Google Rolls Out Mobile-First Indexing: What is it & What Does it Mean to SEO?
April 3, 2018 by Paul Ceppaglia
What exactly is mobile-first indexing, and how will it impact your website? This article will demystify mobile-first indexing, give an outline of options for implementing a mobile strategy, and hopefully dispel any misconceptions the reader has about the mobile vs. desktop debate.
Some Interesting Facts About Mobile Traffic
First, it would be beneficial to review some data regarding mobile traffic to help understand Google’s motivation in implementing mobile-first indexing.
- Traffic: Desktop vs Mobile vs Tablet worldwide from Feb 2017 – Feb 2018 (source: http://gs.statcounter.com/platform-market-share/desktop-mobile-tablet_):
- Mobile: 51.82%
- Desktop: 44.12%
- Tablet: 4.06%.
- Zenith Media predicts that, in 2018, 66% of individuals in 52 key countries will own a smartphone, up from 63% in 2017 and 58% in 2016. Additionally, mobile devices will account for 73% of internet consumption in 2018. (source: https://www.zenithmedia.com/smartphone-penetration-reach-66-2018/)
- Mobile is the dominant platform for searches with 48% of buyers using a smartphone to start searching with a search engine. (source: https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/interactive-report/gen-z-a-look-inside-its-mobile-first-mindset/)
- Users spend an average of 69% of their media time on smartphones (source: https://www.comscore.com/Insights/Presentations-and-Whitepapers/2017/2017-US-Cross-Platform-Future-in-Focus)
- 60% of global mobile consumers use their mobile device as their primary or exclusive internet source (source: Internet Retailer)
- Google drives 96% of Mobile Search traffic, followed by Yahoo at 2% and Bing with 1%. (source: NetMarketShare).
In fact, mobile search first surpassed desktop search back in 2015, and that same year Google placed a priority on mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. With Google now announcing the rollout of mobile-first indexing, optimizing for both mobile and voice search is essential.
What is Mobile-First Indexing?
Now that we know just how important mobile traffic is, it makes sense that Google wants to place a higher priority on delivering a great experience to mobile users.
What exactly is mobile-first indexing? Well, referring once again to the Google Webmaster Central blog:
To recap, our crawling, indexing, and ranking systems have typically used the desktop version of a page’s content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is vastly different from the mobile version. Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.
It is important to note that this is not a separate index…there will still be only one index from which search results are served.
Instead, this reflects a change in how sites will be crawled and indexed. Previously, Google crawled and indexed a site the way a desktop browser would view the web pages. However, with mobile-first indexing, sites will be crawled with the Smartphone Googlebot. If no mobile version of a website is available, Google will instead crawl and index the desktop version.
And how will this be rolled out? Again, from Google:
…we’ve started migrating sites that follow the best practices for mobile-first indexing.
In other words, the rollout begins with sites that have already been implementing mobile best practices, and who ready for the switch to mobile-first indexing.
Why is Mobile-First Indexing Important?
Google’s mobile-first indexing announcement is big news. Why? Moving forward, it will change the way that SEOs and webmasters create and optimize their site’s content and user experience.
Sites should now be optimized with the mobile user’s experience first and foremost in mind. Let’s examine some strategies you can utilize to prepare for mobile-first indexing and how you can improve your mobile user experience.
What Should I Do About Mobile-First Indexing?
There are several possible ways to make sure your site delivers a great experience for mobile users.
Responsive web design ensures your website will look great on (desktops, phones, and tablets). Responsive design utilizes HTML and CSS to resize, enlarge, shrink hide, or move the content to make it look good on any screen. With this approach, there is one version of the website which responds to the individual user’s environment.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
AMP (aka Accelerated Mobile Page) is an open-source initiative stemming from a collaboration between Google and Twitter. AMP’s primary aim is to “create web pages that are compelling, smooth, and load near instantaneously for users.” Essentially, you can think of AMP as utilizing stripped down forms of HTML and CSS, designed to be very lightweight and fast loading.
With Dynamic Serving, a web server responds to a URL request with different HTML and CSS, based on the user agent (or device) requesting the page. In some ways, dynamic serving offers the best of both worlds, in that the user experience can be tailored specifically for both desktop and mobile.
Regardless of how you approach serving your site to mobile users, one thing that you must consider is your page load time, since Google has announced that page speed will become a ranking factor in 2018.
What if I Don’t Have a Mobile Version of my Site?
First off…don’t panic! Google states:
Sites that are not in this initial wave don’t need to panic. Mobile-first indexing is about how we gather content, not about how content is ranked. Content gathered by mobile-first indexing has no ranking advantage over mobile content that’s not yet gathered this way or desktop content. Moreover, if you only have desktop content, you will continue to be represented in our index.
So, if you have not yet implemented your mobile strategy, what this really means is that it is finally time to stop delaying and get to work!
Keep in mind that the rollout of mobile-first indexing is not about Google forcing websites to adapt to Google’s new algorithm. Instead, this is merely Google adjusting to how users search today and making sure that they deliver the optimal experience for their users. Likewise, it is in every publisher’s best interest to adapt and to create a better user experience for all users.