Now that Google has announced that it is rolling out its new mobile-first index, what does this mean for website owners?

What is the Mobile First Index?

Before looking at the likely impact that Mobile First will have on the search landscape, what do we know about it?

  • We know that Google wants its index and results to represent most of their users — who are now mobile searchers, so this shift in emphasis reflects the growing use of mobile and tablet for search.
  • Going forward, Google will basically give preference to the mobile version of a web site, in instances when there is a mobile and desktop version of a web site.

What will be the impact for site owners?

  • If you do not have a separate mobile site, then Google has stated not to worry, it will crawl the desktop version of the site instead.
  • If you have a mobile site, then there is an increased onus on making sure that the site adheres wholly to SEO guidelines, as this will be Google’s first port of call.
  • If the mobile site has less content than the desktop version, should you be worried? Potentially yes, as Google will potentially see the mobile site as a less weighty vehicle for ranking.

What does Google recommend?

  • As such, Google recommends the best route going forward is having a fully responsive web site, so in effect a single web site designed for all platforms and devices.

What are the implications for site content?

  • A key area of discussion is around the use of expandable content. Google has stated in the past that content hidden in tabs, or under expandable boxes is given less weight than content readily accessible on-page. This will seemingly not be the case going forward when it comes to mobile. Google’s Gary Illyes has stated that content such as this will be given full weight if done for the benefit of the user-experience. The general ideas is that expandable content makes more sense on mobile than it does on desktop because of the limited space, and as such will be given equal weight as on-page content.

When is the full roll-out likely?

  • Google has started testing the mobile first index. Google hasn’t committed to a date for a fuller implementation.

How can I tell if Google is seeing mobile content?

  • The easiest way to see how Google is picking up your mobile content will be to use the Fetch and Render tool in the Google Search Console. Specify the mobile:smartphone user-agent, and this will show you what Google can see and index from your mobile site.

In summary

  • Going forward Google will rank your mobile and desktop sites based on signals from a mobile point of view.
  • This means that page speed is ever more important. Google will also look at the page title, H1s, structured data and other tags and content generated from the mobile site, over the desktop version.

Sites that are fully responsive will see very little change we believe.