Google’s Mobile-First Indexing Update Hits More Websites

Over the past week, Google has been sending notices that mobile-first indexing is enabled for a vast number of websites.

So far, this is the largest batch of notices sent out since the mobile-first indexing began to occur.

Google has started using a mobile-first index as most people are searching using a mobile device. The rankings, however, still depend on the desktop version of the content to evaluate the relevance to the user searching.

When a mobile site has a different version, or less content, this can mean a mobile user hits irrelevant or lacking content. Google has been evaluating the page as seen by someone searching on a mobile device.

Google announced this way back in October 2016, and it has slowly been rolling out to websites. However, the last week in September 2018 has seen the biggest amount of notifications that mobile-first indexing has been enabled for sites.

Sites that were not mobile-friendly tended to be the first to be moved, but now mobile-friendly sites are being moved over.

What’s mobile-first indexing all about?

As more people are using their mobile devices to search, this means the content needs to be the most relevant it can be for Google users. And that is why Google is now ranking websites based on the mobile version of the site.

Google puts it this way:

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

We understand this is an important shift in our indexing and it’s one we take seriously. We’ll continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale and we’ll ramp up this change when we’re confident that we have a great user experience. Though we’re only beginning this process, here are a few recommendations to help webmasters prepare as we move towards a more mobile-focused index

What do I need to do for mobile-first indexing?

If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where content is equivalent between desktop and mobile, no changes are needed.

Site configurations where primary content is different across mobile and desktops, changes will be needed.

Google’s official recommendations include:

  • Serve structured markup for both versions
  • Use the robots.txt testing tool to verify the mobile version of your website is accessible to Googlebot
  • No need to change canonical links – links are used as guides to serve the right results to users
  • Add and verify the mobile version of your site if required
  • If you only have a desktop site, the site will be indexed, even if the mobile user agent is used to view the site.

How does it impact rankings?

It shouldn’t have too much of an impact on your rankings if you already have a mobile site. Which, in 2018, it’s assumed you already have.

If you still don’t have a responsive website, or your desktop version of the site is vastly different to what is seen on mobile, your rankings may change in Google.

Google tweeted the following on the Webmasters account:

On ranking: The mobile-first index doesn’t change anything for ranking other than that the mobile content is used. While mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor on mobile, being in the mobile-first index is not.

John Mueller, the Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, tweeted that:

A common misconception is that mobile-first indexing is related to mobile-friendliness — they’re completely independent. If you have that many sites verified (luckily there’s a 1k limit :)), I’d just mute that message.

If a site has shifted to MFI and removes content from the mobile version, we’ll continue to just index the mobile version. If the content isn’t there anymore, well, it won’t be in the index anymore either.

What this batch of notifications means isn’t exactly known, – but it’s likely to be close to if not the final push towards the mobile-first index. So if you haven’t had the notification yet, it’s likely you’re in the minority rather than the majority. If you don’t see this soon, you may wish to reconsider why your site hasn’t been put into the mobile-first index.