The Google Mobile First index is coming - Are you ready?
Written by Marc Levy
Last updated: October 6th, 2017 - SEO Insights
In late 2016 Google announced it would be rolling out a new index which would be 'Mobile First'. To put it simply, Google search results will be based on the mobile version of content, even when users search via desktop.
We're now approaching late 2017 and 'it seems' that this mobile first update may be finally approaching. Here are my thoughts and links to useful information surrounding it all.
You can read Google's official documentation on mobile-first indexing here and you can read the super short version of this post by clicking here.
Why is Google switching to a Mobile First index?
Mobile 'searches' have been growing year on year and as more and more users are turning to their mobile devices to search, Google wants its search results to represent them.
So what does this mean for website owners and businesses?
To be completely honest, the real impact of this change is difficult to evaluate at the moment, as all we have is a little news and information from Google on this, without anything really being seen in the wild. But let me make this clear, this is going to be a BIG change and that is why it is taking so long for Google to fully roll this out.
Google have said they don't want this update to overly alter or effect ranking positions, although I would not be paying too much attention to this. Experienced SEO professionals know that what Google say and what actually ends up happening is not always the same thing. So lets look and think about a few things.
Mobile searches will continue to grow, making this almost impossible to ignore. In all likelihood, whatever your business, mobile is, or will be a big part of it.
What will happen if you don't have a mobile site or your mobile experience sucks?
Google has said not to worry if you don't have a mobile site, but I have to call BS here. Google are changing their whole index over to mobile, so not having a mobile site WILL NOT be a good thing.
Now, irrelevant of excuses, you will still need a great mobile site and experience moving foward. If you don't have a mobile site in 2017, irrelevant of this update, you are far behind the times, so get on it!
Google's preferred mobile setup is RWD - Responsive Web Design.
Can I hide content on my mobile site to provide a better user experience?
Yes, and No.
The main benefit of responsive design is that for the most part, your content remains the same across all devices, although as it has matured, more and more designers and developers are hiding certain parts of certain web pages to improve user experience.
Google is saying this update means they will crawl/index the mobile version of your site. So, if a mobile version of a page has less content on it than the desktop version, Google will probably only see and crawl the mobile version and see less content.
Less content means fewer keywords for Google to crawl, index and feedback into the search results based on user search queries - so sites that have less content on their mobile version could experience a drop in organic search traffic.
Something to pay attention to however is what Google have said about expandable content on mobile devices. Google have generally said that desktop content, that isn't visible 'on load' or is hidden in expandable divs, tabs, accordions etc would not be weighted as high in its search algorithm. This is something I have definitely seen to be true, but also seems to be changing for mobile.
Search Engine Land reported that Google’s Gary Illyes said, content hidden in the ways mentioned above will be given full weight if implemented for user experience purposes. So don't completely hide content you believe could be valuable to searchers, just find a smart way of making it accessible to them if they want it.
Will I rank higher and get more traffic from Google if my site is Mobile Friendly?
Sites that are mobile friendly will already receive some kind of ranking boost for mobile based searches. I can only imagine this increasing in one way or another as this new, mobile first index rolls out. Like I said, make sure you have a mobile site and that it fits all the criteria I am mentioning in this post.
- Read Google Mobile Friendly Guidelines
- Use the Mobile Friendly test tool
- Make sure your site loads as fast as possible on mobile
- Don't hide important content on mobile pages
When will this Mobile First Index roll out?
This appears to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest change Google has made and truly is a huge transition. Based on that, and according to John Mueller of Google, the plan is to roll out its mobile-first indexing in stages, although the timing of this is still unknown.
He actually shared quite a bit of information around the roll out, quality assurance and more in this Google Webmaster Central Hangout from Oct 3rd 2017:
So Marc, what's the super short version here?
As always, I will try and wrap this up quickly for you peeps who have no time to really read all the above.
- Make sure you have a damn good mobile site (not only for Google, but for real actual users!). Responsive websites are generally a preferred option, but not vital. Good list of mobile do's and dont's here.
- Make sure your damn good mobile site loads damn quickly. Site speed is super important.
- Make sure content is featured on both the desktop AND mobile version of your pages. Don't completely remove content from your mobile page, if you want to hide something for user experience reasons, still make it accessible through an expandable div, accordion or something similar.
- Run and pass Google's Mobile Friendly test
- Google have started running mobile first tests in the wild. However, the rollout will happen in batches, so they can test and improve as they go.
- Google will try to classify problems they find and communicate them directly with webmasters, either via blog posts about the issues or through messages sent via Google Search Console. So make sure you have that setup!
What are your thoughts on this upcoming mobile-first index update? Let me know in the comments.