Google is now including a mobile first index in their algorithm. Google will base its’ search listing rankings on the mobile version of content. This includes desktop versions of the websites. Below are the steps that will illustrate how this works.
Since the announcement, we have been tracking different questions and how they have been answered based on the industry’s questions. Below you will find a compilation of those questions and answers.
How is the mobile-first index changing?
Because so much of the searches happen on mobile, Google wants its index and results to represent the majority of their users — who are mobile searchers.
Google has started to use the mobile version of the web as their primary search engine index. A search engine index is a collection of pages/documents that the search engine has discovered, primarily through crawling the web through links. Google has crawled the web from a desktop browser point of view, and now Google is changing that to crawl the web from a mobile browser view.
Will you not rank or index if you don’t have a mobile website?
Google will still rank your site. Though Google wants you to have a mobile site, it will still crawl your desktop version. “If you only have a desktop site, we’ll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we’re using a mobile user agent to view your site,” according to Google
With your mobile website, you need to make sure the content and links on the mobile site are similar enough to the desktop version so that Google can consume the proper content and rank your site as well as it did by crawling your desktop site.
My mobile site has less content than my desktop site. How will Google handle this?
Google has said that it will look at the mobile version of your site first. If that has less content on page A than the desktop version of page A, Google will then probably just see the mobile version with less content.
We recommend that you go with a responsive approach — the content will be the same on your desktop site as your mobile site. While you can do this with other mobile implementations, there is more room for error.
What about expandable content on your mobile site?
Google has said that, with respect to desktop sites, content hidden in tabs, accordions, expandable boxes and other methods will not be weighted as heavily. However, with mobile sites, Google’s Gary Illyes said content like this will be given full weight if done for user experience purposes. The reason is that expandable content makes sense on mobile and not so much on desktop.
How will this affect Google rankings?
Both Gary Illyes and Paul Haahr from Google said this should not change the overall rankings. In fact, they want there to be minimal change in rankings around this change. Of course, it is too early to tell, they said — but their goal is not to have this indexing change impact the current rankings too much.
When will this change fully roll out?
Google said they have already begun testing this mobile-first index to some users. But it will be months away from this fully rolling out. Google is mum when it comes to date because it is still in the testing stage. If things go smoothly, it may come out sooner. If things do not go without a hitch, they may push it back.
They have said that this will push out to more and more searchers as they become confident with the mobile-first index.
Will this boost your mobile site ranking?
Google has previously said that content that’s not deemed mobile-friendly will not rank as well. That remains the case with this new index.
In the current index, which continues to get produce the ranking results, desktop content is indexed and used for showing listings to both desktop and mobile users. A secondary mobile-friendly site ranking system is then used to help rank content for Google’s mobile listings. Content that’s not mobile-friendly will not typically rank as high.
In the new mobile-first index, which some websites will get results from as Google rolls it out, mobile content is indexed and will show listings for both desktop and mobile users. Then the mobile-friendly ranking boost is applied, as with the current system, to mobile-friendly pages.
How can I tell if Google sees my mobile pages?
You can most easily by using the Fetch and Render tool located in the Google Search Console. Input the mobile:smartphone and you can see the preview after the fetch and render is finished. What you see in the rendered results is what Google can see and can index from your mobile site. When your content is missing or abbreviated, then you need to fix that and re-run the test.
Ranking signals will come from your mobile, not desktop version
Google ranks your mobile site with a combination of signals from your desktop site. That will change. Under this new system, Google will rank your desktop and mobile sites based on signals they get from a mobile crawl.
The page speed of your mobile site will determine the desktop & mobile rankings Google. Other factors that Google will look at include your title, H1s, structured data and other tags and content coming from your mobile site & use them over your desktop site.
This seems to flip this issue the other way to where Google is ranking its desktop results based on how it sees your mobile site. It is, but Google knows that. As mobile keeps growing, more searchers will prefer to use mobile sites over desktop sites as their search preference.
Does Google have different indexes for mobile and desktop?
Over time, Google plans to have only one index. This will be based on mobile content to serve both desktop and mobile listings. In this roll-out phase, there are 2: Mobile-First & Desktop First. A smaller batch of users will get mobile first index results. No one will have control over this. In all likelihood, users will likely have no idea which index they’re actually using.
As Google is more sure of the mobile-first index, that will be the only index used. If the new mobile index is not working as it should, Google has the option to go back to a desktop-first index.
In their blog post, Google states:
“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.”
Google’s Paul Haahr reinforced this by saying, “Index of mobile pages for mobile users and index of desktop pages for desktop users won’t happen.”
Will our rankings change with this new mobile first index?
There is a concern that mobile content tends to have fewer links than desktop content. This is a concern that is similar to the concern listed above around mobile content having less content than desktop content. Google’s search results are very dependent on links and content. So if both links and content are impacted, will the rankings be impacted?
Since Google is still in the test phase, it isn’t 100 percent clear. Gary Illyes said, “I don’t want to say anything definite about links yet. It’s too early for that cos things are very much in motion.”
Will you need to change them Canonicals?
According to Google, canonicals will not need to be changed. Keep your canonical tags as is.
Can I see the change and the impact in the search results now?
You shouldn’t be able to see the change and impact of the mobile-first index roll out now. Google states that it hopes there is little to no impact after it is fully rolled out. According to Haahr, “I would be very surprised to detect any effects of mobile-first indexing at this stage.”
Having said that, this is a world wide roll out.
We hope this is a comprehensive set of questions that provide the answers you need.