Google’s Mobile-First Indexing Goes Live


It’s official: mobile-first indexingOpens a new window is now the default on Google search. 

To be clear, before anyone panics that their company’s site isn’t optimized for mobile, the search giant’s mobile-first indexing system, which went live on July 1, is being applied to all new sites.

Sites that have already been optimized for mobile-first will continue to be indexed that way, while older sites not yet migrated will still be assessed through the traditional desktop-first indexing, until they’re ready to make the move. (Note that Google has previously said this applies to less than half of existing domains).

If you don’t know what any of this means, I recommend you start looking into it. In the meantime, though, here’s a brief summary of what mobile-first indexing is and an overview of the key takeaways to consider.

What is mobile-first indexing?

As fellow Toolbox contributor Ethan Schrieberg wrote in the top SEO trends of 2019: Opens a new window  “Simply put, Google now prioritizes mobile versions of webpages for crawling and indexing.”

In other words, how your site renders on mobile, not desktop, will be used by Google to crawl and index your web page.

Marketers must ensure the mobile-friendly version of their site is therefore up to scratch as Google now considers that platform to be the most important, and it will predominantly use the information gathered there to determine rankings both for mobile and desktop.

Danny Sullivan, Google’s public Search Liaison, tweeted an apt metaphor explaining why Google is making this shift: “Think of it like a library that can have one copy of every book. Initially, it was all print books. As ebooks became popular, it starts to replace the print versions with ebooks. Still one library, mix of both types but over time, it’ll be mostly ebooks.”

What Google has said

Google says it’s pushing the transition because new websites tend to be created “ready for this method of crawling.”

Its advice for web designers: Use a responsive design, building web pages that will render well on various devices and window or screen sizes.

“While we continue to support responsive web design, dynamic serving, and separate mobile URLs for mobile websites, we recommend responsive web design for new websites. Because of issues and confusion we’ve seen from separate mobile URLs over the years, both from search engines and users, we recommend using a single URL for both desktop and mobile websites.”

You may or may not be notified

It depends on whether your site is new or old.

If yours is new, launched after July 1, Google will not notify you that it’s applying mobile-first indexing. Rather, it’s the new normal.

However, old sites will be informed they’re getting shifted to mobile-first indexing. An alert will be made in the Google Search Console — check your messages on the platform — and there also should be a pop-up that your site has made the migration, including the date of the switch.

Be ready

The mobile-first focus is hardly newOpens a new window . Internet use on mobile devices has skyrocketed: Smartphones and tablets now account for more than half of total internet traffic.

Site age aside, marketing teams need to ensure the mobile versions of their webpages are well designed and easy for users to access to ensure their rankings aren’t hurt.

Remember, if your site is passing through mobile-first indexing and differences exist between the desktop and mobile versions, Google will only index what it finds on the mobile version. It will no longer crawl your desktop site.

So marketers must ensure the most important content is mobile. I strongly advise you not to sacrifice this important information for the sake of a sleek design. If the content matters to users, it should be easily visible. Ditto for your structured data and alt-text for images on mobile pages.

Finally, your mobile site’s page speed, responsiveness, rendering and engagement levels all matter for rankings. Page load times and site rendering are especially important, so ensure fast page speed — slowpokes will be downgraded — and that it always displays properly.

Google’s mobile-friendly testerOpens a new window  tool can help you track your mobile site’s performance.