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Mobile-first indexing is one of Google’s many initiatives that focuses on making mobile browsing experience better for users. In March, the search engine giant announced that it will begin rolling out mobile-first indexing to more sites starting July this year.
The announcement stirred panic amongst webmasters and SEO specialists. Their main concern is how this change will impact SEO and search rankings. How much will it affect mobile search results? Does it affect rankings for desktop queries?
These confusions and fears aren’t unfounded. After all, when Google released the mobile friendly update in 2015, it significantly affected search rankings. However, you have to keep in mind that what was implemented during Mobilegeddon was a ranking algorithm update.
What Is Mobile-First Indexing?
Mobile-first indexing was first introduced in 2016, a year after the tech giant confirmed that there are already more mobile searches than desktop searches. Clearly, this major shift in how pages are indexed shows how Google is adapting to changing times, particularly the growing reliance of users on mobile devices for their online searches.
What is it about? Mobile-first indexing is a change in the way Google indexes web pages. As the name suggests, the mobile version of web page content is going to be prioritised over the desktop version.
This change has no impact on pages which already have a responsive design. This is because content on the desktop and mobile versions of responsive websites are the same.
It is mainly an issue for those who have different websites for their desktop and mobile versions. In these cases, the content for the desktop version is usually not identical to the mobile version. Oftentimes, the mobile version has less content than the desktop version due to space and size limitations. With the implementation of mobile-first indexing, the mobile version’s shorter-form content is what’s going to be indexed. This is where it can become problematic.
Does Mobile-First Indexing Affect Rankings?
Before we answer this question, you need to understand the difference between indexing and ranking. Indexing is the process of reading and storing website information. Ranking is the evaluation of indexed information to find out which websites have content which are relevant to a search query. If your page is not indexed, then Google cannot rank it.
Mobile-first indexing is not a change in how Google ranks websites, but rather a shift in its indexing priorities. Hence, this should not have a major effect on website rankings. However, it is a different story for those with different sites for their desktop and mobile version.
As mentioned earlier, for these sites, content on the desktop version is different from the mobile version. The desktop content tends to be “meatier” and more complete than the mobile content. Since the shorter-form mobile version is what’s going to be indexed, the site is going to be ranked based on this information. If the mobile version is missing pertinent information and some necessary ranking signals, then the page may rank lower as compared to before when indexing prioritised desktop versions.
Will it change rankings on desktops? Mobile-first indexing will only affect the desktop ranking of a website which has a separate mobile site and if that mobile version is not properly optimised just like its desktop counterpart. So, to avoid a dip in your desktop ranking, make sure that the mobile version of your website is identical to the desktop version and SEO-friendly. Better yet, shift to a responsive design.
It is also worth mentioning that, for a specific query, a website’s ranking on desktop search result may not be the same on a mobile search result. Why is this so? The ranking factors for desktop results are not exactly the same as those applied in mobile results. For one, page speed has been a ranking factor for desktop for many years now. On the other hand, mobile page speed as a ranking factor has only been applied last July. This is primarily the reason why, even if Google refers to only one index, ranking for desktop and mobile searches may vary.
Mobile-first indexing is a big change. But you do not have to panic, especially if you have a responsive website design. If not, just do your due diligence – evaluate your mobile site and ensure it is equal to your desktop site.
Worried that mobile-first indexing will affect your rankings? Let our SEO specialists help you. Call us at 01 960 9023 today!