November 16, 2016

What Google’s Mobile first indexing means for you

The Search Landscape

The Search landscape is set to change yet again. Google have just announced that they are experimenting with a new “mobile-first” index which will eventually take precedence over the current IndexPreview Changes (opens in a new tab). What this means is that Google will begin to rank websites in it’s search results based on their mobile content and user experience first. This has the potential to rock the applecart and see quite dramatic changes in the search listings. Quick to alleviate fears, Google have stated that you shouldn’t see too much change initially as they softly role out the new Index. How true this will be is anyone’s guess.

To put it all into context, Google’s spiders crawl the web indexing websites as if browsing from a desktop point of view. Recently, however, mobile search took over that of Desktop, and as a result, Google have responded by introducing this new Index. According to Google, they wish to represent the majority of their users - which just happen to be mobile.

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

For the uninitiated, an Index is simply a collection of resources (ie, pages) that the search engine has discovered and made a note of - primarily done by crawling the web through links. The resources in this Index get categorised and filtered down to produce a set of search results for every query you ask Google to perform. This is usually returned to you in the form of numerous pages consisting of 10 blue links and a couple of adverts. (known as the SERPs)

What if I don't have a mobile friendly website?

Even though Google will be crawling the web using a mobile client, they will still visit and index your Desktop only website. You will, however, suffer with your mobile experience factor and may, as a result, see a dip in your search rankings for your target phrases.

What if I have a separate mobile site with different content?

This is where you may need to be careful. Google have stated that they will be looking at your website from a mobile point of view. If your website serves different content to mobiles then you risk that content only being indexed. Odds are that many sites set up in this way have reduced content. In which case, your site will suffer in the SERPs. This is generally why responsively designed websites are preferable. There is only one source of content to maintain and it’s the same across all devices.

What if I already have a responsive site?

Then according to Google, you’re ok. You shouldn’t have to change much.

What does it mean to be mobile friendly?

Being truly mobile friendly doesn’t just mean having a boilerplate responsively designed website, it’s more than that. Ideally, it has to be optimised for mobile. It has to be quick: serving resources such as text, imagery and video efficiently. The layout grids need to be designed mobile first and progressively adapt up to Desktop sizes rather than Desktop to Mobile (as is most common these days). A mobile optimised site should also come with adaptive visual media (eg, Images and Video) so that mobile bandwidth usage is minimised. And finally, it should be well thought out so that content is clearly displayed and userability isn’t compromised due to the smaller screen sizes.

Getting it right is a long, thoughtful process. It takes time and effort, but is worth it from an SEO point of view.

With the current Index - which is Desktop based and what most people will continue to get results from - your content is indexed and used to show search listings to both Desktop and Mobile users. For those searching via a mobile device, a special mobile-friendly filter is applied to show results which Google deem as being friendlier to mobile users. Content that isn’t as mobile-friendly gets pushed further down the result listings.

In this new Mobile-First Index, your mobile content is indexed and used to show listings to both Desktop and Mobile users. The mobile-friendly ranking filter is then applied, as with the current system, to mobile-friendly pages.

Eventually, there will no longer be any kind of “mobile-friendly” adjustment done to the search results just for mobile users. Ultimately, if you’re website isn’t mobile-friendly, it will have an impact on how you appear - even for desktop searches.

If you are building a mobile version of your site, keep in mind that a functional desktop-oriented site can be better than a broken or incomplete mobile version of the site. It's better for you to build up your mobile site and launch it when ready.

If you’re still in the Stone Ages and running on a desktop only, fixed width site, we urge you to consider updating it. For a free consultation, and to see how we could help you, contact our friendly video SEO specialists.

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