Google has announced that they’re expediting their upgrade to “mobile-first” indexing of websites. This is a major change that site owners should be aware of, and should prepare for if necessary. This is another step in Google’s attempt to cater to our changing means of viewing the web.
What’s indexing? What’s mobile-first indexing?
To compile search results, Google sends out their spider, also known as the googlebot (the program that visits web sites, compiles their info, and formats it for use in search rankings), to view websites. They then use the info to decide where your site should come up in search results. This is indexing.
They used to send their spider to view your desktop site, and then your mobile site if you had one. They are now changing that, so they’ll now be visiting the mobile version of your site first and foremost. This is mobile-first indexing.
Why is this change important?
This is important because, well, the world has been changing. As we’ve become more mobile, and do more searching on our portable devices, sites have been changing to meet our needs, and Google has been our advocate. They’ve been pushing mobile-friendly sites for several years, and even had an “apocalyptic” sounding name to the day they began placing more importance on them (remember Mobilegeddon?).
With this change, they’re making it more obvious that designers and site owners need to cater to the mobile viewer. No longer will they list non-mobile sites in the same way as they did before. Google is acting on our behalf by telling site owners to present information in ways that can be easily accessed on any platform, whether it be a table, a phone, a laptop, or any combination.
How do I know if this change affects my site?
Many people have a great website, but their site is not “responsive,” which means that it does not change based on the size of the screen that is viewing it. So for example, if you go to a site like this on your desktop, it should look normal. But now look at it on your phone or mobile device (as is seen in the image to the right). The content stays exactly the same, and you have to pinch the text to read it. That is NOT mobile-friendly, and so is not responsive.
If your site is responsive, you enter content (images or text) once and it is formatted for desktop or mobile automatically. If your site is not responsive, you either enter it once and it’s done, or you have a separate (or connected) mobile version that displays the same info.
The sites that are affected are those that either a. are not mobile friendly (so can only be properly viewed on desktop) or b. have a separate url for their sites (so m.domainname.com).
How should mobile-first indexing impact my site?
Sites that are responsive will NOT be affected.
Sites that have a separate url for their site (m.domainname.com) will be crawled first and then the desktop version.
Sites that have only a desktop version (so are not mobile-friendly and have no m.domanname.com alternative) will be crawled as they are now, but will be listed in search rankings lower than sites that have mobile versions.
What can I do to make sure my site still ranks high?
If this change affects you because your site is not mobile friendly and you do NOT have a mobile alternate, then you need to work towards getting a new site developed. Sorry if that’s blunt, but it’s the truth. Sites that are not mobile friendly are being swept aside with a single click back out. If you want to compete, you need to move forward.
If you have an alternate site, an m.yourdomain.com, you need to make sure that everything on it matches everything on your desktop site. Every page title, every meta description, every bit of content and every image all need to match and be optimized (ie, good!). Just keep an eye on them and make sure you look at your sites and your analytics to be sure they are consistent and looking professional.
Because Google has begun indexing websites based on their appearance on mobile, those with sites that are not either already responsive need to look at their sites and make sure they have optimized elements. If you are not sure if your site is mobile friendly, check out Google’s tool here.