15 Dec 2015

Google’s New Mobile-First Index

Google’s New Mobile-First Index

By now, you probably know that Google crawls your site to add pages to its index – if you don’t, you should! Your page rankings depend on it. That is, Google uses an automated bot to surf around your site and act like a real visitor that follows links on your website pages.

In the past, Google crawled your site as a desktop user and only as a desktop user. Now, however, Google will crawl your site as a mobile user, because, let’s face it, who doesn’t reach for their mobile devices to search the internet as a first choice? That’s a distinction with a really big difference.

For starters, your website might present a completely different display to mobile users versus desktop users, that’s a very normal coding practice. In some cases, links that appear on the desktop version of your site might not appear on the mobile version. That’s big bad news because the Googlebot can’t follow links that aren’t there. Remember, the Googlebot won’t look for links that aren’t there, or cross reference with your desktop page to see if they are missing out. As a result, your site might take a hit in the SERPs, SERPs make a huge impact on page rankings.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that Google uses a number of ranking signals to determine where your site should land in the results list. If the bot finds that your site is hostile to mobile users or loads very slowly, you’re definitely going to lose rank. It sounds obvious, but do you think like a bot? Thought not! But you really need to. You need to understand how a bot will comb through your data if you want to be presented to a user in the top three rankings – or even on the first page. After that, you might as well burn your website as not many users will look that far.

If you’re wondering why Google is switching to a mobile-first index, the answer is simple: mobile is everything. That’s the short answer, anyway. The long answer is a little more involved.

If you don’t have a responsive website, you might be asking yourself: “What’s going to happen to my site?” You can rest easy-ish. But it’s not that pretty.

The Googlebot will crawl the desktop version of your site just fine, even though it’s using a mobile user agent. That means your site can still be indexed, but it won’t be presented in mobile searches because it assumes you are not mobile user-friendly. In fact, it lowers your ranking to put you behind all the mobile content – even the tacky, spun, and plagiarized content it knows is spam. In short, you’ll be indexed, but at the back of the index queue.

You should definitely switch over to a responsive template. Everyone. For everything. In this day and age, anyone who’s serious about making a statement online and cutting through the white noise that is the great morass of media on the Internet needs a website that adapts to a mobile platform.

What about expandable content?

This is a new development. Putting content under a ‘read more’ link used to result in that content not getting indexed by Google. With this mobile first index, things have changed. This you can lighten up about!

Will mobile-first indexing change rankings significantly?

Will the change in crawling significantly impact rankings as mobile-first crawling is implemented? In a word, no… and yes. Yes is a word too. As is usually the case, though, there’s a caveat. Both Illyes and his cohort, Paul Haahr of Google, said that mobile-first indexing shouldn’t result in a significant change in the rankings. They added that it’s too early to tell, though. Certainly, if your site isn’t friendly to a mobile audience, you shouldn’t expect it to rank well for certain keywords.

When does the mobile-first indexing begin?

Google has already started rolling out the mobile-first crawler, it went live a few months ago. However, it will take a few more months before full implementation is complete. Unfortunately, Google won’t give a specific date about when the rollout will be completed. That’s because the company is still testing the code ad will continue to test the code. Google did say, however, that it will roll out more and more searchers over time as it gains confidence that the mobile user agent crawl is working well.

Will there be two indexes going forward?

Eventually, Google will move to only one index. Unsurprisingly, that will be the mobile index. Do you need any more reasons to switch to mobile-enabled content? During the rollout period, though, there will be two indexes – the mobile index and the desktop index. A small subset of users will see results from the mobile index, while other users see results from the desktop index. The reality is that people will have no idea which index they’re seeing results from – for now.

As Google becomes more confident with the mobile-first results, the company will slowly phase out the desktop index. And we’ll have further evidence that mobile is everything.