Mobile has changed the way people browse online, perform online searches, use social media and even do online shopping. In keeping with the mobile-dominant trend since 2016, when mobile traffic grew beyond desktop traffic for the first time, Google announced that their search engine indexing would transition to mobile-first. Since the original announcement, testing has been underway, and finally as of March 26th, 2018, Google has officially announced the beginning of the mobile-first indexing rollout. Over the next few years, as mobile-first indexing gets underway, desktop websites will eventually be pushed back in the rankings, putting mobile and responsive sites first. So, what does mobile-first indexing really mean? When does it take effect and how can you prepare?
What Is Mobile- First Indexing?
Google has noted that most people using mobiles visit the mobile versions of websites. Whereas their indexing system follows the desktop version of a site first for making assessments about the quality and relevance of a page to a user’s query. This can lead to a sub-par experience and disconnect among mobile searchers, which can consequently push them to abandon the platform. The mobile-first index is Google’s attempt at discovering, crawling and understanding your web pages and documents for indexing and ranking the web from a mobile-first perspective.
This means that from here on Google will primarily crawl and first index the mobile-friendly version of your website with the smartphone agent, instead of indexing the desktop version. Google will continue to show the URL that is the most appropriate to users (whether it’s a desktop or mobile URL) in Search results. While there is no impending online doomsday where your rankings and traffic disappear overnight, the change in Google indexing means you have to make Mobile SEO a top priority.
Conduct a Mobile-friendly Test
If your site is mobile-friendly or you have a responsive website, with the same design, structure, and content that can adjust dynamically according to different screen sizes and devices appropriately, then you won’t have to make any fundamental changes to your site. One of the easiest ways to check whether your site is mobile-friendly, is by simply using Google’s Mobile-Friendly test tool.
Can Google See My Mobile Pages?
You can use the Fetch and Render tool in the Google Search Console to look at the preview after the fetch and render is complete. The rendered results resemble what Google can see and index from your mobile site.
Your mobile results may not have been indexed correctly if you have dynamic serving or different URLs for your desktop and mobile website. Then you have to add a sitemap to your mobile site and also tag all your mobile URLs with canonical and alternate tags and submit it through Google Search Console. Also add it to your robot.txt file. And ensure you follow the best practices below to prepare for mobile-first indexing:
- Your mobile site must contain the same content as your desktop site including text, images (with alt-attributes), and videos, in indexable formats.
- Structured data must be updated on both versions of your site.
- Metadata, titles and meta descriptions should be present on both versions of the site.
- Use Search Console to verify both versions of your site. In the Google Search Console dashboard, under Search Traffic, check Mobile Usability to find out about any “mobile usability issues affecting your site.”
- Check hreflang links between mobile and desktop URLs separately. Your mobile URLs’ hreflang should point to mobile URLs, whereas the desktop URL hreflang should refer to desktop URLs.
- Your servers must have enough capacity to a handle potential increase in crawl rate on the mobile version of your site.
- You should have the correct rel=canonical and rel=alternate link elements between your mobile and desktop versions.
- Run this page speed test to identify issues with the load time of any one of your pages. Maintaining a competitive speed is a must today to reduce your bounce rate. If the speed of your site is still lagging, you might also want to look into implementing Google AMP for your blog and website pages.
If you haven’t already, it is time to take a mobile-first approach with your entire site. It essentially means taking the time to fine tune everything from the structure to the responsive design to speed, architecture, and the user experience for the mobile user.