On 26th March 2018, and after a year and a half of “careful experimentation and testing”, Google launched it’s mobile-first indexing service.
This is big, big news, but not the sort of news we should be surprised by. Research suggests that people are far less likely to return to a mobile site if they have trouble accessing it on their smartphone.
The same now goes for Google; if your website performs poorly on mobile – or, worse, is inaccessible on small screens – it will drop you down the ranks.
That means if you’re still not mobile-ready, you’re facing an even steeper uphill battle to be discovered on the world’s most important search engine.
What is mobile-first indexing and how does it work?
Google’s job is to serve its users relevant search results, and it will do so either based on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising or ‘natural’ search listings.
The mobile-first index primarily impacts the latter (although that doesn’t mean you can get away Scott-free on PPC!), and it does what it says on the tin; Google will analyse your website’s mobile performance first and base its ranking for your website on those findings.
Before, it would look at the desktop version and determine the ranking from there. If a mobile version existed, it would boost the mobile rank accordingly, but this would have little impact on the overall ranking of your site.
Now, mobile is everything, which is why, if Google is thinking mobile-first, we all need to do the same!
What do I need to do about mobile-first indexing?
Start with the obvious: check your website on your smartphone. If it’s cumbersome to use, or you have to pinch to zoom in and out of the content, Google won’t like it – simple.
Despite this, even websites that look great and operate fantastically on mobile devices may have underlying issues that will prevent them from being ranked highly.
This is where you’ll need some input from an expert, but details such as your metadata (the text that sits within the code of your website describing the purpose of your site and its keywords), the sitemap and speed of page loads will all count towards the mobile-first indexing.
Common mobile-first index questions – answered
Mobile-first indexing understandably raises a lot of questions, and unless you’re deeply ingrained in digital marketing and web development, you simply can’t be expected to know all the answers.
We’d therefore like to answer some of the most common for you!
Q: Is the mobile-first index impacting my site now?
A: Not necessarily. A change this comprehensive will take time, and in a blog post from December 2017, Google has confirmed it will be “evaluating sites independently on their readiness for mobile-first indexing based on the above criteria and transitioning them when ready”, but admit they can’t offer a timeline for when it will be completed.
Q: Will Google only use the mobile-readiness of my site to determine its ranking?
A: Not necessarily; the desktop version of your website is still important. You may, for instance, have certain pages that aren’t mobile-ready, and they’ll still be taken into consideration.
Q: What if my website doesn’t work at all on mobile?
A: Your website will still be indexed, but if the competition have a mobile presence, they’ll always appear above you.
Q: What if I have a separate mobile site compared to a fully responsive site?
A: Fully-responsive is the way to go, but if you do have a separate mobile website, you need to ensure the content on it is pretty much identical to that of the desktop version.
Q: My mobile site hides certain navigation elements and pages – is this an issue?
A: No – particularly if this is done to improve the overall user experience. Google will still be able to crawl that content in the background, anyway.
A full roll-out of the mobile-first index will admittedly take some time, but that doesn’t mean you can sit back and wait for it to hit your website’s rankings.
The time to plan and optimise for small screen devices is now. Don’t let Google leave you behind.