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Google Confirms ‘Mobile-First’ Indexing

At the end of March, the Google Webmaster blog posted an article confirming the long expected roll-out of their mobile-first indexing for search.

This comes after a reported 18 months of “careful experimentation and testing” so that Google is now starting to use the mobile version of a web page for the primary indexing and ranking in the search results, to help mobile users who are now the primary form of web searchers.

Up until now the process of Google crawling, indexing, and ranking web pages in their system has typically been driven by the desktop version of a page’s content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is significantly different from the mobile version.

Google says they are notifying websites that are migrating to mobile-first indexing via their Search Console account and site owners will expect to see a significantly increased crawl rate from the Smartphone Googlebot. Additionally, Google will show the mobile version of pages in Search results and Google cached pages.

The impact of this for web marketers will hopefully be limited, but older sites that have not yet moved to mobile version, or have separate mobile versions of the site, could see a change in ranking positions. There is also some question about how this change may impact the link popularity of sites if the mobile version has a different link structure to the desktop version.

However, Google says that mobile-first indexing is about how they gather and index content, not about how that content is ranked. Therefore content gathered by mobile-first indexing has no ranking advantage over mobile content that’s not yet gathered this way, or desktop content.

Having said that, Google wants to encourage webmasters to make their content mobile-friendly to help the growing mobile market, and since 2015, the measure of sites being ‘mobile friendly’ can help this type of content perform better for those who are searching on mobile devices. Similarly, it has been announced that from July 2018, content that is slow-loading may perform less well for both desktop and mobile searchers.

So, Google wants to make it clear that:

  • being indexed this way has no ranking advantage and operates independently from their mobile-friendly assessment
  • having mobile-friendly content is still helpful for those looking at ways to perform better in mobile search results
  • having fast-loading content is still helpful for those looking at ways to perform better for mobile and desktop users
  • and as always, ranking uses many factors and therefore mobile-friendly content is just one signal used to determine the most relevant content to show.

If you would like more information about this change, please get in touch.