Prepare for Google’s Mobile-First Indexing
You may have recently heard about mobile-first indexing. This is Google’s latest development to help make the web more mobile-friendly.
Mobile-first indexing will become the default for new domains – which Google defines as “new to the web or previously unknown to Google Search” – starting July 1, 2019.
What is mobile-first indexing?
Over the years, mobile searches have become the primary way that users engage with search engines. Because of this, Google wants website owners to make their website content mobile-friendly. While Google’s indexing and ranking systems used the desktop version of a website page, this now causes problems because desktop and mobile websites can contain different versions of content. With mobile-first indexing, Google will predominantly use the mobile
version of a website’s content for ranking and indexing.
Don’t confuse mobile-first indexing with mobile-only indexing. If a website doesn’t have a mobile-friendly version, don’t worry, the desktop site can still be indexed. However, not having a mobile-friendly version could have a negative impact on your rankings, and a website with a better mobile experience could potentially receive a rankings boost, even for the searchers using a desktop.
Think of “mobile-first” as referring to the fact that the mobile version of your website will be considered the primary version. If both your desktop and mobile versions are equivalent because you have optimized your content for both and / or use responsive design, the change shouldn’t have any significant
impact on your site’s performance in the search results.
While mobile-indexing is not yet default for all websites, Google has already started rolling it out more widely in 2018 and evaluates older websites for readiness based on several different factors including parity of content (such as text, videos, links, and images), structured data, and other meta-data such as titles, descriptions, and tags.
It is essential to recognize that the “mobile-first index” is not separate. Google is still referencing a unified index for serving search results, but the difference is whether a page is now crawled by a mobile or desktop user-agent.
Before responsive website design became a standard, having a separate mobile website for a business was common. Google is now actively discouraging this practice (although they still allow it) because it can confuse both search engines and users. WordPress websites with a responsive theme shouldn’t have any issues with mobile indexing, as a responsive theme is generally enough to make a website compatible with this method of crawling.
If you’d like to see how your website is being crawled, you can click on the “URL Inspection” tab in the Google Search Console. If you have an older site, you will be notified from the Google Search Console when it is moved over to mobile-first indexing. However, new websites will not receive any notifications from Google because mobile-first indexing will be the default state.
So, what do you need to do?
Don’t freak out! This change is in the early stages of testing and is being rolled out gradually, and only to websites which Google deems “ready” enough for this change, so there is minimal impact. If your site is responsive or identical in its mobile and desktop versions, you may not have to change anything, so long as you’re satisfied with your current rankings.
Even with a completely responsive site, you will want to make sure that certain elements, such as load time, page speed, and images, are optimized for the mobile experience. With mobile-first indexing, it’s important to note that content that is hidden or collapsed in tabs won’t be treated any differently than visible content.
If you have a separate mobile website, you’ll want to check out a few things to prepare for mobile indexing:
- Your mobile and desktop sites should contain the same content. If your mobile site doesn’t have the same amount of content as your desktop one, you’ll want to consider updating it so that the primary content is equivalent. Check your text, images, and videos.
- Both versions of your website should have structured data. URLs in the structured data on the mobile version should be updated to the mobile URLs.
- Both versions of your website should have metadata. Meta titles and descriptions should be equivalent on the desktop and mobile versions of your site.
- Verify both the mobile and desktop versions of your site in the Google Search Console.
This is to make sure you have access to notifications and data for both versions.
- Check hreflang links. If you’re using rel=hreflang link elements for internalization, make sure your mobile URL’s hreflang annotations point to the mobile version of your country / language variants, and desktop URLs point to the desktop versions.
- Check your server capacity. Make sure the servers have enough capacity to handle the potential increase in crawl rate on your website’s mobile version.
- Check your robots.txt directive and robots meta tags. Make sure they’re working as intended for both versions of your website. The robots.txt file will let you specify the parts of a website that may be crawled or not. The robots meta tags allow you to determine which parts of a website may be indexed or not. For the most part, websites should use the same robots.txt directives and robots meta tags for desktop and mobile versions.
Google has been gradually rolling out mobile-first indexing over the past few years, and as of July 1, 2019, all new domains will use mobile-first indexing by default. Mobile-first indexing means that the mobile version of your site will be the starting point and baseline for Google’s indexing and rankings. If you have a responsive website design, you may not need to change much, but you’ll want to check to make sure everything is optimized for the mobile experience. If you have a separate mobile website, there are a few things you’ll want to look at to prepare for mobile-first indexing.
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