Is Your Website Ready for Google's Mobile-First Index?

You may have received an email from Google Search Console about Google's new mobile-first indexing. If you're not a web professional, you may not have understood what that email was talking about. The way that Google "sees" and judges your website is extremely important to how well your website succeeds, so allow me to explain mobile-first indexing in simple terms.

Oh, and if you didn't receive an email from Google Search Console, maybe it's because your website hasn't been added to Google Search Console. It's a free tool that can help you get more out of how Google perceives your website, so you should definitely set it up (or ask your web agency to do so).

Defining Terms

You can think of Google's index as a catalog, library, or database of webpages. When you search Google, it checks its index for matching results, and shows you the most relevant ones.

For years, Google has judged the desktop version of your website. "Desktop" here simply means the version of your website that shows up when you visit it from a large screen (desktop computer, laptop, TV, etc.). In contrast, the mobile version of your website is the website that shows up when you visit it from a small screen (phone or tablet). If you have a mobile website, Google is now judging your website based on the mobile version instead of the desktop version. Why? Because more people browse the Web from mobile devices than from traditional computers, and Google wants to give users what they want.

Details on Google's Mobile-First Indexing

Google first posted about the change in March 2018. Here's what they said in their post Rolling out mobile-first indexing:

To recap, our crawling, indexing, and ranking systems have typically used the desktop version of a page's content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is vastly different from the mobile version. Mobile-first indexing means that we'll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they're looking for.

Mobile-first indexing is about how we gather content, not about how content is ranked. 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, we continue to encourage webmasters to make their content mobile-friendly. We do evaluate all content in our index -- whether it is desktop or mobile -- to determine how mobile-friendly it is.

Mobile-indexing is rolling out more broadly. Being indexed this way has no ranking advantage and operates independently from our mobile-friendly assessment.

Having fast-loading content is still helpful for those looking at ways to perform better for mobile and desktop users.

Google later shared additional details and advice via Twitter:

These tweets were collected by Search Engine Land.

Search Engine Journal shared the motivation behind this change, as well as tips for what to do with your website:

  • Google’s entire business and foundation is built on a simple principle: give the user information as fast as possible that’s as accurate as possible.
  • Google wants to deliver content fast and effectively. To meet this demand, Google can’t simply sit back and index desktop sites first when the majority of their traffic is on mobile.
  • Try using Google’s Test My Site tool to see which specific areas of your mobile site need work
  • If your mobile site isn’t responsive, fast, and ready to roll, your rankings will suffer greatly.

What Should You Do About Google's Mobile-First Index?

If you care about what Google thinks about your website, you want to make it look as good as possible and work as well as possible on mobile devices (primarily phones). That means making sure it's readable on small screens, that it's easy to navigate on small screens, and that it's lightweight enough to load quickly even over mobile data connections.

For ease of maintaining the content and technical aspects of your site, it's best to have a single website that responds to screen size (a mobile-responsive or responsive design website). Otherwise, you need to maintain separate websites for desktop and mobile. Fortunately, any good modern WordPress theme is mobile-responsive. But, it's still worth testing, because it may require tweaking.

If you're unsure if your website is ready for Google's mobile-first index, contact us today!

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