What Is Google’s Mobile-First Index and How Can I Prepare?

29 March 2017
Published: By: Alex Stockton



What Is Google’s Mobile-First Index?

Back in November, Google announced on their blog that more people than ever are using Google to search on mobile devices rather than desktop, and will be introducing a new mobile-first index. Currently, Google’s ranking systems use your desktop website content to evaluate its relevance to the user searching.

They understood that this was affecting rankings and relevancy, as it wasn’t evaluating the actual page the user was seeing, so if the mobile searcher was reading on the mobile version that contained less content, then this wouldn’t have been considered for ranking factors, as the desktop version was ranking.

So, to keep up with the times, Google has created the new mobile-first index. They decided that their ranking factors will need to be changed, and websites will now be indexed based on the mobile version of your website rather than your desktop one. Using Google on a desktop will also still bring up the mobile-first index results.

The intention is to provide better and fresher content to the majority of people using Google, which is now predominantly mobile users. But fear not, as this isn’t an instant change. It’s currently in the experimental stage of using its mobile-first index and Google are still working on making results more useful.

However, this will eventually be the permanent algorithm for all rankings on Google, so it’s important your website is prepared for when this finally does happen. Google’s Gary Illyes, a webmaster trends analyst, confirmed this week that the algorithm is (still) months away, so there’s plenty of time to get your mobile website built and fully functioning in time for the change.

What Does This Mean for My Business?

Simply put, if you only have a desktop version of your website once the mobile-first index goes live, it could potentially mean your website rankings may not perform as well. This could affect traffic, conversion rate and directly affect ROI and profits.

However, they have stated that although their mobile-first index will be their primary algorithm, your desktop website will still be indexed and ranked accordingly, in an attempt to create a great search experience overall, whether that be on a mobile device or desktop.

What Do I Need to Do?

This announcement is a strong indicator that Google is looking towards a mobile future, so if you don’t currently have a responsive mobile version of your website, then you’ll need one. Head over to our case studies page to see just a few of the many responsive websites we’ve designed. Here at Active Internet Marketing (UK), we can design a bespoke and responsive website for your business to help improve your rankings.

In order to maintain a strong position on Google’s SERP or to build upon your current rankings, you’ll need to create a mobile responsive version of your website so Google’s mobile-first index can find and correctly index the content on your website relative to the user’s search query.

What Is a Responsive Website and How Does It Differ from Mobile Friendly?

A responsive website is a website designed to fit any orientation and size of a screen and react accordingly to a user’s experience, whether this be on a mobile device, a tablet or a desktop. They’re created with intelligent CCS media and flexible grids in order to make the website responsive to the size of the screen that is being used. Whereas, a mobile friendly website is a separate website with a different URL that has been built for use on a mobile, although it’s design will match your desktop one, it is a separate website and could rank differently.

How Can I Prepare?

We’ve outlined just a few of the ways you can prepare your website in time for Google’s switch to their mobile-first index:

– If your website is already responsive and your content is equivalent to mobile devices and desktops then you should not need to do anything
– If you have a site configuration where the content is different across mobile and desktop, such as a mobile-friendly website, then you will need to make some website changes
– Ensure the content across mobile and desktop versions match
– Visit the Structured Data Testing Tool and enter each URL of both versions to check the structured markup is equal across both formats
– Avoid adding additional data and content that does not match the specific topic
– Use the robots.txt testing tool to verify your website is visible to Googlebot
– You do not need to make any changes to your canonical links, as Google will still use these to guide its user to relevant data on both mobile and desktop
– If the desktop version of your website is verified in Google Search Console then you will also need to verify your mobile one if you have two separate markups
– If you only have a desktop site then it will still be crawled and indexed by Google just fine, but it might help to also have a responsive website built

What Is the Future for Google’s Index?

With the announcement of the new mobile-first index, it appears Google is heading for a mobile future and will look to use just one algorithm for their SERPs across mobile and desktop. However, it’s important to note that this is currently in the experiment phase and is still being trialled in small amounts until they’re confident enough that the user experience is so great that it can be permanent. If they find the mobile-first version is successful, they may drop the secondary index that crawls the desktop version of your site, but contrastingly, if they find it is unsuccessful they may revert back to their old original one.

If you’re concerned about the new Google mobile-first index and have any questions then do not hesitate to get in touch with Active Internet Marketing (UK) and we’ll be happy to answer them. Don’t forget to visit our web design page to learn more about responsive websites and how we can help your rankings with a fresh, new design. Call us on 0800 772 0650 or fill out our contact form and we’ll be in touch ASAP.




Ready to start? Get in touch.