Google’s Mobile First Index: Everything We Now Know

06 February 2018
Published: By: Alex Stockton



Around nine months ago, we discussed Google’s Mobile First Index. We outlined what the index would do, why it was being introduced, and how businesses and website owners could effectively prepare for it. Beyond that, though, the SEO industry didn’t know too much at that point.

The truth is, no-one did. Gary Illyes, of Google, came out and stated that the update was still months away, so most people took a deep breath, and managed to hold back the panic.

Now, though, everyone knows a bit more, and there have been plenty of developments. Given the significance of this update, in terms of how Google ranks its websites, we thought it best to review where we’ve got to and provide a fresh overview of the situation. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of everything we now know about the big update, and laid it out for you right here.

Remind me, what is the Mobile First Index?

If you’re still a little confused as to what all the fuss is about, then it’s important to get your head around exactly what’s going on. Effectively, the Mobile First Index means that Google will start “judging” a website based on its mobile performance, before it considers how it fares on a desktop. Currently, for the vast majority of website owners, this is not the case. At the moment, Google generally evaluates your website based on its desktop version first. That means, provided your site is user-friendly, informative, and effectively optimised on computers and laptops, your rankings and traffic shouldn’t be hit negatively.

For this reason, a lot of websites still aren’t up to scratch on mobiles. It hasn’t been considered a priority until relatively recently to ensure the mobile version of your website was just as good as, if not better than, the corresponding desktop one. Now, though, it seems that we’re extremely close to seeing the full version of the Mobile First Index, so that has to change. If your site isn’t responsive, or your mobile navigation bar isn’t user-friendly, your rankings could be about to take a bit of a hit.

So, when is it actually happening?

Ah, what a question … we still don’t actually know, sorry! With Google being Google, there’s very little concrete evidence pointing to a particular “rollout date”. What we are pretty confident about, though, is that it’s not too far away now. In fact, Mobile First Indexing has already rolled out for some users, and that’s extremely significant. When we last addressed the issue, we seemed to be a long way from anything actually happening; it was all hypotheses and predictions. The fact that Google have tested the water means we can’t be too far away from seeing the update in full. We’ve also got another clue, in the form of a recent algorithm update from Google (more on that in our next paragraph); a mobile page speed tweak is on its way in July, so it would make a lot of sense for the Mobile First Index to roll out in full around then, too.

To be safe, though, act as if it’s happening right now. As soon as you’ve finished reading our article, check that your website is fully optimised for mobile. Google didn’t warn people before they rolled out the update in part at the end of last year. For all we know, it could be rolling out right this very second. If you continue to put it off, there’s an extremely high chance you won’t make the necessary changes in time; you’ll simply check your rankings one day and see a lot of negative results.

Anything else?

Yes! Google recently announced a fast-approaching update to their mobile algorithm. I know, right, Google have actually announced their own algorithm update. When was the last time that happened? Cue suspicious glances and the “Sherlock” music.

All joking aside, Google have recently admitted that they plan to modify their mobile algorithm and ranking factors. “Starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches”, read the official statement. Google were quick to also point out that their changes will only affect those websites at the bottom of the speed scale. In their own words, the changes will “only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users”. It’s always best to guard against any complacency, though. While that’s their current official line, who’s to say the update won’t adjust its parameters after a couple of months? As Google have proved time and time again, they rarely feel the need to disclose everything they’re up to. It’s also worth bearing in mind that we don’t have many comparatives here. Just because we don’t think our websites are “too slow”, that doesn’t necessarily mean Google agrees; the only way we’d find out is from a drop in rankings, and it’s always best not to simply wait for that to happen.

Frankly, it’s about time we all got our mobile page speed sorted out anyway. Regardless of whether or not it affects your actual rankings, no customers want to spend ages waiting for your site to load on their mobile device. Everything these days is about being fast, efficient, and easy. A slow, turgid mobile site is absolutely none of those things from a user’s perspective. Our advice is simply to ensure your mobile page speed is brought up to scratch as a matter of urgency; who’s to know when Google will tweak their algorithm again?

Okay, what do I need to do now?

Essentially, this answer is one that we’ve known since the first rumours of the Mobile First Index began to surface: you need a fully-optimised, user-friendly mobile website. The thing is, it’s far more important now, and you need to prioritise it. As we mentioned earlier, Google could be rolling out the update in full at any time, so you need to be prepared. If any of the following points apply to your site, then something needs to change:

  • Your desktop website is not responsive to work on a mobile, or you do not have a dedicated mobile site.
  • Your mobile site is not as effectively optimised as your desktop version.
  • The content on your mobile and desktop sites do not match. For example, your content is thinner on mobiles.
  • Your mobile web speed is slow. Google has indicated that only the slowest of sites will be penalised, but it’s not worth taking a chance if you suspect you could fall into this category.

As we’ve already said, if your website isn’t optimised for mobile yet, then it’s a good idea to rectify that anyway. More and more people are using their mobiles pretty much all the time these days, so you’re at risk of missing out on a lot of traffic if your site isn’t mobile-ready. This update is actually an extremely handy reminder to everyone about the importance of mobiles in SEO. If nothing else, it reinforces the fact that mobiles play a central role in the day to day lives of almost everyone. It makes sense, therefore, to cater to their somewhat particular ways.

Active Internet Marketing (UK)

If you’re at all uncertain about how best to prepare for the imminent arrival of Google’s Mobile First Index, get in touch with the team at Active Internet Marketing (UK). Give us a call on 01604 765 796, or fill out one of our online contact forms. We look forward to talking to you!




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