Google’s Mobile First Index – what you need to know

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of talk about Google’s mobile first index. It’s still described as an experiment by the technology giant. But, if the experiment is successful, this will be the way that Google ranks your website. So, you need to know about the changes.

The first thing it’s worth noting is that there are no set timescales for a full-scale rollout of the index. The testing stage is already underway, with some users already seeing search results produced using the new method. Depending on how well the testing goes, mobile first indexing might be with us imminently, or it might never be with us at all. If changes are imminent, you need to ensure that your business is prepared.

What is the mobile first index?

It helps to start with the basics; understanding what the mobile first index is. Currently, Googlebots crawl through the pages of your desktop website, to identify information that is useful to store in Google’s index. It’s the information that is stored in this index that is used to produce organic search results every time that a user enters a search into the Google search engine. This is why it’s so important that Google collects useful and relevant data when the bots crawl your site.

The problem with this method of indexing is that around 60% of searches are made using a mobile device, and users need search results that are most relevant to them. In order to reflect the move towards the dominance of mobile searching Google is starting use information gathered from mobile sites, ahead of desktop sites, to create its index.

As we mentioned earlier, this is only an experiment right now. But, if it rolls out fully, users will see search results based on your mobile site, not your desktop site.

What if a business only has a desktop site?

The truth is that, with the massive growth in mobile usage, you cannot really afford to only have a desktop site. You could be missing out a large number of leads, if this is the case. But, if your business does only have a desktop site, Google will continue using this information for its index.

Will the new index really make a difference?

The answer to this question is, yes and no. Google does not anticipate that the change to a mobile first index will make much of a difference overall. Although it’s still early days with the testing, so it’s hard to tell.

If you look at this question from the point of view of individual businesses, the index could certainly make a difference. If the content on your mobile site is the same as that on your desktop site, you should remain in the same position as you are now. But, if your mobile site contains significantly less content, this could potentially damage your search engine rankings.

There is also the question of links, which often play a vital part in determining rankings in search engine results. It’s unclear what effect having less links on your mobile site than your desktop site will have on your search engine performance.

What about expandable content?

Generally, content that is hidden away behind tabs, or in expandable boxes, is not given the same weight as visible content, in Google’s current index. This is different when it comes to mobile first indexing; for obvious reasons. Expandable content is often used on mobile sites to improve user experience. So, when it comes to the mobile first index, this type of content will usually have equal weight.

How can you tell if you are ready?

It seems as though there is some time yet before Google’s mobile first index rolls out across the Internet. But, it’s still useful to know that your business is ready, if and when this happens. You can use Google’s Fetch and Render tool, to check what Google will see when it crawls your mobile site.

Will there still be one index?

While the mobile first experiment is ongoing there are technically two indexes; one for desktop first and one for mobile first. They look exactly the same to the user. Google has stated that it aims to only have the  mobile first index at the end of the day.

This is assuming that the experiement goes well, and the mobile first index becomes a reality. Only time will tell.

 

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