5 Important Things to Know About Google's Mobile-First Index
Mobile usability has been a Google ranking factor for years, but the algorithm was primarily focused on desktop versions of sites when indexing. Now, however, the mobile-first index is officially rolling out following a promise by Google in 2016.
Put simply, this means that Google's algorithm will now view the mobile version of your site before anything else when making indexing and ranking choices. For sites that (wisely) use responsive design instead of a separate mobile version, Google will view your site through the lens of a mobile device, at least initially. Here's what you need to know:
#1 - Look Out for a Notification
Not all sites will be subject to mobile-first indexing right away. According to a new post on the Google Webmaster Central Blog, Google will be notifying sites that have been migrated to the mobile-first index via a Search Console notification. As the new index rolls out, webmasters should be on the lookout for this notification and closely monitor their indexing for any major changes that occur in the weeks following.
#2 - Not a Separate Index
The mobile-first index is not a separate entity from the index that SEOs and webmasters have been working with for years. Instead, it's a global adjustment to the existing index. This means that no site is immune to potential changes in indexing, and webmasters should be prepared to deal with changes regardless of how their site is (or isn't) setup for mobile devices.
#3 - Desktop-Only Sites Will be OK
If your site isn't responsive and doesn't have a mobile version, there's no need to panic. Desktop-only sites are not being removed from Google's index. But while these types of sites will survive this latest update, there are hundreds of other long-term reasons to optimize for mobile. Any business that relies on their website for leads and sales is doing themselves a huge disservice if they don't have a responsive design.
#4 - Indexing Doesn't Affect Ranking, But It's Still Extremely Important
Google points out that "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." So, webmasters don't necessarily need to fear seeing any of their rankings drop because of this change.
That being said, though, the importance of having a well-indexed site shouldn't be underestimated. Simply put, your web pages can't provide you any SEO benefit if they won't show up in the search results. Only time will tell whether or not sites that aren't mobile-friendly begin to see their total number of indexed pages go down. But even if only one or two pages drop out of Google's index, this can decrease the chances of getting traffic or links to a website. In other words, while the mobile-first index may not affect search rankings, changes to your site's indexing can still have a big impact on your SEO.
#5 - Optimizing for Mobile is Essential (But Simple)
You know how important it is to optimize for mobile: more people access the internet using mobile rather than desktop, a well-designed mobile site is essential for user experience on mobile devices, and mobile friendliness (especially mobile site speed) is a well-known ranking factor. Now that Google has switched to a mobile-first index, it's just another reason to focus on your site's mobile performance.
Luckily, Google provides a Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool that analyzes your site and provides you with specific improvements you can make to ensure your site is mobile-friendly in Google's eyes. The report will look something like this:
There's also the Mobile Usability report available within Search Console. And of course, if your site isn't optimized for mobile at all, you can always find web design services that can implement a responsive design or build a mobile version of your site that meets Google's best practices for mobile-first indexing.
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