Google Webmasters announced in 2016 that they were in the experiment phase of initiating mobile-first indexing. Since then, they have done a great job of keeping everyone updated through public talks like the Pubcon convention and through answering questions on their Webmaster Forums. A select few websites are even in ‘testing’ for mobile-first indexing. Here’s a look at what we know thus far about mobile-first indexing and it’s mass ETA.
What Is Mobile-First Indexing And Why Is It Needed?
Google’s algorithms for indexing, crawling, and ranking systems still mostly look at a site’s desktop version of a page’s content, even if the site has both a mobile and desktop version. And, in today’s world of heavy mobile device reliance for internet connectivity, most sites do have both versions. The only question is whether the two are congruent – have the same consistent info.
The problem is that index and ranking, snippet use, data understanding, and such are conflicted when they’re scaled in desktop but being accessed on mobile. The result when the site’s desktop version is significantly different than its mobile version is an array of usability problems for searchers using mobile devices.
Example: The searcher may be pointed to a page that doesn’t have the info they were looking for when the mobile page has less content than the desktop page. The website may fail to make a customer conversion or sale. And, in the searcher’s eye, Google is often blamed for the bad search vs the website having a poorly constructed mobile site.
What mobile-first indexing will do is ensure that Google indexing and ranking systems use the mobile version, which will assist mobile searchers in finding what they’re looking for online. Result snippets and Google cache page content will all be based off the mobile version, not desktop version, under mobile-first. Webmasters will see Smartphone Googlebot crawling increase.
Will Mobile-First Impact Page Rank And SEO?
Slightly, perhaps. Most webmasters using a properly optimized mobile version or responsive site will see little if any change. Those that haven’t optimized are likely already suffering in performance, online marketing efforts, SEO, and rankings since Google has already implemented mobile-friendly search engine updates over the last few years. As far as structured data needs go, Google offers a free structured data testing tool to validate and test website data.
Is My Website Ready For Mobile-First Indexing?
Google Webmasters recommend the following to ensure a site is ready for when mobile-first indexing is ready to be implemented en mass:
1. Ensure a responsive web design that correctly implements dynamic serving.
2. Mobile versions of the site should have high-quality content, including videos, images, and text, that are formatted to be crawlable and indexable.
3. If the mobile version has a separate host, the host server must have the capacity to handle a potential increased crawl.
4. Ensure data is structured for indexing and user-friendly searching across both mobile and desktop versions.
5. URLs need to be updated to mobile version for mobile pages.
6. Any site using separate mobile URLs should keep rel=canonical and rel=alternative links between the versions.
7. Metadata should be present and equivalent on mobile and desktop versions of a site.
8. Separate mobile URL hreflang links need to be checked. Link mobile and desktop URLs separately for regional/language (internationalization) links. While mobile hreflang needs to point to the corresponding regional/language mobile version URLs, desktop hreflang should link to corresponding regional-language desktop version URLs.
When Will Mobile-First Indexing Be Ready?
The shift in online marketing trends are clear, with some reports showing that as much as 60% of all searches originate from a mobile device. Just this November, Google acknowledged that most users are using mobile devices to search Google today. Yes, they’re responding to the trend, albeit slowly.
Google Webmasters have already begun to evaluate sites for readiness. They’re looking at the key areas above to determine a site’s readiness. And, some selective ‘trial runs’ have already started for a few lucky websites. These trials are being closely monitored.
However, there hasn’t been any set timeline or ETA on mass rollout of mobile-first indexing. It appears to be a slow, cautious process, possibly to give site operators and overseers adequate opportunity to prep their websites.