Over time, Google has always shown remarkable commitments towards ensuring that its swarming search engine users, gain the user’s satisfaction. Thus, a reason for the several search engine algorithm updates from time to time, which are, however, most often trailed by mixed reactions from concerned stakeholders.
Before stepping further into this, let’s first describe what “mobile-friendly” is:
“A website that is easy to use on a mobile device, especially the small screens of smartphones.”
A lot of people think being friendly and responsive is the same, but they’re mistaken. To describe what “mobile responsive” is:
“Responsive design is an approach to web page creation that makes use of flexible layouts, flexible images, and cascading style sheet media queries. The goal of responsive design is to build web pages that detect the visitor’s screen size and orientation and change the layout accordingly.”
The 2019 September mobile first google indexing is another update that is meant to facilitate better user experiences on the Google search engine. Fundamentally, we could say that Google has factors to consider, before implementing an update to its search engine formats.
They want to ensure that the users (like you and I) get the most accurate information on whatever topic, phrases, or keywords, as fast as possible with minimizing the number of searches.
The mobile first google indexing became necessary, considering several prevailing situations that had somewhat affected Google’s quality service delivery.
These situations seemed to have a negative impact on the reliability of Google’s search results for a majority of its users. Not just the users were frustrated, the webmasters (Marketers, SEO Specialists, etc.) who may not be able to optimize their chances on search engine results.
Why the mobile first Google indexing update is significant
There has been a drastic increase in mobile searches on Google, compared to the number of searches on desktop or laptop computers. Many people think it’s more convenient to surf the net and find information faster on a mobile phone than on their PCs.
Think about it. How often do you look something up when you’re out and about? Maybe looking for a place to eat or drink? Or Googling an answer to a question you have? … Everyone is searching more on their iPhone or Android more than they are when they are forced to sit down and turn on their laptop or desktop to find out that answer or recipe.
How many searches are actually done using a mobile device? Mobile accounts for approximately half of web traffic worldwide. In the first quarter of 2019, mobile devices (excluding tablets) generated 48.71 percent of global website traffic, consistently hovering around the 50 percent mark since the beginning of 2017.
Google receives over 63,000 searches per second on any given day. That’s the average figure of how many people use Google a day, which translates into at least 2 trillion searches per year, 3.8 million searches per minute, 228 million searches per hour, and 5.6 billion searches per day.
Initially and before the mobile first google indexing update, all page contents (pictures, text, videos, PDF’s, etc.) were assessed and given search engine priority, based on their relevance to the computer user. Given this, even if your page content were top notch by all standards, they still need to “desktop friendly” let’s say. So don’t think that you only need a mobile website.
In terms of quality content and accessibility, this is an unfavorable situation for mobile phone users – who are now the majority of Google search engine users.
Even if the content is “mobile friendly,” it is also most likely desktop friendly. Hence there are no issues for desktop device users in this regard. It’s always good to check your site on multiple mobile and computer devices and browsers to find any issues.
Performing the occasional check through your site only on a Chrome browser on your 13″ Macbook isn’t enough. We suggest to check your website on various monitors sizes, 13″ – 15″ laptops, iPhones, Androids, all on Chrome, Safari, and Firefox (some of the most popular browsers).
Testing your mobile website speed is really important. Google will be more likely to show a website higher on search results that loads in 2.1 seconds, as opposed to a website that loads in 3.6 seconds. It’s a good idea to check your mobile site speed here with Google’s Mobile Site Speed Test Tool and the Google Mobile Site Friendly Test Tool.
However, considering the update as a step in the right direction, in ensuring that the corporation’s search engine remains relevance as it has always been.
The associated downturns of continuous use of the previous google indexing method
Now, unknown to many people, the tendency to use the mobile phone over desktops, affects the quality of information that they can access.
Know that all of the uploaded contents on websites that Google bots crawled, were added in various formats like PNG, JPEG, TIFF, PDF, and so on. These formats consequently can determine what type of search engine users, gain access to them.
Hence, this is the reason why mobile phone users may not have access to some contents that have been innately designed to show only on desktop devices. It’s possible for the mobile user not to see the best contents on the topic or keywords you’ve searched for.
