March 26, 2018

It’s Official: Google’s Mobile-First Indexing Rollout Starts Today [3.26.18]

Don’t freak out—or do—because how it affects your site will depend on how well you’ve prepared

Remember when we talked about the importance of responsive web design and the the looming rollout of Google’s mobile-first indexing?

Well, it’s happening.

But what does it all mean, and how will it affect your website—and on a broader scale, your business?

We’re here to promptly give you all the fluff-free answers you need regarding mobile-first indexing and make sure your website doesn’t get left behind.

[Keep checking back, as we will be updating this post as more news and information comes out on Google’s indexing changes]

What does mobile-first indexing mean?

At the most general level, the way Google identifies and categorizes your website in search rankings is by crawling, indexing and ranking it.

Traditionally, Google’s “crawlers” would crawl the desktop version of websites, as that was often the most commonly viewed iteration of the average website.

With the rise of mobile search—which has surpassed desktop search in recent years—Google has realized that desktop-first indexing no longer makes sense. The company announced it was researching and looking into mobile-first indexing back on November 6th, 2016.

If most people are using mobile devices to search, why should ranking and indexing be decided based on the nature and performance of desktop sites?

Enter: Mobile-first indexing

Ultimately, mobile-first indexing simply means that from here on out, Google will be using the mobile version of a website’s content for indexing and ranking.

Mobile-first indexing is a paradigm shift in how Google analyzes websites.

As of today, Google is beginning to migrate “sites that follow the best practices for mobile-first indexing.”

More on best practices later.

Webmasters with sites that have been migrated will be notified via Google Search Console. Google also noted that in the coming days and weeks, webmasters should be seeing significantly increased crawling by its Smartphone Googlebot.

Google is choosing to keep one search index rather than two, meaning there will be no desktop-first index that applies only to desktop searches vs. a mobile-first index that applies only to mobile searches.

This means mobile-first indexing is here to stay.

What’s going to happen to my website?

As announced by Google today:

“We transition sites slowly to ensure a good experience for site owners and users. We evaluate each site individually on its readiness for mobile-first indexing based on the best practices and transition the site when the site is ready.”

Based on this statement, Google will slowly transition the websites most effectively adhering to best practices first—followed by all others.

So what are these best practices, exactly?

If you have a desktop only website:

Chances are you probably aren’t ranking very well to begin with. Either way, your website will still eventually be ranked and indexed with mobile-first indexing, as the desktop version of your site is the mobile version of your site.

To improve search rankings, the best practice is to build a responsive website so that Google identifies your website as user-friendly to mobile searchers.

If you have a desktop version and a mobile version of your website on two different urls

This is the most complex scenario, but here’s what you need to do:

  1. Make sure your mobile version and desktop version have the same content on them. Regardless of whether you have less content on your mobile site than your desktop site, the mobile site is the one that will be indexed.
  2. Make sure meta titles, meta descriptions and alt tags are the same on the desktop and mobile versions on your site.
  3. Here’s a list of additional minor steps from Google

Once again, the best way to avoid any issues is to build a responsive website.

If you have a responsive website

You’re most likely in good shape! Similar to only having a desktop version, the mobile and desktop version of your website are the same, the website itself is merely optimized to change based on the pixel width of the viewing device.

Remember: Not all responsive websites are created equal. There are plenty of responsive websites that don’t do a great job visually portraying content that looks great on a desktop monitor. Make sure you scour your site for any of these user experience and design issues.

What can I do right now to make sure my website doesn’t slip through the cracks or fall behind in search rankings?

As stated above, responsive web design is the best way to come out on top when it comes to Search Engine Optimization and Google’s indexing and ranking preferences. We’re happy to help you out with that.

Regardless of the way your website is built, this is your one-stop resource for all things mobile-first indexing. We will continue to update this post as more news about mobile-first indexing comes out.

Share this post to make sure your friends, colleagues and business partners are prepared for Google’s recent change.

And check back soon for more news!

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