Google Changing the Search Game with Mobile-First Index

Businesses will need to move beyond just “mobile-friendly” if they are to stay relevant in their customers’ mobile-first worlds. This was further validated yesterday at Pubcon, when Google representative, Gary Illyes, announced that the search engine will soon deploy a mobile-first index, rather than relying on its desktop index to power mobile search results. The desktop index will remain in place, but “won’t be as fresh” as the mobile one.

No concrete timeline has been established around when the proposed policy will take effect, however Google alluded that change will happen “within months”.

The announcement itself comes as little surprise; Google has been talking about the possibility of a mobile index for more than a year now. Given that mobile searches have outnumbered desktop searches for years, such a move could have been anticipated. The timing does seem a bit abrupt, and the timeline of launch, “within months,” could be a shorter than needed runway for a change of this scale.

While the Mobilegeddon update from April 2015 was anything but, the mobile-first index will have a material effect on search results. It could perhaps have the greatest effect on sites that, reacting to Mobilegeddon, produced makeshift mobile sites.

There are a number of questions we’d like to see Google answer head on, as long before implementation as possible. Brands need time to react, and we’ll be sure you’re equipped with the right answers before making any large-scale shifts in strategy. Here are our current questions:

  1. What will the “less fresh” desktop index look like in practice?
  2. Will people searching on desktop be served results from that desktop index?
  3. Will queries with fresh intent bring the mobile index into play, even for desktop searches?
  4. How can sites balance the need for quality and relevancy signals (images, breadcrumbs, content, etc.) and mobile page load speed?
  5. Follow-up on Question 4: Without having to use AMP
  6. Will we have to alter canonical tactics on m. sites?

In the meantime, we can infer a few preparation tips from the information provided:

  • Sites using an m. site will be the most greatly impacted, and therefore should consider a responsive solution
  • Sites using a third party service to produce an m. site by scraping their desktop site will likely fare very poorly in a mobile-first situation, since those sites are typically stripped most of the elements that signal relevancy and quality
  • Even sites using responsive design will have to consider which elements they’re eliminating on mobile, such as breadcrumbs, in order to balance ranking signals with aesthetics

Each brand’s plan will come together as Google releases more details, but action should start now in order to prepare for this coming change. With mobile search accounting for a greater and greater percentage of overall organic traffic for nearly every site, failing to adapt to a mobile-first index will only lead to more loss of organic visibility.

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