Over the past few years, Google has made a lot of changes to their algorithms to better reflect the current technology and consumer trends. Many of these updates have focused on mobile devices, which dramatically changed the way most people search for information and the way people decide which website they want to visit. Google recently announced they will be rolling out mobile-first indexing which may require some business owners to update their website.
The best way to handle content for mobile devices has changed over the years. When mobile devices with browsers first came out, they tried to show the full version of the desktop site on the mobile device. This made sites hard to read and navigate sites on mobile devices, so many websites started to have separate sites with less content especially for mobile users. Now, with faster mobile internet speeds and responsive web design options, the best practice is to have one site that can be easily viewed on mobile devices and desktops.
Understanding these three phases mobile web designs is important because Google’s newest change puts sites that use the first two methods at a disadvantage. Google announced they would be switching to mobile-first indexing, which affects which content will be shown in search results on Google.
As they explain on the Google Developers blog, mobile-first indexing means Google will predominantly use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. In the past, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page’s content when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user’s query. But now that the majority of users now access Google via a mobile device, the index will primarily use the mobile version of a page’s content from now on.
A Google representative explained the situation in a little more detail in a statement to Search Engine Land by saying, “To recap, 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. 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.
As was stated before, this won’t affect many of the most recent websites, which use the same content on mobile and desktop. But older sites that were built to show separate content or custm links to mobile users will run into issues. If a site has an SEO friendly page with content, that page will be skipped over in favor of a mobile version of that page, even if it hurts SEO.
In practical terms, Google offered several suggestions of things to website owners should change to take advantage of mobile first indexing. On the Google Developers blog, they wrote:
- Your mobile site should contain the same content as your desktop site. If your mobile site has less content than your desktop site, you should consider updating your mobile site so that its primary content is equivalent with your desktop site. This includes text, images (with alt-attributes), and videos – in the usual crawlable and indexable formats.
- Structured data should be present on both versions of your site. Make sure URLs in the structured data on the mobile versions are updated to the mobile URLs. If you use Data Highlighter to provide structured data, regularly check the Data Highlighter dashboard for extraction errors.
- Metadata should be present on both versions of the site. Make sure that titles and meta descriptions are equivalent across both versions of your site.
Finally, while it’s important for websites to be ready for mobile-first indexing, there’s no need to worry about having the rug pulled out from under you. Google says they try to transition sites slowly to ensure a good experience for site owners and users. They will evaluate each site individually on its readiness for mobile-first indexing based on the best practices and transition the site when the site is ready.
For more recent news about updates to Google, read this article on a recent algorithm update that may have affected a site’s SEO.