In The Know – Get Mobile Index Ready

Written by - 30/08/2017

Google’s Mobile-First Index is coming. It’s been looming for some time, but now the change has become very real, and there some important things to be aware of in the wake of the switchover.

What Does It Mean?

As a ‘mobile-first’ mentality takes over the web world, Google have been shifting more and more emphasis onto the importance of mobile pages, mobile responsiveness, and progressive web apps, and huge part of that shift has been accounting for the way in which pages are indexed.

A search engine index is a collection of web pages, documents and images that Google has managed to discover through its crawling process, and this index is then ranked and put together, using Google’s own algorithm, in order to create a Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Google will slowly begin to use its mobile index as its primary index, meaning that results shown on SERPs will be ranked according to the content on the mobile version of each site.

Why Is It Happening?

The key fact is that the majority of web users these days are mobile, and thus the weight needs to shift to present a more accurate version of what users can expect to see when searching from their mobile device.

It’s no use listing a website as the most accurate result for a mobile user when the mobile version of that website site contains minimal content or isn’t functional enough to navigate effectively.

Should I Panic?

That depends. If you don’t have a separate mobile website it’s important not to panic. Google have stated that they will continue to crawl your desktop site as per usual, even if they’re using mobile bots in order to carry out the crawling process. Google have also stated that they intend on the shift having as little impact on overall rankings as possible.

It is, however, equally as important to bear in mind that Google has said on a number of occasions that sites that are not deemed mobile-friendly will not rank as well as those that are. So, whilst you might be safe from not having a mobile site, if Google flags your desktop site as difficult to navigate on mobile devices, you could be in for a rocky road ahead.

Do I Need To Change Anything?

More than likely. In the current trend of mobile web development, scaling back content has always made sense in order to provide users with a condensed version of the content visible on your desktop site. The problem with that alongside the mobile index shift is that, because all ranking signals will now be pulled from your mobile version, Google may wind up missing vital parts of information such as additional keywords that may have been providing the foundations of a comfortable first-page ranking.

It is for this very reason that having a mobile responsive website, as opposed to a separate mobile version of your site, is the best idea moving forward. Your content will remain, but only the functionality will be amended in order to provide a much more effective user experience.

If you already have a mobile friendly website but are concerned that methods you have undertaken to collapse or hide content in order to improve the user experience will affect your SEO within the new index, your concerns are unfounded. Google Webmaster Gary Illyes has confirmed that collapsible content will be given full weight when it comes to the mobile index, however collapsible content on desktop sites may still hold negative weight, as Google bots will struggle to access accordions or tabs.

Can I check if Google can access my site on Mobile?

You can. Using Google Webmaster Tools, select ‘Crawl’, ‘Fetch as Google’ then choose ‘Mobile: Smartphone’ from the options menu. Hit ‘Fetch and Render’ and wait. Once the process is complete, you’ll be able to see exactly what the Googlebot is able to retrieve and index from your site, as well as a handy list that will display all of the resources that Googlebot was unable to access. If there are any disparities between what Google can see and what users are supposed to see when visiting your website, then your content may need to be adjusted.



Go Forth & be Mobile

The key takeaway from the coming shift is that this change is for the greater good. As long as you continue to follow best practise, it’s likely that the number of new factors impacting search rankings will be minimal.