How The Google Mobile-first Index Could Affect Your Rankings
Google has made no secret of the increased importance that it wants to give to mobile websites so it shouldn’t be of any great surprise that the world’s largest search engine has introduced changes to the way it treats your mobile websites when indexing.
The latest move has seen Google start to roll out their ‘mobile-first’ index – so what does this mean?
Essentially, the mobile first index means that Google will sort its search results using the content found on mobile sites over the content found on desktop sites.
Why Mobile First?
Google are constantly evolving and changing the way they collect their search results to serve the needs of their users. By providing the best search experience they are maintaining their position as the number one search engine and to do this they need to consistently produce the most relevant results.
Internet usage behaviour now dictates that mobile search queries have overtaken desktop search and as such Google wants to primarily focus on the content found on mobile websites – we are now way beyond just having a mobile version of your website to ensure you don’t lose your search rankings.
What does the Google Mobile-First Index mean for my website?
The fact that you are asking this question means that you are ahead of many of your competitors – that is the good news. The even better news is that if your website is responsive (and you are not blocking content on smaller screens) then you won’t be negatively impacted by this algorithm change.
Interestingly, those website owners that don’t have a mobile website will also not be affected by this change in a major way – at least for desktop search. The bottom line is that if you don’t have a mobile site then Google will crawl the content on your desktop site. So, whilst you probably will not be appearing in mobile search results, if you rely solely on desktop search then you should not be affected.
Those website owners who are most at risk are the ones that have mobile optimised websites that are not responsive. Often, these websites have less content than their desktop counterpart and if this is the case with your website then it will impact on what Google crawls as it will only scrape the mobile content and not the desktop content.
What Google Says
Will the Mobile-First index affect website rankings is a question on many people’s lips. Paul Haahr and Gary Illyes have both come out and stated that the intention of this update is not to have a major impact on rankings – but in our opinion, it is too early to tell and prevention is better than cure – so if you are worried about your website you should get it checked out sooner rather than later.
When will the Google Mobile-First Index start?
Google have admitted that the first stage of testing has already started with mobile-first and some users will have seen an impact on their search results as a result of this. Google generally always rolls out big changes to the way they display their SERPS in stages and whilst this latest tweak to the algorithm is potentially a few months away from a full roll out, it is likely that it will be introduced if they deem it to be successful.
Are we moving towards one Google Index?
As it stands, Google uses two different indexes for displaying search results. One for mobile and one for desktop. This latest move seems to be another step towards one index and they have published statements to that effect. A publication from Google stated:
‘Our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site.’
This statement certainly shows the intention of Google when it comes to their index.
Is this a futher boost for mobile websites in the rankings?
As mentioned earlier in this post, we have known for some time now that Google boosts the rankings of mobile websites when they are being searched on mobile devices.
It is unlikely that this change will boost these results further, but it is yet another signal from Google towards the importance they are placing on mobile search. This comes as a result of user behaviour and the trends of increased mobile search look to be continuing on a upward curve rather than slowing down any time soon.
The message coming from Google is clear. Mobile responsive websites are the most effective type of website when ranking. It resolves all of the issues with links pointing to the website (as essentially it is the exact same property) and it is far easier to manage on a page to page basis in terms of content.
The added bonus from a content point of view with responsive mobile websites is that Google has indicated it will give the same weighting to content that is hidden on mobile sites (accordions, tabs etc) – this is in contrast to desktop websites that Google gives less weight to these expandable content areas – a positive for many designers out there.
If at least some of your website visitors are likely to use mobile search to find you then you should take action to ensure your website is mobile friendly – we already knew this of course. The take away from this latest update is that you should really be making your website responsive – not just mobile friendly.