What Google’s Mobile-First Indexing Means for Your Website

by | Jul 15, 2021 | Business, Content Marketing

Technology is always changing and adapting. Not only does technology itself change, but also the way in which we interact with it. One notable change is the need to provide mobile-friendly websites. Desktop searches have been on the decline for years now as more people rely on their smartphones for their online searches. Many of us understand the importance of having a website that can transition from desktop to mobile seamlessly.

What many don’t realize is that often, their website is set up to favor one over the other. In the past, desktop approachability seemed more important, but Google has realized that this has shifted entirely. Google announced that it would be moving from desktop-first indexing to mobile-first indexing. What does this mean for your site? This means that now, more than ever, it is important for a website to be a mobile-friendly site first and foremost. This also means that it is important to understand just what mobile-first indexing means and how it might affect your site.

What Is Mobile-First Indexing?

Mobile-first indexing was developed in response to the shift in the way people search and browse the web. In the past, a person needed a desktop or laptop to be able to successfully browse the web. This is no longer the case. In fact, the number of those using a laptop or desktop continues to decline, while mobile browsing continues to rise. In a sense, mobile devices have grown to accommodate almost all aspects of our lives. Google decided to follow this trend and make the shift from desktop-first indexing to mobile-first indexing. This means that in the past, Googlebot would use a website’s desktop version to determine a page’s relevance to a search query. This is also how a website was indexed and ranked. This is no longer the case. Now, Google has shifted to using mobile-first indexing. This means that what matters most to your site and its ranking is how well your site performs on a mobile device. It is extremely important to ensure that your mobile version takes preference, and that you are providing your users the fastest, fullest, and most approachable website possible.

What This Means for Your Site

For many businesses there won’t be any issues if the site for the mobile users is a responsive version of the desktop site.  A responsive site is one that is designed to make your web content adapt to different screen and window sizes. A responsive site ensures that there is no duplicate source code for the same content on different devices, and that there is only one URL. Issues arise if the website serves different desktop and mobile versions. This essentially means that if you don’t have a mobile-friendly website, you will see a negative impact on your search rankings across both mobile and desktop searches. Mobile-first indexing takes Google’s algorithms and uses them with the content of your site’s mobile page when ranking your page on the SERPs.

What You Can Do

Having a mobile-friendly website is key to making sure that your site is still appropriately indexed. There is a common misconception that there is a mobile and a desktop index. This is not the case. The desktop index has been phased out and replaced with the mobile index. This means that in the eyes of the Googlebot, the content that exists on the mobile version of your site is the only content that is ranked and indexed. This means that if your site is only desktop content, it will be completely ignored. There are a few things that you can do to ensure that your site is fully prepared to be fully mobile-first indexed.

  • Test your site’s mobile friendliness- This may seem obvious, but it is important to make sure that your mobile site is fully functional and user-friendly. Google provides a mobile-friendly test tool for those who may be unsure. You want to ensure that you are providing the same experience across the mobile and desktop devices. In general, desktop sites tend to provide lengthier content on their pages while mobile sites tend to bury content in other tabs or accordions in which you must click on the link to view the content. With mobile-first indexing, this “hidden” content would no longer be evaluated for search result rankings. It is crucial that you provide identical content for all versions, across all devices. You’ll want to consider your structured data, metadata, robots meta tags, ad placement, images, and videos. If a mobile site is difficult to navigate, odds are a user will leave that page for one that is easier to use.
  • Check Your Page Speed- The best part about having the world at your fingertips is how quickly you can find answers for your day-to-day questions. Some of us remember the days of dial-up, and truly having to be patient and wait for pages to load. It simply couldn’t get any better in those earlier days. Today, speed is everything. People want to access their information, and they want it quickly. Slow page speed can negatively impact your bounce rates, the time users spend on your site, and the conversion rate along with loading times.  Your mobile site needs to be easily accessed, navigated, and loaded to avoid any fall in rank.
  • Check out Google’s Advice- Google provides amazing tools for its users. They understand that this switch from desktop-first to mobile-first may be unsettling for some of their users. Google suggests making sure that Googlebot can access and render your content. As previously mentioned, making sure the content is the same on the desktop and mobile app is key. They recommend checking your structured data, as well as putting the same metadata on both versions. Checking ad placement is important, as well as making sure your visual content is the same.
  • Responsive Site- If your site is not responsive; you may want to consider making this switch. Handling separate mobile and desktop sites can now be increasingly difficult. You’ll have to ensure that every small detail is the same. You’ll have to make sure that each page corresponds between both the mobile and desktop version. A responsive site can make this process easier. With the switch to mobile-first indexing, websites with poor mobile performance will likely encounter problems with their ranking.

Mobile-first indexing is another step to embracing the ways in which we utilize and browse websites. Users want to be able to fully access a site on their phone the same way they would on a desktop. Sites need to be mobile-friendly to ensure that their users can find the information they need quickly, and that they feel assured they can visit the site again for quick information. A mobile site should provide all the same information as a desktop site. Identical results are truly key.

This switch has happened, and there is no way to opt out of it. You need to be thinking mobile-first when it comes to designing and developing your site. Mobile searching continues to grow, and with that, the need for mobile-friendly sites. This switch will bring changes in rankings. It is important to ensure those changes remain in your favor.


Rebecca Flitton