Just because you didn’t search for a desktop device, some websites have a mobile version of the website that would reflect different content than a desktop version.
Why would this be you ask? Usually, mobile users are looking for something specific and not really on your website to browse (this may be the other way around on a desktop).
On another hand, the disparity in search results on different devices had also caused seeming irregularities in google search rankings for contents. Thus, webmasters may not be getting the required results that they deserve for every one of their live materials.
What this means is that your contents- although fitting to rank first by standard, may not even appear on the search results (if the user using a mobile device). Consequently, this affects such components as website traffic and leads generation.
What does the mobile first Google indexing update entail?
With the September mobile first google updating in place, Google seems to have found a unifier that works well for both of the mobile device users, and the desktop users.
The main difference that this update brings to the table is the fact that all page contents as accessible on the search engines, would be assessed and rated based on their relevance to the mobile user. Thus, instead of what it used to be before when contents were ranked based on their significance to desktop users, the updates bring a direct advantage for mobile-friendly content.
If you have a separate mobile site, you’ll want to check the following:
- Content: make sure your mobile version has all the high-quality, valuable content that exists on your desktop site. This could include text, videos, and images. Make sure the formats used on the mobile version are crawlable and indexable (including alt-attributes for images).
- Structured data: you should include the same structured data markup on both the mobile and desktop versions of the site. URLs shown within structured data on mobile pages should be the mobile version of the URL. Avoid adding unnecessary structured data if it isn’t relevant to the specific content of a page.
Metadata: ensure that titles and meta descriptions are equivalent on both versions of all pages.
- Note that the official guidance says “equivalent” rather than “identical” – you may still want to optimize your mobile titles for shorter character counts, but make sure the same information and relevant keywords are included.
- Hreflang: if you use rel=hreflang for internationalization, your mobile URLs’ annotations should point to the mobile version of your country or language variants, and desktop URLs should point to the desktop versions.
- Social metadata: OpenGraph tags, Twitter cards, and other social metadata should be included on the mobile version as well as the desktop version.
- Search Console verification: if you have only verified your desktop site in Google Search Console, make sure you also add and verify the mobile version.
- App indexation: if you have app indexation set up for your desktop site, you may want to ensure that you have verified the mobile version of the site in relation to app association files, etc.
- Server capacity: Make sure that your host servers can handle increased crawl rate. (This only applies for sites with their mobile version on a separate host, such as m.domain.com.)
- Switchboard tags: if you currently have mobile switchboard tags implemented, you do not need to change this implementation. These should remain as they are.
How webmasters should adjust and stay relevant
Consequent to the September mobile first google indexing, there have been several recommended changes that content producers should adopt.
If you’re an experienced content optimizer, then you should know that one of the things you always have to do is to adjust your contents to fit into the demands of the ever-changing algorithms.
The following are some of the best things to do for webmasters if their contents must remain relevant:
Fine-tune contents to become both mobile and computer friendly
As it stands, all content that must appear and rank well on Google search must be those whose pages can be accessed by mobile viewers. Consequently, content webmasters should be more concerned about creating contents that are mobile friendly- as a priority over the solely desktop friendly ones. There are ways by which you can make your page contents look apt enough for all time- when viewed from either of a computer or a mobile phone.
Create a separate mobile page version from your desktop version
Alternatively, if you must have desktop pages, then you should also have mobile pages that have been verified on the Google search console. This is important if you feel you want to make pages that are solely suited for desktop users.
As it stands, the September mobile first google indexing seems to have garnered so many positive results, so far. However, webmasters need to stay in the loop, on the search engine users’ tendencies- as a way of deciphering what possible actions would be required in the future.
Common questions about mobile-first indexing
Is mobile-first indexing adding mobile pages to a separate mobile index?
With mobile-first indexing, there is only one index (the same one Google uses now). The change to mobile-first indexing does not generate a new “mobile-first” index, nor is it creating a separate “mobile index” with a “desktop index” remaining active. Instead, it simply changes how content is added to the existing index.
Is the mobile-first index live and affecting my site now? If not, when does it go live?
