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SEO and Paid Media

What is Mobile-First Indexing?


Google's mobile-first index is here. But what is it and why is it important for websites?

A bit of background

It used to be that everyone browsed the internet on their desktop computers or laptops. When smartphones happened user needs started to change. Pretty soon being mobile friendly was accepted as a competitive edge. In 2016 the volume of mobile web browsing overtook desktop for the first time.

A study conducted that year revealed [[[87% of smartphone owners turned to search first in a moment of need]]. Google were probably among the first to identify the steady shift towards mobile and have regularly adapted through updates like Mobilegeddon.

Today Google is prioritizing mobile friendly sites on a global level. As a result, B2B as well as B2C marketers are going to have to adapt or risk losing both rankings and traffic to their competitors.

What is the mobile-first index?

Up until fairly recently Google primarily looked at the desktop version of websites and then checked if there was a mobile version available. During March 2018, it was announced that Google will primarily use the mobile version of websites for indexing and ranking.

This is truly mobile first. In other words, putting the mobile version of websites first, ahead of desktop. That might not sound like a big deal but it’s a game changer.

What changes does it bring?

If mobile friendliness was a competitive edge before, now it’s a requirement. For instance, if a piece of content or function is only available on the desktop version of your site then that piece of content or function no longer exists as far as Google is concerned. That means desktop only websites, and poor mobile versions, are going to have some problems. Especially since organic search (i.e. Google for the Nordics) represents 51% of all online traffic.

How will it impact your site?

If your mobile and desktop versions are equivalent — for instance, if you’ve optimized your content for mobile, or if you use responsive design — this change should (in theory) not have any significant impact in terms of your site’s performance in search results.

Does this mean responsive websites are in the clear?

Well, no. Classic mobile-friendly signals like accessibility, page speed as well as elements in design and SERP features like markup and schema optimization, will be weighted more heavily when Google is considering which websites to rank higher.

So, if you have competitors who do mobile friendliness better than you they might see a ranking boost and where one goes up another must come down.

How can I tell if my website is being indexed mobile-first?

Google will send notifications to webmasters through Google Search Console.

There are also other signals to look out for: An increase in crawling from Googlebot Smartphone. Content on mobile site appearing in the cached pages.

How can I make my site mobile friendly?

Generally speaking there are three different setups to serve mobile friendly sites. Any one of them can work but of course there are advantages and disadvantages to any given one.

We will give them a brief break-down here.

Responsive Design

This is the solution recommended by Google as the best option. Responsive design serves all devices with the same code that adjusts for screen size.

Separate mobile URLs/ Mdot

Separate mobile URLs serve different code to desktop and mobile devices (and perhaps even tablets), and on different URLs.

Dynamic serving

Dynamic serving serves different code to each device but on the same URL.

Is your site ready for this shift?

This may all seem very techy and maybe a little overwhelming. The usual knee jerk reaction to change is to fight back. But change is also an opportunity.

Webmasters and marketers who prioritize their mobile users more than their competitors will likely see an increase in traffic as an outcome of the mobile-first index. If nothing else this is a change welcomed by the users, and as the founder of IKEA who died earlier this year once said:

“What is good for our customers is also, in the long run, good for us.” - Ingvar Kamprad

If you’d like to discuss this topic further or learn how we can help you get to grips with the mobile first index and other tricky SEO-related or marketing topics, why not send me a mail?