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Google’s “mobile-first” indexing change: A quick guide for publishers

After a year and a half of experimentation, earlier this year Google started rolling out its mobile-first indexing to more sites globally.

Mobile-first indexing means that the mobile version of a website is now considered the starting point for what Google includes in their index.

In its Best Practices for Mobile-first Indexing guide, Google explained,

“Mobile-first indexing means Google will predominantly use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. 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 via a mobile device, the index will primarily use the mobile version of a page’s content going forward. We aren’t creating a separate mobile-first index. We continue to use only one index.”

In anticipation of this significant change, Google had already started educating publishers on how to make this transition seamlessly via the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog, e.g., Getting your site ready for mobile-first indexing.

Since publishers are still adapting to this change, Google took to Twitter to address aspects of mobile-first indexing content creators wanted more information on.

Here are the latest updates shared by Google:

1. Mobile content prioritised

If a page has different URLs for mobile and desktop, Google will show the mobile searchers the mobile URL and the desktop searchers the desktop URL. In either case, the indexed content will be the mobile version of the website, irrespective of the URL displayed by Google.

2. Crawling shifts to mobile

Google said the number of pages it crawls per day will not change much, but the balance will shift from mostly desktop pages crawled to mostly mobile pages crawled.

3. Temporary Google cache issues 

While the mobile-indexing process is in process, some publishers may see an error in indexing, where the Google cache link sometimes may not return anything or show a blank page. It’s a known issue Google is working on, and has no impact on indexing or ranking.

4. “Speed update” not related to mobile-first indexing

speed update is coming up in July, where Google will start using mobile page speed as a ranking factor in their mobile search results. They emphasised that this is not related to mobile-first indexing, although publishers should definitely look at making their websites faster, since having fast-loading content is helpful in performing better for both mobile and desktop users.

5. Mobile user interface clarifications

For content creators concerned about whether using accordions or hamburger menus—elements that make mobile site navigation easier for the users—affect their search rankings negatively, Google assured it was perfectly fine to do so.

6. Not mobile-friendly? Not a problem (yet)

Pages that are not mobile-friendly will still be indexed by Google, although they are definitely urging publishers to “embrace mobile”.

7. Ranking factor?

For publishers whose websites may not yet be in the mobile-first index, Google clarified that while mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor on mobile, it’s unrelated to being in the mobile-first index. So priority should be making the sites mobile-friendly, and Google will take care of the indexing.

8. Endnote

For publishers looking to know more, Google shared some of their documentation on mobile-first indexing and mobile sites:

  1. Mobile-first Indexing
  2. Mobile-friendly Websites
  3. Best practices for mobile-first indexing
  4. Rolling out mobile-first indexing

In the final analysis, going mobile and going fast is critical for publishers looking for a significant chunk of traffic from Google, especially when the audience count via Facebook is on the decline.