Google is always working to keep its search engine updated and reflective its users’ needs. Today, mobile devices are used for the majority of online activities, so makes sense that Google is spending more time catering to those users. Google has released several updates designed to make the web a friendlier place for mobile device users, but now it’s starting a “mobile-first” version of its index, which could be a game changer for webmasters and SEO specialists.
What is the Mobile-First Index?
Google collects information on every web page in a massive catalog, known as an index, which it then uses to formulate and display search results for various queries. Until just recently, Google mostly viewed web pages through the eyes of a desktop user, treating mobile pages as important, but as a secondary. Now, the tables have turned. Google is treating the mobile versions of each page as the primary page to index, with desktop versions being secondary. The mobile-first index has already rolled out to some users, but like with most of the search engine’s major updates, it is a gradual process. Though no firm dates have been established, experts suspect the rollout could take place over the next few months.
Google’s Stance on Mobile-Friendliness
This isn’t the first time that Google has released an update to address the rising needs of the mobile population of users. Mobilegeddon and its follow-up were released in 2015 and 2016 to encourage the web to become a more “mobile friendly” place. Even before that, Google worked hard to reward sites that offered mobile compatibility.
So what counts as mobile friendly? The basic definition is any webpage that views “correctly” on a mobile device. For the most part, being able to load all pieces of content on your page, read the text without having to zoom or scroll, and interact with any buttons present is what Google looks for.
If you’re concerned about the mobile-friendliness of your website, you can use Google’s mobile-friendly test to determine if any of your pages are lacking. Though Google is mostly concerned with all sites adhering to a “bare minimum” of mobile-friendliness, it’s often worth the extra effort to make your site extra appealing or targeted toward mobile users.
Impact of Mobile-First
The mobile-first index does not affect what Google has considered to be mobile friendly, and your site will not be rewarded or penalized in the rankings based on your mobile-friendliness. In fact, Google has stated specifically that the change should not affect the search rankings in any major way. Rather, the impact of mobile-first indexing will come into play if your mobile and desktop sites are significantly different. For example, if the mobile version of a page of your site has significantly less content than the desktop version, the mobile version will now be treated as the primary version, which could have a significant bearing on your visitors’ impressions of your brand and site. Mobile-first is also important because it reiterates Google’s commitment to appealing to mobile users.
Recommendations for the Future
The good news is the mobile-first index isn’t so bold or so disruptive that it will alter your SEO strategy in a major way (if you’ve already been following best practices for SEO). Instead, it’s recommend to take the following actions, precautions, and considerations, most of which are minor:
- Ensure full mobile compliance. First, if you haven’t yet, make sure you have a fully functioning mobile version of your site. It should preferably be by using a responsive design on your site that automatically flexes based on the device used to access it.
- Ensure equivalence between desktop and mobile. If you do end up using a separate mobile version of your site, you’ll want to ensure complete equivalence between your two versions. Make your mobile version your primary version, and be certain it’s always updated first in future revisions.
- Consider app development. Though mobile-first is focused on mobile sites, not apps, it’s worth it to consider developing an app for your business. Google’s mobile focus will likely lead the company to broader app favoritism in the near future.
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