We all have decided to play it – website owners from all over the world have joined in the game set up by Google. To win, you just have to rank as high as you can. It’s not that easy, however, as the rules are constantly changing.
And guess what?
The game has changed once again.
Hello, Mobile-First Indexing!
After a year-and-a-half of testing, Google has finally introduced Mobile-First Indexing. It’s a new variation of the indexing algorithm that prioritizes mobile websites when you’re crawling the Internet.
If you are wondering why that has happened, ask yourself: When and on what devices do you use Google mostly? Yeah, it’s on mobile. And the majority of Google’s users use mobile to find their answers, whatever they are.
This is true for the whole Internet. Mobile platforms are taking it over – in more and more parts of the web, the lion’s share of the traffic is from mobile.
All we can say is: it’s about time, Google!
“Oh my God, I forgot to create a mobile version!” Really? In 2018? Never mind. It’s still okay.
Although the challenge may seem scary for those who haven’t put enough effort into mobile, it shouldn’t be. It’s “Mobile-First Indexing” but people say that it won’t affect the rankings. At least not yet.
So, what is the commotion all about?
For websites that provide different content on mobile and desktop, Google has decided to prioritize mobile. Sites without a mobile version won’t be punished – almost all Google cares about is content.
This means that if you have a desktop-only website, you don’t have to worry now. You might still appear high in the rankings if your content matches well with the keywords users enter into Google.
It’s fine if your website is responsive – Mobile-First Indexing doesn’t care about responsive design as long as the content is the same on desktop and mobile. The same is true for canonical Accelerated Mobile Pages – both versions are the same, and Google is fine with that.
So-called “m-dots” are especially affected. If you design both versions of a website separately and they have different URLs – like example.com and m.example.com – Google will index your website based on m.example.com.
But you could be affected even if you have the same URL on desktop and mobile. Your website might recognize devices that enter your website and supply them with different content than the desktop. In this case, Google will also prioritize content for mobile when indexing.
Having both AMP and non-AMP websites with different URLs will cause Google crawl bots to prioritize the non-AMP mobile page.
What about other technologies? You can clearly see a pattern here whenever your content is different on desktop and mobile. Google prefers mobile. Simple as that.
How Can You Make Google Happy?
The simplest answer might be to use responsive design. Even before Mobile-First Indexing, Google bots checked mobile performance – loading speeds, mobile-friendly content layouts, and so on. If you go with responsive, you’re mostly safe – you can rank high and mostly won’t be affected by a poor mobile performance grade. You need to execute one responsive website well.
But there may be hundreds of reasons why would you like to use different websites on mobile and desktop. Fair enough, but Google makes doing this a little less useful. At least from the content perspective.
According to our “big brother’s” recommendations, site owners should focus on delivering the same content on desktop and mobile. If they don’t and provide less information on mobile, this “less” is what Google will index.
Your meta tags should be identical as well. You need to make sure that structured data and URLs moving along it on mobile should be mobile URLs. In short, mobile website, mobile links. Focus on consistency.
To be on the safe side, you should check all messages in Search Console, if needed – update robots.txt for both versions, and use correct rel parameters for links that switch between the versions. Use rel=canonical if you guide your users (and, apparently, robots) on one version and rel=alternate if you leave the current page for the altered one (desktop or mobile). If you provide localized content and use rel=hreflang, again, there should be mobile links for mobile pages.
What Has Changed for Users?
Before Mobile-First Indexing was introduced, there was Desktop-First Indexing. That algorithm would rank the desktop version of the website first and then rank desktop and mobile pages. Even then, Google was very happy if there was a mobile version – it boosted a page’s rank in that case.
The change in the crawling algorithm is quite significant from the perspective of the algorithm. Now, Google crawls mobile first. If it doesn’t see one, it will go to the desktop version. The rankings are now the result of the crawl being performed in this new way.
What does this mean for real users? Here’s a typical scenario:
You enter a query into Google while using your smartphone. You can clearly see that one page should provide you with your answer but… “should” is not enough. After you enter the website, it turns out that the content of the mobile version has been significantly cut. The crawlbot indexed a piece of content that doesn’t exist, at least not for mobile users.
With Mobile-First Indexing, this problem will no longer affect or annoy you. But it might be an incentive for website owners to keep the content the same across all platforms.
Is This Really Different from past Indexing?
It is. Previously, Google has crawled, indexed, and ranked mobile pages, but only for mobile searches. These results are still relevant but the major change lies in the overall search results. From now on, following practices for mobile pages that Google is not fond of will result in a lower desktop ranking as well.
It’s not about punishment. It is about what will be seen and indexed by the bots. If you provide less content on mobile, you’ll be ranked for fewer keywords. You’ll have fewer chances of being found online.
It has become crucial for website owners to take care of their mobile websites properly but if you don’t have one at all, Google is not about to tell you that you should.
Do You Have to Go into Such Detail?
Of course not. If you’d like to be sure that your website is fully aligned with Google’s rules and best practices, all you need to do is hire a team that knows how to execute this perfectly.