Google to launch mobile-first index this year
Google is in the process of making a dramatic change to its search index in order to provide a better experience for mobile users.
With more searches now taking place on mobile and tablet devices than desktop computers, Google is flipping its current practices with the new mobile-first index.
Currently, the desktop versions of web pages are crawled and indexed in both mobile and desktop search results. The “mobile-friendliness” of a page helps to boost rankings in the mobile search results, but overall rankings are mainly based on the desktop version.
This can cause issues for users though as you may click a mobile search result, only to find that the page has less or different content to its desktop counterpart, and the information you need isn’t actually there.
The mobile-first index, which was officially announced back in November 2016, will essentially do the opposite and rank pages based on the mobile version of a website’s content. This is due to come into effect later this year, but Gary Illyes from Google recently revealed that this may be “unlikely to happen, at least fully.”
In the coming months, it’s important for brands and businesses to ensure they are ready for the changes, otherwise you could risk losing search visibility, and organic traffic, conversions and revenue as a result.
How to prepare for the mobile-first index
The key message from Google is simple – consistency is key.
If your website uses responsive design, where the format and layout of pages resize depending on the user’s device, then you shouldn’t have to worry as your content should be the same across any device. However, if you have a separate mobile website (such as m.yoursite.com) then you may need to take action.
Google plan to notify webmasters via Search Console if a site is at risk, so there’s sufficient time to resolve any issues ahead of the official roll-out.
“We’ll try to also inform sites where we recognise issues, so if we recognise that maybe your mobile version doesn’t have all of the same content or markup that your desktop version has then we’ll try and let you know about that through Search Console as well, so that you are aware of these issues and have time to resolve them.”
John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst
Below I’ve outlined some key steps to take, even if your website is responsive, and if you need more advice then feel free to get in touch here.
- Run key pages of your website through Google’s mobile-friendly test and fix any issues.
- Use ‘Fetch as Google’ in Search Console, with the user-agent set to mobile:smartphone, to see how Google views your mobile pages.
- Ensure content and structured data markup is consistent across your desktop and mobile pages.
- Remove any intrusive pop-ups or interstitials from your mobile website.
- Use the PageSpeed insights tool and fix anything that is slowing down your mobile pages.
Finally, the most important step is to review your SEO strategy to ensure it also prioritises mobile users, because if not, your business could be left behind.