It’s been roughly six months since Google announced that they would be rolling out algorithm changes to “sites that follow the best practices for mobile-first indexing“. This announcement represented a fundamental shift in the way Google’s search algorithm indexes and ranks websites. Whereas the search engine’s crawlers would traditionally examine the standard desktop version of a website, Google will now send its crawlers directly to the site’s mobile version, if available and considered worthy.
“Our crawling, indexing, and ranking systems have typically used the desktop version of a page’s content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is vastly different from the mobile version,” read the March 26, 2018 post on Webmaster Central. “Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our — primarily mobile — users find what they’re looking for.”
Fast-forward to September. Late last week, SAF received an email from Google stating that our website had officially been migrated to the new algorithm and that mobile-first indexing was now enabled. If your website is hooked up to Google Search Console (which it should be!) and your website meets the requirements for mobile-first indexing, you may have received one of these emails as well. If so, that’s good news!
Based on Google’s decision to now apply its new rules to your website, we can assume two things:
1) Your website follows the best practices for mobile-first indexing by being fully mobile responsive, loading quickly through performance and file size optimization and having a mobile experience that is comparable to the desktop version of your website, and 2), when people find your website through search, whether on mobile or desktop, Google will be ranking your content based on the mobile version of the website.
Speaking of page ranking, Google is very clear to state that websites that are not yet indexed mobile-first are not going to be ranked any less favorably than those that have been migrated to mobile-first indexing. From the blog post, “Content gathered by mobile-first indexing has no ranking advantage over mobile content that’s not yet gathered this way or desktop content.” Google will continue to rank all content in its index (and it only has one index) and the same rules still apply, whether your website is indexed mobile-first or desktop-first.
2) Google will continue to favor mobile-friendly content. If your website is not mobile-responsive, struggles to load on mobile devices and carries large, heavy image files, chances are that Google is already penalizing your website and ranking your content lower than other comparable pages. You can also assume that, until your website is optimized for mobile, Google won’t be migrating you to mobile-first indexing.
So what prompted this shift in thinking? For one thing, 2017 was the first year that the majority of web traffic was not from a desktop computer. Now, in 2018, upwards of 60 percent of all web traffic, according to searchengineland.com, is coming from mobile sources; smartphones, tablets and other non-desktop devices.
With trends suggesting that the lion share of web traffic will continue to skew more mobile, it becomes more understandable why Google would want to use a website’s mobile version for determining page ranking. In fact, searchenginejournal.com predicts nearly 80% of web traffic will be mobile by the end of 2018.
If you haven’t received the email from Google announcing your website’s migration to mobile-first indexing, there are a few things you can do to make sure your website is ready when the time comes.
- Make sure your website is fully mobile responsive and the mobile experience is smooth and stress-free using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. Another easy way to check this is to simply access your website on a smartphone or tablet. Most modern content management systems and web providers only build mobile responsive sites, but check it out for yourself to be safe. While you’re doing this check, take a look around your website and make sure all of the important buttons are working, your menu is functional and text is right-sized for smaller screens. https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly
- Check your site’s performance using Google’s PageSpeed Insights It’s well-known that Google penalizes websites that don’t have an optimal mobile experience, and page load speed is a heavy factor in influencing this point. Run your domain through the PageSpeed Insights tool and take a look at your score for desktop and mobile. It’s very possible that even if the desktop version of your website is fast, the mobile version could be slow and clunky. Take note of Google’s suggestions for improving the performance of your website and work with your web provider or IT person to implement these fixes. You can also see how your website performance stacks up against your competitors using Google’s mobile speed comparison tool.
- Make sure your website is registered with Google Search Console. This will ensure that you receive emails and notifications from Google in the event that your website encounters and error that may affect your search listing. It’s also the only way to be notified that mobile-first indexing has been enabled for your domain. If you’re new to Google Search Console, I suggest reading up on the tool and then hooking up your website. It’s easy and the wealth of information you can access from connecting your domain is incredible.
Max Duchaine is the digital strategy manager for the Society of American Florists.