Google has announced that it has begun the process of rolling out the mobile-first indexing to more sites. This rollout is only for sites that “follow the best practices for mobile-first indexing,” Google said.
This is the first time Google has confirmed it is moving a large number of sites to this mobile-first indexing process. Google did tell us last October that a limited number of sites had been moved over. But this Google announcement makes it sound like the process of mobile-first indexing on a larger scale has already begun.
Google did say it will notify webmasters/site owners that their sites are migrated to the mobile-first indexing process via messages in the Google Search Console. Here is a screen shot of a notification:
Google also said “site owners will see significantly increased crawl rate from the Smartphone Googlebot. Additionally, Google will show the mobile version of pages in Search results and Google cached pages.”
What if I don’t have a mobile website?
Google said not to worry. Although Google wants you to have a mobile site, it will crawl your desktop version instead. Google said, “If you only have a desktop site, we’ll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we’re using a mobile user agent to view your site.”
If you have a mobile site, then you need to make sure the content and links on the mobile site are similar enough to the desktop version so that Google can consume the proper content and rank your site as well as it did by crawling your desktop site.
My mobile site has less content than my desktop site. Should I be nervous?
Potentially, yes. Google has said that it will look at the mobile version of your site. If that has less content on page A than the desktop version of page A, then Google will probably just see the mobile version with less content.
This is why Google recommends you go with a responsive approach — the content is the same on a page-by-page basis from your desktop to your mobile site. You can do the same with other mobile implementations, but there is more room for error.
Will this change the Google rankings in a big way?
Both Gary Illyes and Paul Haahr from Google said this should not change the overall rankings. In fact, they want there to be minimal change in rankings around this change. Of course, it is too early to tell, they said — but their goal is not to have this indexing change impact the current rankings too much.
Is this a mobile-friendly ranking boost?
Google has previously said that content that’s not deemed mobile-friendly will not rank as well. That remains the case with this new index.
In the current index, which most people will continue to get results from, desktop content is indexed and used for showing listings to both desktop and mobile users. A special mobile-friendly ranking system is then used to boost content for Google’s mobile listings. Content that’s not mobile-friendly doesn’t perform as well.
In the new mobile-first index, which some people will get results from as Google rolls it out, mobile content is indexed and used for showing listings to both desktop and mobile users. Then the mobile-friendly ranking boost is applied, as with the current system, to mobile-friendly pages.
Ranking signals will come from your mobile, not desktop version
Google has ranked your mobile site based on many signals from your desktop site, as we covered before. That is going to flip, and Google will rank your mobile and desktop sites based on signals they get from crawling your site from a mobile view.
So the page speed of your mobile site will determine the rankings of your mobile site and desktop site in Google. Google will also likely look at your title, H1s, structured data and other tags and content generated from your mobile site, and use them over your desktop site.
Doesn’t this just flip the issue the other way to where Google is ranking its desktop results based on how it sees your mobile site? Yes, but Google knows that, and the trend is that mobile keeps growing and more and more searchers will use mobile over desktop to search.
Will Google have different indexes for mobile and desktop?
Eventually, Google plans to have only one index, one which is based on mobile content, to serve listings for both mobile and desktop users. During this rollout period, there will be two: desktop-first and mobile-first. A smaller group of users will get results out of the mobile-first index. It’s not something that anyone will be able to control. People will likely have no idea which index they’re actually using.
As Google grows confidence in the mobile-first index, eventually that will be the only index used. Or if the new index isn’t deemed useful, Google could go back to a desktop-first index. It has, after all, called the mobile-first index an “experiment.”
Google said in their blog post, “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.”
Paul Haahr from Google reiterated it by saying, “Index of mobile pages for mobile users and index of desktop pages for desktop users won’t happen.”
Will links and rankings change because of this?
There is a concern that mobile content tends to have fewer links than desktop content. This is a concern that is similar to the concern listed above around mobile content having less content than desktop content. Google’s search results are very dependent on links and content. So if both links and content are impacted, will the rankings be impacted?
Google said they are still testing, so it isn’t 100 percent clear. Gary Illyes said, “I don’t want to say anything definite about links yet. It’s too early for that cos things are very much in motion.”