Mobile-first indexing – here’s what you need to know

Posted by Kirstie Hogg on July 24, 2020

Mobile-first indexing - here’s what you need to know

If your website is not mobile-friendly, get it changed as soon as possible. Here’s why.

Google is constantly keeping SEO specialists on their toes with its SEO algorithm changes. A few big changes have occurred over the years, namely Panda, Penguin and Google’s Knowledge Graph. However, the mobile revolution has had the biggest impact on rankings.

Google has enabled mobile-first indexing for most currently crawled sites. Google planned to roll out mobile-first indexing for all sites in September 2020. Once the rollout happens, all websites will be ported over to the mobile-first index. Google will then base your site’s information on the mobile version, not the desktop version. 

Google decided to extend the time frame to the end of March 2021. They mentioned that because of the uncertain times, they will give the sites that aren’t mobile-ready more time.

What does mobile-first indexing mean?

Mobile-first indexing means Google primarily uses the mobile version of your content for ranking and indexing. This applies to both mobile and desktop searches. Google used to mainly use the desktop version of your site when assessing its relevance to user queries. 

If you’re wondering why Google is shifting towards mobile-first indexing, it’s because more and more searches are coming from mobile devices. So, to give users a better experience, Google is prioritising mobile results.

Keep in mind, it is mobile-first and not mobile-only. In other words, if you don’t have a mobile-friendly version of a website, the desktop version will still be included in the index. But, it won’t bear as much weight as the mobile version of your site. Therefore, not having a mobile-friendly website will impact your site’s rankings negatively. And, your competitors with mobile-friendly websites will likely rank a lot higher than you for both mobile and desktop searches. 

How to prepare your website for mobile-first indexing

When the complete roll-out of mobile-first indexing happens, Google will get your site’s information from the mobile version, so make sure that the Googlebot can see the full content and all resources there. If your site is not prepared for mobile-first indexing, it’s time to make a few changes. Here’re a few suggestions straight from Google:

Make sure your content is visible to the Googlebot

  • Use the same robots meta tags on the mobile and desktop site. Google may fail to index or follow links on a page if you use a different robots meta tag on the mobile version, especially if it’s a noindex or nofollow.
  • Does Google have access to all of your resources? Mobile and desktop sites may have different URLs from each other. Make sure you’re not blocking the mobile URL with the disallow directive.
  • Make sure all primary content is easy for the Googlebot to load. Content that requires user interactions, such as clicking or typing, won’t be loaded by the Googlebot as it won’t trigger these interactions. For example, your desktop site version may show 6 primary images, but your mobile version may only show two primary images unless the user “clicks more”. The four “hidden” images may not get indexed.

mobile version of a site

Make sure your mobile site contains all primary content

So, we are 100% positive that your mobile site is crucial to your ranking – now, and even more so from March 2021. Therefore, it’s imperative that your mobile site contains the content you want to rank for. If you’ve cut out content to either make your mobile site more user-friendly or aesthetically pleasing, your thinned out content is what Google will index. So, you may end up losing traffic to your website! 

Make sure all of your mobile site’s headings are clear and meaningful. Unclear or missing headings, especially important ones, may affect your search visibility negatively. This is because it may take away from the meaning of the content. 

Follow Google’s best practices for images and videos

Images and videos on your mobile version must follow Google’s best practices for images and videos. Keep the following in mind:

  • Ensure that images are the correct resolution for the mobile version. Images with a low resolution on the mobile site may not be included in the indexing of your site.
  • Less meaningful image alt attributes may negatively affect indexing. Add meaningful alt text to your images, such as <img src=”a photo of red-framed glasses on a lady.jpg” alt> instead of <img src=”lady.jpg” alt>.
  • While your site transitions to mobile-first indexing, you may experience a temporary dip in traffic if you’re using different image URLs for the desktop and mobile versions. As the URLs are new to the indexing system, it may take some time for Google to understand the new URLs.
  • Google may have trouble indexing your videos if the mobile version doesn’t include VideoObject with all the relevant information. 
  • Make sure your images and videos are easy to find on the mobile version of your page. If your images and videos are tough to find, this will have a negative effect on the user experience on mobile devices. Thus, it may affect their rankings on Google Search. Your image or video that is easy to see on your desktop version may be pushed down the page on your mobile version. This can result in users having to scroll a lot to find it. This can render the image or video as useless to Google, resulting in it not appearing in search.

In the video below, John Mueller, Google Webmasters, explains how mobile-first indexing works for smartphone search results, what the difference between mobile-first indexing and mobile-friendliness is, and whether Google is planning to provide opt-in/opt-out for this type of indexing.

SEO is not a one-time website fix. Yes, we can make your website instantly better by updating it, but to really reap the rewards of SEO, we need to pay close attention to the changes in the online sphere and adjust your website accordingly. 

If you’d like to read more, take a look at Google’s developer guide for mobile-first indexing. IEDM also provides site audits to find out what your site is missing and what we can do to optimise it for Google. Fill in our contact form to find out more.

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