Mobile-First Indexing Becomes a Reality

Mobile-first indexing has officially commenced, according to Google’s latest Webmaster announcement – an announcement that’s been a year and a half in the making, no less. Over that length of time, and “careful experimentation and testing,” the consumer has undoubtedly guided us to a mobile-first world.

When we covered the first whisperings of this change that occurred at PubCon in October of 2016, it didn’t come as a surprise to us then, and so it certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone today. Beyond the statistics about how many searches begin where, the fact of the matter is that mobile is no longer a channel, it’s an ingrained behavior – utility for everyday interactions, and an augmenter of our digital lives and experiences.

And so, for Google to organize the web in a way that further emphasizes mobile is a good thing for everyone impacted by this change. The overall mobile experience will be improved, as will query intent. It will also help RankBrain (the machine learning-based part of Google’s algorithm) to better evaluate and improve for more users, versus relying on desktop data prior, which ultimately may not have led to a quality user experience.

So, what does it all mean, now?

We’ve pulled the most important details from this announcement, and the most relevant implications:

  1. Note Google’s choice of language – “indexing” means that there won’t be a separate mobile index, but one complete index relying primarily on content on the mobile versions of site pages.
  2. The user will still be served the version of the page that matches their device – Google specifically noted that the mobile-first aspect is “primarily for” mobile users. However, it’s clear that desktop users could be impacted, as well. This would mean that some SERP results for a desktop user could be determined by their mobile-friendliness, compatibility and content.
  3. When sites have AMP and non-AMP pages, Google will prioritize the non-AMP version of that page for the index – this has been speculated about recently, though Google also announced a widespread project that will focus on creating an AMP-like experience for non-AMP web content.
    • “In summary: We are taking what we learned from AMP, and are working on web standards that will allow instant loading for non-AMP web content” (Official AMP WordPress)
  4. Page and site speed were both reinforced, which is not surprising given the announcement earlier this year that page speed will be an official ranking factor for mobile searches, come July of 2018.
  5. For responsive sites that have the same content across desktop and mobile versions, the impact of the index shift should be extremely minimal. For dynamic serving sites, Google prefers the mobile version of the pages for indexing.
  6. Schema markup on mobile sites is required – given Google’s desire to make mobile results more engaging, and the fact that they’ve often used marked up data to find the assets/entities/data to create those results, it’s critical to have marked up mobile pages.
  7. “Being indexed this way has no ranking advantage, and operates independently from our mobile-friendly assessment.” – But we know based on history that the more mobile-first-oriented the content, the more likely it may be given a ranking advantage over content that’s less so.

 

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