Google began to roll out its mobile-first indexing update slowly several months ago, but it now appears to be in full swing. People who have Google webmaster tools configured for their website will receive an email when it has been enabled.
Aimed at reflecting user behaviour trends, it is part of Google’s ongoing efforts to make the web more mobile-friendly, but this can cause confusion for business owners, who are left wondering whether you must change everything to take advantage of mobile-first indexing, or whether simply having a mobile-friendly site is sufficient.
What is mobile-first indexing?
Mobile-first indexing means that your website’s mobile version becomes the starting point for inclusion in Google’s index and determines the rankings. It’s not a mobile-only index, hence its name: mobile first.
This means that if a website doesn’t have a mobile version, its desktop site will be included in the index, but the absence of a mobile-friendly experience could have a negative impact on the site’s rankings.
A site offering a mobile-friendly experience could potentially receive a boost in the rankings, even if the search has been carried out on a desktop.
Most websites built today, particularly those built in WordPress with a page builder, will most likely not have this issue, as they will more often than not be fully responsive. However, older websites may not be responsive, or may have a separate mobile website which doesn’t reflect the desktop website.
If websites aren’t updated to be in-line with this update, this could have a negative impact on their rankings. In theory, if your desktop and mobile versions are equivalent, this change shouldn’t have a significant impact on your site’s performance in search results.
How does mobile-first indexing affect SEO?
In the past, the fact that the desktop version of the site was viewed as being the primary one would mean the desktop site was prioritised by SEO and marketing teams. It would be treated as the website’s most comprehensive version, containing full content, the majority of backlinks and structured data markup.
Meanwhile, the mobile version would be likely to have lighter content and wouldn’t include the same level of structure and markup, nor would it be likely to receive the bulk of backlinks.
The main benefit to SEO is that an algorithmic change is no longer likely to disrupt the rankings straight after going live. The slow roll-out of mobile-first indexing has led to criticism from some industry insiders, who claim it’s having minimal impact, but over the course of time, it will prove to be significant.
How do businesses get ready for the change?
If your website is fully responsive, you should already have all that you need on your mobile version that’s currently part of your desktop version. The main task will be to ensure that the users can enjoy an optimised mobile experience, taking into account load time, page speed, navigation and other functions.
When you have a separate mobile site, ensure that the mobile version has everything that the desktop site has. One key point is website navigation – all pages should be accessible with ease on a mobile device, in the same way that they are on desktop. This could be a lot of work, or a little, depending on your mobile strategy to date. If your mobile site offers a relatively poor user experience at present, it’s time to change.
If you choose to hide some of your mobile site content to save space, using tabs, this isn’t an issue, as the content is treated in the same way as it would be if loaded visibly, as long as it remains crawlable and accessible.
Ask the experts
If mobile-first indexing sounds challenging, why not ask the experts? The Devon SEO Co. services can get your website back on track.
Please contact us to find out about our technical SEO and other digital services that can help your business to grow.