Google’s Shift to Mobile-First Indexing

It has been predicted over the last decade that usage of Google search will dramatically shift from desktop to mobile device.

To adjust to these changes, websites have shifted from merely displaying its desktop version to a layout optimized for smartphone users. From creating two site layout URL versions — desktop and mobile that typically use an m. subdomain — rendered by detecting browser agent, web development technology moved towards responsive design which utilize only single URL. Once page display settings has been addressed, there’s accelerated mobile pages which addresses issues on how quickly the page is loaded.

All these changes have taken place to improve user experience.

However, Google has also acknowledged that its algorithm hasn’t been up to what’s expected in line with the advancement in user experience on web browsing. That’s because while people have seen improvements in how they access web pages, Google’s basis on ranking them was pretty much biased towards desktop version of a web page, something that doesn’t always reflect to what users are seeing once they make use of their mobile devices.

For instance, a desktop version may be more complete — navigation, extra widgets like related content and so on, while a mobile version may only include a stripped-down counterpart such as main content and basic navigation.

The discrepancy can cause issues because as Google said “mobile page has less content than the desktop page because our algorithms are not evaluating the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher.”

Moving forward, Google has began its experiments to get its index mobile-first instead of desktop-first since mobile use has become mainstream and desktop usage reduced to being a minority. Eventually, its index will “primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.”

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So what does this mean to a typical webmaster, whether or not he expects visitors to his website are coming from mobile devices?

As Google said this new update is just an experiment with the objective of eventually rolling out a full version once fine-tuning is done. But there are things webmasters can do to preparing their websites for this mobile-focused index change in the future.

1. Ensure that your website has a mobile-friendly version. If you are aware you have one, but just wish to make sure if Google agrees, test it using this Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

2. If your primary content is equivalent across mobile and desktop versions served using responsive or dynamic serving sites, there’s no need for change at this point.

Otherwise if there are significant differences, you should consider making changes after checking these versions across Structured Data Testing Tool yields significant differences.

Check your mobile pages using the robots.txt testing tool to ensure they are accessible to Googlebot

Add and verify mobile version of your website at Google Search Console. Then check if there are errors such as pages not found, takes a long time to load and other issues that indicate problem for Google’s crawler to access your mobile site version.

3. If you are currently building a mobile version of your website, make sure you launch it only when ready and complete. Google believes it is better for a fully-functional desktop version to be stand-alone than pair it with a mobile version site that has problems or not yet ready for launch.

Questions? Please feel free to post in comments or contact me.