For some time now I’ve been talking about Google’s obsession with mobile-friendly content and sites.
In fact, if you don’t have a mobile site your SEO will suffer in 2017 and after.
According to news provided by Search Engine Land from 2016, the biggest search engine will start with mobile-first indexing.
What is mobile-first index?
Well, when a user makes a contact with the search engine, Google will retrieve a mobile version of a page instead of desktop version.
Here’s what Search Engine Land say about mobile-first index:
Google will create and rank its search listings based on the mobile version of content, even for listings that are shown to desktop users.
This change makes sense as more users access websites from their mobile devices.
Image from SearchEngineLand.com
Image taken from StatCounter
The trend has become more noticeable in the last few years and Google have decided to adapt to this technology shift.
The change is going to improve user experience but will likely have a smaller impact on search engine optimization and web marketing.
For now, they are still trying out different things and we will probably be notified when the full version comes out.
What is the main difference?
When people browse the Internet, Google will return mobile versions of web pages.
This also goes if users access a website from their desktop computer.
Every blog has two versions: mobile and desktop.
Till late 2016, the major search engine was using the desktop version as default.
With this new approach it will always go for the mobile version instead.
If you think about it, this makes sense given that majority of individuals use smartphones and other mobile devices to access Google, email and social media accounts.
The main reason why desktop version isn’t good enough is because these two versions are often very different and this may have a negative impact on mobile users which represent the majority of visitors.
NOTE: If your website has a responsive web design, you shouldn’t worry about this change!
What if you don’t have a mobile version of your site?
No problem. Google will find your mobile version if it exists.
If you don’t have it, your desktop version will be shown to a user.
This switch was made primarily to help out mobile users making all pages more responsive and with a design that is more applicable.
In terms of business and ranking, sooner than later you will probably have to fully switch your pages to mobile ones.
So this is only a glimpse of things to come.
Best thing you can do at this point is start using Google mobile tools in order to check how your site performs.
Here they are:
Google Mobile friendly test: https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly
Google Page Speed Insights: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/ (check the mobile version)
How will mobile-first index affect SEO?
As I already mentioned, this update is mainly concerned about things that people see in front of their screen.
It is not necessarily something that will affect your optimization if you already have a mobile-friendly website.
Links will still remain the most important ranking factor for Google.
Update is very similar to HTTP to HTTPS update: it is something that we will all have to do ultimately but lack of it will not get you penalized.
If your site is responsive, there isn’t any concern whatsoever.
There is one reason for worry though!
If mobile version is shorter than your desktop version this means that a user will read a page with less content. This may affect your conversion and user engagement metrics.
Naturally, it will also lower your rankings as case studies show the importance of user engagement factors.
The best way of preventing this is by synchronizing the version and making sure they have the same exact length.
What do Googlers say?
Gary Illyes said that this update will not have an impact on rankings.
In fact, they wouldn’t like for rankings to change whatsoever because this wasn’t the main point of this alteration.
Mobile-first indexing is something that can work for users.
But there is a slight difference with weighing results.
You see, most of the desktops have expanded content which oftentimes doesn’t serve end-users and isn’t shown in mobile version.
So, these expansions will be weighed down if users do not benefit from them.
In other words, Google will focus on the article itself (the content) as the top priority.
In mobile versions, these expanded tabs and menus always serve some purpose guiding reader through a website.
This is why in mobile version every segment of a page will be considered as relevant for rankings.
How will this impact your marketing?
When something is good for users this means bad news for marketers.
Mobile first index update focuses on quality content and mobile devices.
Instead of getting a full page with various promotional stuff (besides the main article) you will only get the information you require.
The size of the screen will be much smaller and there won’t be space for some additional features such as banners.
But besides banners and affiliate links you will also be denied space where you can put data about your company.
Not only will you lose space for making profit but you will also lose space where you can promote yourself, your skills and your blog.
How to check your mobile pages?
Best way to do this is by using Fetch and Render tools available in Google search console.
You can learn how your website looks like from a mobile device. Given that this is a Google program, it is free.
This test is very important for finding potential issues with your mobile friendliness.
As I already said, parts of your content may be missing and mobile version of the page may be shorter.
By using this tool, you can compare them and make the necessary changes.
Tips for making site mobile change
Let’s finally talk about some actionable stuff.
Here are some tips that will help you make the necessary change:
- Enter URLs of both versions into Structured Data Testing Tool. This will verify equivalence of versions
- When you add data to a mobile version make sure to avoid large amount of markup that is otherwise irrelevant
- Check if your mobile website is accessible by the Googlebot
- Make sure to verify the mobile version of your site in Google Search Console
- There is no need to change canonical links at this point
- Do not be too hasty when making your mobile website. Google is still in testing phase and it is not certain when the full version will roll out. You have enough time to create a good mobile site. If you make some flaws and Google starts picking up your mobile pages, this will have a very negative impact on everything you’ve done with your website so far and may potentially down rank you for certain phrases.
When will full mobile-first index version come out?
For now, everything is in its initial stage. According to some sources mobile-first index will not likely come before 2018.
Google is doing tests and we still do not have any info when it comes to actual roll out.
Based on everything we’ve heard so far, this update will not be so disruptive and it shouldn’t have any major impact on rankings.
So, if you notice any fluctuations it’s probably not due to this change but something else that Google is currently doing.
Mobile-first indexing is just one of many updates that are meant to improve user experience.
This one is a bit specific as it affects people who access Google from their mobile devices. Nevertheless, you might be forced to adapt a bit if you don’t have a proper working mobile version.
What are your thoughts on this up and coming update? Do you like it and why? Share your views in the comment section!