How Google’s Mobile-First Indexing Affects Your Website Rankings

Because Google is the world’s most popular search engine, it has a tremendous degree of influence on how people use the Internet and which sites get visited. 93% of global organic search traffic comes from Google alone. Google ranks sites in its search results based on their relevance for certain keywords, and it does so in ways that are somewhat predictable, but still not entirely transparent. Search engine optimisation experts have developed ways of appealing to Google’s algorithms to get sites ranked more highly. But there’s a big change happening in the way that Google ranks websites. Read on to learn about the move to mobile-first indexing, and what it means for your site.

The Importance of Being Indexed

A search engine’s search index is comprised of all the information the engine has collected from all of the sites across the web. Google crawls websites, collecting, reading, and storing data that it uses to generate results when people type in keywords. If your site isn’t indexed by Google, it won’t appear on Google’s search engine results pages. Luckily, Google usually takes under 4 days to index new websites. But now Google is moving to a mobile-first index, which might affect the ranking of your site, even if it’s already been indexed by Google and optimized to rank highly for your preferred keywords.

Why Google Is Going Mobile First

In 2016, Google announced that it was planning to alter the way its search index worked, moving from a desktop based index to “mobile-first.” This came in response to a growing trend in web traffic. While most traffic in the past came from desktop computers, since the introduction of smartphones, more and more Internet use has been happening on mobile devices. In 2015, Google disclosed that more searches were coming from mobile devices than desktop computers in 10 major countries. Google is in the business of providing relevant and high-quality search results, so in order to better serve its users, who were now mostly using mobile, the company decided it would no longer crawl the web from a desktop perspective when indexing.

Will Mobile-First Indexing Affect Your Site?

Google will now index and rank the desktop version of your site based on what’s on the mobile version, rather than the other way around. If the mobile version of your site is identical to the desktop version, as is the case with most mobile sites with responsive design, your ranking is unlikely to change. But many mobile versions of desktop sites are stripped down, in order to make it easier for the site to load on a device with a less powerful processor, and easier for users to read and navigate the site on a smaller screen. If this is the case with the mobile version of your site, you might be in trouble. Google will index your site based on this bare-bones version and none of the content that’s only on your desktop site will be factored into your ranking.

What to Do If Your Site Is Desktop Only

Although Google is making this move in part to encourage webmasters to expand and improve the mobile versions of their sites, they’ve stated that sites that don’t have a mobile version will be OK. The company plans to simply access desktop-only sites via a mobile user agent, which shouldn’t cause a problem in theory. But you should try visiting your site via a mobile browser to make sure all of your content loads properly. If it doesn’t, you should follow the advice below.

Why You Should Go Responsive

If your mobile site lacks content from your desktop site, you’ll probably want to change that. This is definitely the case if some of the content that’s exclusive to your desktop site is there for optimization purposes, as this content will become superfluous now that Google is only crawling the mobile version of your site. The best solution is to get a mobile site with a responsive design. This means the page-by-page content of the site will be the same, so nothing on your desktop is missing from the mobile version. Google also intends this shift to boost content that is mobile-friendly, and that’s what responsive design is all about. While in the past, content that was expandable (meaning it was hidden until clicked) would not be weighted as highly in rankings, Google’s mobile-first index won’t penalize expandable content this way if it’s intended to improve user experience.

Moving to Mobile-First

Investing in responsive web design is a great idea for many reasons, but if you’ve been dragging your heels, this is a great reason to pull the trigger. Otherwise, the desktop site you’ve been lavishing your resources on won’t be getting any organic traffic because you’ve neglected its mobile counterpart. It’s a mobile-first world now and pretending it isn’t won’t get you anywhere.