Googles “Mobile First Index” update and how this will affect SEO rankings
Google is perhaps rolling out the most important update for years with its very recently announced “Mobile First Index”. For a long time now Google has been encouraging web masters and site owners to make their sites responsive and mobile friendly. This is perhaps old news, but there were many changes and actions made by Google over the last few years that affected site owners financially due to lost traffic from not having a mobile friendly site and losing money from that sudden decrease in users.
The reason Google decided to make changes in this area is that search queries have been steadily increasing for mobile searches over desktop and in about 2015 they announced that 10 of the worlds leading countries had finally gone past 50%. So what is the new update about? Well the clue is in the name, for the first time Google will be generating its index (rankings) from the mobile version of your site first, rather than the traditional crawl of your desktop site. So what I hear some of you say? Well this could make a potentially big difference to rankings. It’s unlikely that this update will be a world wide instant roll out as it will cause too much fluctuation and user experience loss to its users so instead it will slowly be rolled out worldwide throughout 2018.
“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.”
What if you don’t have a mobile site? Well then Google will simply use your desktop version, but bear in mind Google gave warning in the SERP (search engine results page) in the past warning users that sites were not mobile friendly and so heavily influencing people to click on sites that were. There will soon not be any mobile mobile friendly adjustment, with all results coming from the mobile index meaning your desktop results will obviously be affected too as there will only be one unified index, with mobile being the basis due to it’s higher percentage of users. Google is simply following where users are heading by providing results based on their needs so it seems crazy not take notice of this as mobile searches will not go back down and suddenly be overtaken by desktop again.
How much will my Google rankings change with this Google update?
The main reason this should be a worry for a lot of business owners is that their mobile versions (whether a dedicated or responsive version) may have significantly large portions of its content hidden, blocked or pages removed completely. This has traditionally been done for a number of obvious reasons that affect the overall user experience including, page load times, large headers and banners just forcing more scrolling, images that affect screen space etc etc etc
Two Google representatives have stated that they only want minimal change based around this update, but this is not only vague but massively contradictory. If there was going to be little to no difference in the rankings and Google would simply use your desktop version to rank you, then why did they punish sites in the past and why bother with this update at all if it wont affect the SERP? It obviously really means that they don’t want there to be mass confusion and negative publicity from site owners who feel penalised so there will obviously be quite a lot of shifts in the rankings and the index, but Google will simply slowly roll the out gradually to minimise that backlash.
Will Mobile First Index actually benefit already mobile-friendly sites?
This is hard to say, but it seems that content that has already been made expandable (accordion boxes, hidden tabs and expandable tabs etc) could carry more weight on mobile as they are designed to enhance the mobile experience, whereas on the desktop version they don’t, so its entirely possible that sites already well designed an optimised for mobile could get a boost in the rankings. This will be further amplified by their competitors dropping down so you can easily see that this can make a big difference to your business.
How do you tell if Google is indexing your mobile pages? Well luckily Google has already provided web designers, SEO consultants and site owners the “Fetch and Render Tool” in their Search Console. This enables you to see a preview of what Google will see when viewing your site. If anything is missing it will give you a chance to rectify it. More importantly, if your site ranks well and gets the vast majority of its traffic from mobile devices, then it might be a good idea to make sue that the mobile version is optimised as good as it can be to be prepared for this latest change.