Continuing on their path toward prioritising mobile optimised pages, Google has begun testing mobile-first indexing.
Historically, indexing has always been based on the desktop version of sites. This means that sites are ranked according to the markup and content of their desktop pages. Google categorises them according to quality and relevance, then retrieves them for the search results it deems most appropriate. Shifting to a mobile-first focus could mean big changes to everyone’s rankings if your desktop versions differ greatly from your mobile pages.
Google announced that the testing has begun through the company blog and explained the reason for the change. The company said that it’s not just due to mobile use being more popular now, but because some mobile pages have less content than their desktop version. This means that search results may be suggesting pages based on the quality of the desktop version when the mobile page may not provide the same depth of information.
Google said “to make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although 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”.
A majority of Google’s updates from the last year have revolved around improving the search experience for mobile users, including the mobile algorithm update, the introduction of AMP pages and a host of Adwords updates designed to target mobile users.
This change in indexing may not come as surprise given Google’s obvious focus on mobile, but it is still a significant one. To ensure that your site isn’t negatively affected by the update it’s important to be prepared and make any necessary alterations before the shift is complete.
What you need to do to prepare
Site owners that have responsive or dynamic serving sites with similar content and markup across both mobile and desktop don’t need to do anything.
However, where site configuration differs from mobile to desktop versions, owners should consider making some changes.
Google made the following recommendations for preparing for the mobile-first shift:
- Make sure to serve structured markup for both desktop and mobile versions but avoid large amounts of unnecessary markup on mobile pages. Site owners can compare the versions in the Structured Data Testing Tool.
- Ensure mobile pages can be accessed by Googlebot with this tool.
- Don’t worry about making changes to canonical links – Google will continue to use them as guides.
- Check that you have added and verified the mobile version of your site in Search Console.
If you don’t have a mobile version of your site (although you should!) it will still be indexed. While mobile pages will become the focus, search results will still be ranked according to the most relevant pages for search queries.
Google has acknowledged that the move towards mobile first could have an impact on site owners and therefore will roll out the indexing change gradually to give webmasters time to adjust.
“We understand this is an important shift in our indexing and it’s one we take seriously. We’ll continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale and we’ll ramp up this change when we’re confident that we have a great user experience.” Google said.
For further information check out the Webmaster forums.