Google Shifting Entirely To Mobile-first Indexing By September
Google has announced that it will start indexing all websites by their mobile versions beginning in September.
Mobile-first indexing means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking in search engine results.
Historically, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page’s content when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user’s query. Since the majority of users now access Google Search with a mobile device, Google will begin primarily crawling and indexing pages with the smartphone agent going forward.
Given the explosive growth of mobile in recent years, Google’s prior reliance on the desktop version of a site to determine relevancy could cause problems for mobile searchers.
Mobile sites, or versions of websites, are often smaller and less copy rich than desktop versions. Causing Google to think it is returning a detailed desktop result and instead returning sometimes light-weight mobile content for those on mobile devices.
Google started the mobile-first indexing process in 2016 and has been steadily migrating businesses across over the past four years.
John Mueller, Google Developer Advocate
“It’s been a few years now that Google started working on mobile-first indexing – Google’s crawling of the web using a smartphone Googlebot. From our analysis, most sites shown in search results are good to go for mobile-first indexing, and 70% of those shown in our search results have already shifted over.”
From September, Google will still occasionally crawl with the traditional desktop Googlebot, but most crawling for Search will be done with its mobile smartphone user-agent.
Do Not Confuse Mobile Usability & Mobile-First Indexing
If Google can crawl the text on your website, and that text can be displayed on a mobile device, then your website can be added to mobile-first indexing.
However, that does not mean it is suitable for mobile users, so this is something which all organisations will need to be mindful of moving forward.
John Mueller, Google Developer Advocate, August 2019
“So, first off, again mobile usability is completely separate from mobile-first indexing. A site can or cannot be usable from a mobile point of view, but it can still contain all of the content that we need for mobile-first indexing.
An extreme example, if you take something like a PDF file, then on mobile that would be terrible to navigate. The links will be hard to click, the text will be hard to read. But all of the text is still there, and we could perfectly index that with mobile-first indexing.
Mobile usability is not the same as mobile-first indexing.”
Since mobile-friendliness and mobile-responsive layouts are not mandatory for mobile-first indexing, this is still something which needs to be factored in for many businesses.
Google’s mobile usability test or the mobility usability report in Search Console would be a good starting point to identify issues and to make improvements if needed.
What To Do Next With Your Website?
In Search Console, there are multiple ways to check for mobile-first indexing.
Google continues to support various ways of making mobile websites, yet recommends responsive web design for new websites. For anyone not running a responsive site, Google suggests not using separate mobile URLs (often called “m-dot”) because of issues and confusion both from search engines and users.
Google has advised businesses to maintain the same primary content across the desktop and mobile versions of their sites, recently adding the following warning in its mobile-first indexing developers guide:
“WARNING: If it’s your intention that the mobile page should have less content than the desktop page, you can expect some traffic loss when your site is enabled mobile-first indexing, since Google can’t get as much information from your page as before.”
Lazy loading of primary content is discouraged, as the Googlebot will not load content that requires user interaction, such as clicking, typing or swiping, to load. While Structured data should be identical on both versions of your site. URLs within the structured data of your mobile site should also use mobile URLs.
For more detail on navigating Google’s September changes, check out Google’s Mobile-first indexing best practices now.