid using unnecessarily big images
- Leverage browser caching
- Deliver your content from cookie-less domain
- Consider switching to newer HTTP/2 protocol
7. Stop failing to verify your mobile site on Google Search Console
In case you are using a separate mobile website you should consider creating a separate property in your Google Search Console account. This gives you great insight into how googlebot sees your website, and spot and fix any potential issues on your site that may affect the way you will rank on Google.
Whatever you do, as long as you make sure that your website offers relevant content in a speedy, non-laggy way – and you let Google know about it – there is no need to be worried. That’s why most of the recommendations above are focused on the user experience of your mobile users. After all, they decide what link they will tap on or not and that’s what the mobile first index is about: letting them pick from the best.