Google is regularly making changes to improve user experience within search, and most recently has been focusing on innovations in mobile search. Earlier this month, Google announced that they will be slowly moving towards a mobile-first index. Traditionally, the way that Google has done indexing is by looking at the desktop version of a page’s content and determining the relevance of that page.

Now, Google plans to experiment with their algorithms using the mobile version of a website’s content to rank within search engine results pages (SERPs). So, what does this mean for your website?

Let’s start at the beginning. The reason why Google is beginning to test a mobile-first index is because most of their searches are coming from a mobile device, and not a desktop. Furthermore, Google says, “More Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan”.

Therefore, it no longer makes sense for Google to continue to evaluate a desktop version of a website, which is the reasoning for this massive shift.

How Will It Work?

Google will continue to use one single index, but will move their focus to the mobile version of websites, instead of the desktop version. Rankings will be determined by how the content on a page appears for users searching with a mobile device. Even websites that are not mobile-first will be impacted on how they appear in desktop searches.

Websites that are not responsive will not receive the mobile ranking boost, which is something to consider when building or updating your website.

What If Your Website Is Not Mobile?

The question that everyone is asking is, “What if my website is not mobile-first?”. Google says that “If you only have a desktop site, we’ll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we’re using a mobile user agent to view your site”.

Although Google prefers you have a mobile website, they will continue to crawl your desktop site, but it may not rank as well as it would if it were mobile and will not receive the mobile boost. Google has even stated that they would prefer you to have a functional, working desktop site rather than a broken mobile site.

Their advice is for you to take your time in launching a working mobile site, because user experience is the number one influence here.

The best solution is to have a responsive website, where the content is exactly the same on every page of your site on both mobile and desktop. You do not want to risk having a separate mobile website with less content on that version than the desktop version, because Google will be ranking based on the mobile version.

Detailed and quality content will still be just as important in the mobile-first index.

Google’s plan is to reduce the amount of changes to overall rankings, but only to improve the user experience in search for users on a mobile device.

How Can You Prepare?

The best solution to ranking in the mobile-first index is to make sure that you have a mobile responsive website, where the content does not change for a user on any screen.

You should also be aware of these factors, all of which Google will continue to take into consideration:

  1. Meta data including page titles and non-ranking factors including meta descriptions
    • The mobile SERP has less room, so page titles and descriptions must be optimized and concise
  2. Page load speed
    • Users on a mobile device have come to expect a website to load within seconds, and Google will continue to think highly of websites that load quickly. You can test your page load time with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool
  3. Local optimization
    • Mobile searchers are local searchers, and Google will continue to rank local businesses within mobile search. Including local meta data within your site’s pages will increase your visibility within mobile search

Remember, Google Is Experimenting

With all of these changes announced from Google, it is important to remember that for the time being, Google is only experimenting. They have not set an official deadline for when the mobile-first index will take over, and the goal is to slowly roll out new tests for certain users within search.

For the time being, most users will not even realize that they are being served the mobile-index, as the two indexes will remain separate until Google decides it is the right time to make the big change to one mobile-first index.  

That doesn’t mean you should be complacent, however. Now is the time to make sure your website is mobile-first, before it is too late and you are left behind in the mobile dust.

Do you have questions about Google’s mobile index plans? Contact Liquid today to chat!

Alex Prestipino

About Alex Prestipino

Alex monitors and plans strategies and campaigns surrounding SEO, SEM, social media and analytics for our clients as a Digital Marketing Strategist at Liquid. When she’s not working or studying for her Master’s degree, Alex enjoys playing golf and the piano, and spending time with friends and family.

Published Nov 30, 2016