Google has been experimenting with this approach to indexing on a small number of sites, which were selected based on perceived “readiness.” A wider rollout is likely going to take a long time, and in June 2017, Gary Illyes stated that it would probably take a few years before “we reach an index that is only mobile-first.”
Google has also stated the following on the Webmasters Blog, in a blog post dated Dec 18, 2017:
“We will be evaluating sites independently on their readiness for mobile-first indexing based on the above criteria and transitioning them when ready. This process has already started for a handful of sites and is closely being monitored by the search team. We continue to be cautious with rolling out mobile-first indexing. We believe taking this slowly will help webmasters get their sites ready for mobile users, and because of that, we currently don’t have a timeline for when it’s going to be completed.”
Will Google only use my mobile site to determine my rankings?
Mobile-first means that the mobile version will be considered the primary version when it comes to how rankings are determined. However, there may be circumstances where the desktop version could be taken into consideration (for instance, if you don’t have a mobile version of a page).
That being said, you will potentially still see varying ranking results between mobile search results and desktop search results, so you’ll still want to track both. (In the same way that now, Google primarily uses the desktop site to determine rankings but you still want to track mobile rankings as these vary from desktop rankings based on user behavior and other factors).
When might Google use the desktop site to determine rankings vs. the mobile site?
The primary use case I’ve seen referred to so far is that they will use the desktop site to determine rankings when there is no mobile version.
It is possible that for websites where the desktop version has additional ranking information (such as backlinks), that information could also be taken into consideration – but there is no guarantee that they will crawl or index the desktop version once they’ve seen the mobile version, and I haven’t seen any official statements that this would be the case.
Therefore one of the official recommendations is that once the mobile-first indexing rollout happens if you’re in the process of building your mobile site or have a “placeholder” type mobile version currently live it would actually be better to have no mobile site than a broken or incomplete one. In this case, you should wait to launch your mobile site until it is fully ready.
What if I don’t have a mobile version of my site?
If you don’t have a mobile version of your site and your desktop version is not mobile-friendly, your content can still be indexed; however, you may not rank as well in comparison to mobile-friendly websites. This may even negatively impact your overall rankings on desktop search as well as mobile search results because it will be perceived as having a poorer user experience than other sites (since the crawler will be a “mobile” crawler).
What could happen to sites with a large desktop site and a small mobile site? Will content on your desktop site that does not appear on the mobile version be indexed and appear for desktop searches?
The end goal for this rollout is that the index will be based predominantly on crawling mobile content. If you have a heavily indexed desktop version, they’re not going to suddenly purge your desktop content from the existing index and start fresh with just your thin mobile site indexed; but the more you can ensure that your mobile version contains all relevant and valuable content, the more likely it is to continue to rank well, particularly as they cut back on crawling desktop versions of websites.
How does this change ranking factors and strategy going forward?
This may impact a variety of ranking factors and strategy in the future; Cindy Krum at Mobile Moxie has written two excellent articles on what could be coming in the future around this topic.
Cindy talks about the idea that mobile-first indexing may be “an indication that Google is becoming less dependent on traditional links and HTML URLs for ranking.” It seems that Google is moving away from needing to rely so much on a “URL” system of organizing content, in favor of a more API type approach based on “entities” (thanks, structured data!) rather than URL style links. Check out Cindy’s posts for more explanation of how this could impact the future of search and SEO.
Is there a difference between how responsive sites and separate mobile sites will be treated?
Yes and no. The main difference will be in terms of how much work you have to do to get ready for this change.
If you have a fully responsive site, you should already have everything present on your mobile version that is currently part of the desktop version, and your main challenge will simply be to ensure that the mobile experience is well optimized from a user perspective (e.g., page speed, load time, navigation, etc.).
With a separate mobile site, you’ll need to make sure that your mobile version contains everything that your desktop site does, which could be a lot of work depending on your mobile strategy so far.
Will this change how I should serve ads/content/etc. on my mobile site?
If your current approach to ads is creating a slow or otherwise poor user experience, you will certainly need to address that.
If you currently opt to hide some of your mobile site content in accordions or tabs to save space, this is actually not an issue as this content will be treated in the same way as if it was loaded fully visible (as long as the content is still crawlable/accessible).