We’ve been hearing a lot about mobile-first indexing lately, as the latest development in Google’s ever-continuing efforts to make the web more mobile-friendly and reflect user behavior trends.

But there’s also a lot of confusion about what this means for the average business owner. Do you have to change anything? Everything? If your site is mobile-friendly, will that be good enough?

In this post, I’ll go over the basics of what “mobile-first indexing” means, and what you may need to do about it. I’ll also include a few answers to frequently asked questions about mobile-first indexing and what it means for our SEO efforts.

You should be more informed (and at ease) after reading this.

What is “mobile-first indexing”?

Mobile-first indexing is exactly what it sounds like. It just means that the mobile version of your website becomes the starting point for what Google includes in their index, and the baseline for how they determine rankings.

It’s called “mobile-first” because it’s not a mobile-only index: for instance, if a site doesn’t have a mobile-friendly version, the desktop site can still be included in the index. But the lack of a mobile-friendly experience could impact negatively on the rankings of that site, and a site with a better mobile experience would potentially receive a rankings boost even for searchers on a desktop.

mobile first

What should I do about mobile-first indexing?

The first thing to know is that there’s no need to panic. So far this change is only in the very earliest stages of testing and is being rolled out very gradually only to websites which Google considers to be “ready” enough for this change to have a minimal impact.

If you have a separate mobile site, you’ll want to check the following:

  • Content: make sure your mobile version has all the high-quality, valuable content that exists on your desktop site. This could include text, videos, and images. Make sure the formats used on the mobile version are crawlable and indexable (including alt-attributes for images).
  • Structured data: you should include the same structured data markup on both the mobile and desktop versions of the site.
  • Metadata: ensure that titles and meta descriptions are equivalent on both versions of all pages (the official guidance says “equivalent” rather than “identical” – you may still want to optimize your mobile titles for shorter character counts, but make sure the same information and relevant keywords are included)
  • Social metadata: OpenGraph tags, Twitter cards and other social metadata should be included on the mobile version as well as the desktop version.
  • XML and media sitemaps: ensure that any links to sitemaps are accessible from the mobile version of the site. This also applies to robots directives (robots.txt and on-page meta-robots tags) and potentially even trust signals, like links to your privacy policy page.
  • Search Console verification: if you have only verified your desktop site in Google Search Console, make sure you also add and verify the mobile version.
  • Server capacity: Make sure that your host servers can handle increased crawl rate (this only applies to sites with their mobile version on a separate host, such as m.domain.com.)

Common questions about mobile-first indexing

Q: Is the mobile-first index live and affecting my site now? If not, when does it go live?

A: Google has been experimenting with this approach to indexing on a small number of sites, which were selected based on perceived “readiness.” A wider rollout is likely going to take a long time (it will probably take months, or even a few years before “we reach an index that is only mobile-first.”)

Q: What if I don’t have a mobile version of my site?

A: If you don’t have a mobile version of your site and your desktop version is not mobile-friendly, your content can still be indexed; however, you may not rank as well in comparison to mobile-friendly websites. This may even negatively impact your overall rankings on desktop search as well as mobile search results because it will be perceived as having a poorer user experience than other sites (since the crawler will be a “mobile” crawler).

Q: Will this change how I should serve ads/content/etc. on my mobile site?

A: If your current approach to ads is creating a slow or otherwise poor user experience you will certainly need to address that.

If you currently opt to hide some of your mobile site content in accordions or tabs to save space, this is actually not an issue as this content will be treated in the same way as if it was loaded fully visible (as long as the content is still crawlable/accessible).

For more technical details, and more questions answered, check out the article. Keep your high SEO rankings.

How Does Mobile-First Indexing Work, and How Does It Impact SEO?


PS.
I wonder if you’re reading this on mobile, or on desktop. Commuting to/from work, or relaxing on a couch. On your work laptop, during a meeting, or on the phone, on a boring date (you wouldn’t be reading it if it weren’t boring.)

You could always send me an email and let me know, but I will probably never know in what particular circumstances you read this right now. It fascinates me nevertheless.