In an important recent blog post by Google, it announced that it has begun experiments to make its search engine index ‘mobile-first’. That means their search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, but the algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to determine a ranking position. So Google’s significant, continuing shift of focus towards mobile-centric usage prevails, but it’s keen to emphasise that they’re going to continue to build ‘a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices’.
One of the reasons for this shift in priority is because currently, most people are searching on Google using a mobile device. However, their ranking systems still typically looks at the desktop version of a page’s content to evaluate its relevance to the user. This can cause issues when the mobile page has less content than the desktop page because the algorithms are not evaluating the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher. So in the near future the search engine index of pages will be built primarily from mobile documents.
This is vital information for SEO practitioners and businesses that don’t yet have mobile-friendly sites, as it could eventually have a dramatic impact on the rankings of sites that aren’t prepared for it. In addition, if companies have a separate mobile site with different content to their desktop version, this could also result in a change in ranking position once this change is implemented. However, Google will continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale and will ramp up this change when they’re confident that they can maintain a great user search experience.
This gives a little time to prepare and here are a few recommendations to help webmasters as Google moves towards a more mobile-focused index:
- If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.
- If you have a site configuration where the primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes to your site.
- Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version.
- Sites can verify the equivalence of their structured markup across desktop and mobile by typing the URLs of both versions into the Structured Data Testing Tool and comparing the output.
- When adding structured data to a mobile site, avoid adding large amounts of markup that isn’t relevant to the specific information content of each document.
- Use the robots.txt testing tool to verify that your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot.
- Sites do not have to make changes to their canonical links; Google will continue to use these links as guides to serve the appropriate results to a user searching on desktop or mobile.
- If you are a site owner who has only verified their desktop site in Search Console, it’s necessary to add and verify your mobile version.
- If you only have a desktop site, Google will continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if they’re using a mobile user agent to view your site.
- 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.
Google anticipates this change will take some time and they’ll provide updates as make progress is made on migrating their systems. In the meantime, if you want more information on how this change could affect your rankings, contact us now.