What is Google’s Mobile-First Index?

Earlier this month Google announced a big change to the way they index your site, and it’s something you need to pay attention to.

The way Google has always worked is to follow links from page to page across the web, and record the content of each page in a huge store of pages it calls the index. Only pages that are in the index get shown in the search results, if you’re not in the index you won’t appear in search.

If you want a much better and more expanded explanation on this you can check out Google’s How Search Works.

Google has always filled its index with the desktop versions of sites, but now they are testing filling their index with the mobile version. Which means Google will rank both your desktop and mobile versions based only off the content on your mobile site.


Why Have They Done This?

Site owners often show different content to people depending on whether they visit the site on mobiles or desktops, which gives Google a problem; if they rank a page based off the desktop version of that page and the user is on a mobile device, the user will have a bad experience by not seeing the content they expected (which only exists on the desktop site).

Since people are now more likely to search on a mobile device than a desktop Google have decided to start making their index mobile-first.


What Does This Mean For You?

That depends on whether you show different content to desktop and mobile users.

If you don’t have a mobile optimised site, then this change probably won’t affect you. Google will just look at your page as it if were a mobile user, and will be able to see the same content as if it were a desktop user, so Google’s knowledge of the content on your page won’t change.

Not having a mobile optimised site will still affect your rankings through the ‘mobile friendly algorithm’ which was rolled out in April of last year and was made even stronger in May this year. However, this mobile-first index won’t affect that.

If you have a responsive site that shows the same content to both mobile and desktop users, but just rearranges and resizes depending on screen size, then this change is also not likely to affect you. And well done for staying up to speed.

If your responsive site hides important content from certain screen sizes, or you show different content to people depending on whether they are using a mobile device or a desktop, then this change will impact you.

Google will be looking at your site as if it were a mobile user, and if it can’t see your important content, then it won’t rank you for that content.


What Can Be Done About It?

First things first, you want to make sure your mobile site can be accessed by Google. Use the robots.txt testing tool to make sure you aren’t blocking Google from seeing your mobile site.

Then you want to make sure that your pages have the main, important, content displayed when viewed on a mobile device. You can do this with the Fetch as Google Tool in Search Console. In the dropdown menu of this tool select mobile:smartphone. This shows you how Google will see your page.

If you do have a separate site for mobile, you need to verify this in Google Search Console.


When Will it Be Here?

There isn’t a date for when this will be rolled out. Google are testing the index at the moment, and will be doing so for the next few months. It is much too early to know when it will be ready.

This is their comment on the rollout date:

“We’ll continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale and we’ll ramp up this change when we’re confident that we have a great user experience. “

Google are hoping that no one will notice when the change is finally rolled out to everyone. They want there to be minimal disruption to their results from this change.

And on a final note, Google want to reassure people that this isn’t a cause for concern, or rushing out your mobile site to make sure it’s indexed. They say a functional desktop-oriented site is better than a broken or incomplete mobile site.

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