What is Mobile First Indexing? (& Why You Should Care)


What is Mobile First Indexing? (& Why You Should Care) - A close up of a suitcase - iPhone X

  • As of July 1, 2019, all websites will be ranked using mobile first indexing.
  • Mobile first indexing means all new content will be indexed from the point of view of mobile search. 
  • If you’re a site owner, the move to mobile indexing is not a cause for panic, but does have some interesting implications for how you approach both desktop and mobile SEO. 
  • Google has released its own best practices, including ensuring the same content appears on both, including the same metadata and tagging. 

 

As we have talked about before, with nearly 60% of the world’s searches being made on mobile devices, the shift to mobile-first is a pretty obvious move when it comes to search, optimization, targeting and everything else in the world of digital marketing. The ‘big whale’ in this story is Google, where almost 90% of the world do their searching, and when they make a splash the world feel’s it. 

This is just what’s after happening with their recent decision that all new websites from July 1, 2019, will be ranked using mobile first indexing, though the process has already been in motion since at least 2015 with Google’s first move towards making things mobile search friendly. But what does any of that mean for your average website owner on the street? Let’s take a deep dive into what exactly mobile first indexing is and how it affects you.

What is Mobile First Indexing?

To explain how it all works, it’s probably best to take a quick look at how search actually works in Google. 

  1. Google sends out its not-at-all creepy-sounding “crawlers” or “spiders” to crawl the internet for content in all its forms (e.g. web pages, images, et.) and its associated URL
  2. Everything that they find is collected in an index, which also includes markers about the URL’s keywords, type of content, popularity and usage information
  3. When you type in what you want to find and send the request, Google uses an algorithm to search its index and deliver to you the most appropriate content
  4. This algorithm will use many factors, such as your location, previous search history, the most popular sites for previous similar searches (i.e. how many people have clicked on it and how long they spent on the site after doing so) 

This is obviously an abbreviated version, but explains why, if you are in, say, Albuquerque, and type in “nachos”, you’ll probably get a list of local restaurants serving nachos, along with some recipes for making them yourself. Based on Google’s years of accumulated search knowledge they know that when people just type “nachos” those sites are generally what they want.

With mobile first indexing, this changes things for a few of the steps. Firstly, as the name suggests, when the crawlers/spiders head out to find new pages, they will now search for the mobile version first. This means, that if you have separate sites (i.e. having a “m.” mobile site) then all the different SEO work on your desktop page will need to be transferred to become mobile SEO. 

Secondly, the crawlers/spiders will presume that all searches are coming from mobile search. This means that when indexing the URL they will include markers that are relevant for mobile search. This means that all SEO should first be considered as mobile SEO, even if your site is predominantly visited by desktop users.

So, basically, from here on, all new content will be indexed from the point of view of mobile search, while existing pages will continue to be supported through working on responsive design and other features that means that they are not negatively affected by the change.

What Mobile First Indexing Means for You

If you’re a site owner, the move to mobile indexing is not a cause for panic or worry but does have some interesting implications for how you approach both desktop and mobile SEO. 

– Responsive websites

The most important thing is to ensure that your site is built using responsive web design, as the vast majority WordPress and custom sites now are. A responsive design means that your site is rendered for the device that is being used to visit it. You can check whether or not yours is using a simple tool, such as Google’s own mobile-friendly test. If your site is responsive, then Google’s mobile first indexing will simply treat it as if it is the mobile version, which is no different from the desktop version.

– Focusing on mobile SEO

There are some significant differences for what drives mobile search compared to desktop. We have looked at some of them in this blog, but the main ones to keep in mind are page load speeds (as mobile devices have less powerful CPUs and are often relying on mobile 3G or 4G bandwidth), as well as how the rendering of images and text will affect visitor experience.

– Follow best practice

Apart from the changes to mobile SEO, most of the changes needed to comply with mobile-first indexing will be made automatically on the server side. However, for sites which use dynamic serving or separate site URLs, Google has released its suggested best practices for dealing with mobile first. These include ensuring the same content appears on both, including the same metadata and tagging, while for separate URLs both should be verified in the search console.

At RMG we take a holistic approach to delivering measurable results for our clients. Whether it’s desktop or mobile SEO or implementing a paid mobile search focused campaign, we have the specialized experts who can co-ordinate and create exactly what you need. If you want to position your site to take advantage of mobile first indexing talk to the people who have proven they can make that happen, just drop us a line.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mauricio has close to 20 years of digital experience and a core foundation in the technical side of SEO. He’s led and executed strategy both in-house and on the agency side and enjoys defining successful strategies for our clients.
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