Everything You Need to Know about Google’s Mobile First Indexing

Ryan Clutter

Ryan Clutter

11/10/2016

It’s been a week since Google announced mobile first indexing was set to go live. It has been in the works for a few months, and the search industry became aware when Google’s Gary Illyes announced the switch at Pubcon in October.

It was later brought up again at the SEJ Summit in New York on November 2, and two days later it was announced that the Google search index will indeed be mobile-first.

This is significant news. As the world is going mobile, Google has begun crawling the mobile version of your site’s content to understand how it should be indexed in search.

Per Google’s official announcement on mobile first indexing:

“Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.”

When the mobile-friendly update took effect on April 21, 2015, we knew Google was placing an importance on the shifting increase of mobile users. Since, mobile has continued to increase in usage and search, leaving Google to place more of an emphasis than just a mobile-friendly website.

That time has come, and will continue to enhance and expand in the coming months.

What Does Mobile First Indexing Mean for Your Website?

Google is still referring to this as an experiment. It will continue to be rolled over the next few months, as they look to provide the best search experience for all users.

Until now, Google has crawled websites from a desktop point of view, which will change to a mobile browser view point.

Your mobile site now becomes the main factor for rankings over the desktop version of the site.

An Emphasis on Mobile Users

If you don’t have a mobile site at this point, you’re way behind the curve. We can help make sure you’re there by designing a user-friendly and mobile website for your business.

If you have a dynamic serving site or a responsive site where the primary content and structured markup is the same across devices, you don’t have to worry about changing anything and this update won’t affect anything for your business.

On the contrary, if your site is not identical across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes. Step one would be to ensure that you’re serving structured markup to both the desktop and mobile versions of the site.

You have to make sure that the content and links on the mobile site are near or identical to the desktop version so Google can crawl the proper content and rank your site at the same position as you’re seen on desktop.

What If Your Mobile Page Has Less Content Than the Desktop Page?

To provide a better user experience, you may have cut some content from appearing on the mobile version of your site. Does this affect how Google will crawl and rank your site? Potentially.

The good news is that Gary Illyes has said that mobile content that is hidden or trapped behind a “Learn More” or “Read More” tab will not harm your rankings.

In a nutshell, this means that any content you have hidden in tabs or accordions will receive full weight when it comes to the mobile crawling. On mobile, it makes sense.

Content should be easily consumable on mobile and having the ability to leave the important message on the page while hiding supporting material will increase the user experience on your website.

Keep in mind that content on your mobile site is more important than ever. It’s a fine balance between appeasing Google with authoritative content that Google finds relevant for particular search queries and making sure you’re appealing to your visitors.

Having a user-first focus, remember that you can get away with hiding content, but if you trim the content for your mobile site as compared to desktop, Google will crawl the shorter version which in turn could affect your rankings.

The Importance of Structured Data & Site Configuration with Mobile First Indexing

While you have been inclined to cut structured data in an effort to make the page lighter, you must now make sure the data appears on your mobile pages.

Google recommends using the Structured Data Testing Tool to verify structured markup between desktop and mobile. As you add structured data to a mobile site, avoid large amounts of markup that specifically relevant to the content of each document.

Verify your site is accessible to the Googlebot by utilizing the robots.txt testing tool. If you have yet to verify your mobile site within Search Console, you should set that up as soon as possible.

Want to be able to see if Google reads your mobile pages? With this announcement, you should be curious. In the Google Search Console, utilize the Fetch & Render tool and specify the mobile:smartphone user-agent to ensure the fetch and render is complete. You’ll see what Google can see from your mobile site, alerting you if there is anything that needs to be fixed.

What to Keep In Mind Going Forward

It’s pretty clear that Google is putting an emphasis on mobile and the mobile experience. Earlier this year, mobile searches surpassed desktop for the first time ever, and as we navigate towards the future of voice search and mobile dominance, Google is setting themselves up to ensure users have the best experience finding answers to their questions and companies from their mobile devices.

For now, if you only have a desktop site, Google will continue to index your desktop site, even if they’re using a mobile user-agent to view the site.

If you’re in the process of launching a mobile version of your website, do not launch it until it is 100% ready to go. If it’s broken or incomplete in any fashion, the desktop version will hold more weight anyway.

Consider the potential impact of Accelerated Mobile Pages as they appear in the search results. Not all pages will be good for AMP, but if you have news or are publishers, you will benefit from AMP pages on your site.

There is now an AMP carousel to provide the fastest pages and quick answers if you’re looking for an article on a particular topic. You can see if you have any AMP pages in Search Console. Remember, if your page doesn’t validate for AMP, you won’t show up with an accelerated page. More on AMP and its importance to come in future posts.

You won’t be able to see the impact that mobile first indexing has right away. The hope from Google is that it is little to no impact once all webmasters and companies have set up a mobile-friendly website.

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