Confused about what mobile-first indexing is or what it means for your site? Look no further: here is Google’s mobile indexing update explained.

Do you spend more time browsing the internet on your phone, or on your computer? If you’re part of the majority, you already use the web on mobile devices much more than on desktop devices. Google is aware of people’s changing surfing habits more than anyone, and as a result, their search algorithms are ever-evolving.

Recently, search results on Google are increasingly based on mobile-first indexing. This has to do with which version of a website – mobile or desktop – is used to determine its relevance to the search a user makes. What does this mean, how does it work, and what consequences does it have for your website? We will answer all of these questions about Google’s mobile indexing in 2018 in this post. We’ll also tell you a bit about what we can do for you at Koncept to ensure your business continues to flourish online in light of this update.

What is mobile-first indexing?

In short, mobile indexing, or mobile-first indexing, is an updated way for Google to find and list websites in their search results. Let’s go into a little more detail.

Statistics show that most people browse the web on their smartphones rather than on laptops and PCs. In October 2016, according to Statcounter, 51.3% of internet usage already came from mobile devices, and this figure has only grown since. For one, this means it’s crucial for website designs to be mobile-friendly so that the majority of users can view and use them properly.

To give you a little more background, in the times before smartphones overtook desktop devices, search results displayed on Google were based primarily on the desktop versions of websites, even when a user searched on the mobile version of Google. This caused problems when a website’s desktop and mobile content differed. You may have come across this problem yourself: the website preview on Google would display text from the desktop version that you couldn’t find once you actually opened the site on your mobile.

To fix this problem and continue to optimise mobile browsing for improved user experience, Google has begun experimenting with mobile indexing in the last few years. This means that search results will primarily be based on a website’s mobile version rather than the content displayed on the desktop version. In 2018, mobile-first indexing is still being developed and cautiously implemented by Google. However, web developers are already preparing for the changes it will bring. More about that later.

How does mobile-first indexing work?

With Google’s mobile-first indexing, as the name suggests, mobile sites become the primary basis through which search results and their rankings are determined, whereas desktop versions are secondary, and are mostly used when there is no mobile version.

This does not mean that desktop-only sites can no longer be found on Google, but it does mean that they will likely appear much further down than mobile-friendly websites. On the contrary, websites with excellent mobile versions or sites fully optimised for mobile browsing will potentially see a boost in their search engine results rankings, even when searches are made on desktop devices.

For sites with separate URLs for their mobile and desktop versions, Google will display the mobile URL for mobile searches, and the desktop URL for searches made on desktop devices. Makes sense, right? However, in both cases, Google will use the content on the mobile site for indexing purposes.

Did you know?

Google gathers information from web-pages using software called crawlers. These are bots that quite literally browse the internet like a user would. Crawlers visit websites and follow links to discover publicly available web-pages. They then bring the information they find back to Google servers. This information eventually forms Google’s search index, which consists of hundreds of billions of webpages, and is well over a million gigabytes in size.

The index can be compared to the index in the back of a giant encyclopedia. There is an entry for every word on every webpage they index. The search index also keeps track of key signals relating to every website, such as its age and keywords.

This is where SEO comes in. Search engine optimisation ensures that your website appears high up in the results pages for relevant searches. The key is to do this strategically, by picking out the most suitable keywords and including them in your site’s web-pages in a natural, high-quality way. Providing valuable informative content and creating backlinks to your site are also crucial, as this makes it more likely for crawlers to frequently land on your site, and consequently improves your search rankings.

How will mobile-first indexing impact your website?

The most obvious impact is that the mobile version of your website will be considered the primary version, while the desktop version is taking a backseat. If your website design is optimised for mobile already, this should not cause any damage to your search rankings. Similarly, if the content on your mobile and desktop sites is identical, this will not harm your position on search engine results pages, or SERPs.

However, if your site does not have a mobile version, or the mobile version does not contain all the content and features that the desktop version does, the mobile-first indexing update can adversely affect how your site performs on search results.

As a result, web developers and digital media agencies are now prioritising mobile-friendly web-designs. Whereas previously, desktop versions received all the attention, including more content and better structure; websites are now built to be optimised for all devices. This means the mobile version is both user-friendly and provides excellent online visibility, attracting traffic and potential customers searching from both mobile and desktop devices.

So how do you optimise a website for mobile? Firstly, you need excellent page speed and loading times, because we all know how frustrating it is when a website doesn’t load properly or fast enough. Images and dynamic elements of the site should be optimised for the mobile experience too, meaning that they are of high resolution, and appear in the right place at the right time, fitting on-screen as they should. Furthermore, there should be no other bugs or glitches.

Note that with mobile-first indexing, content which is collapsed or hidden in tabs to save space will be treated the same as fully visible content (the same way it is now). Google understands the space limitations on mobile and considers saving room in this way a mobile best practice.

There is no exact timeline for when mobile-first indexing will fully replace desktop-first indexing. However, that doesn’t mean you should sit around and wait for it to happen. Start ensuring your website is in top form ahead of time.

What can Koncept do for you?

Koncept is a digital media agency based in Norwich. We specialise in everything that will help make your website more attractive, functional, and visible. We offer our services to businesses in Norwich and beyond, including website design, search marketing, graphic design, social media, website hosting, and much more.

Our mission is to take care of the online aspects of your business so you can worry about the other things. If you’re concerned about how your website will perform in light of Google’s mobile-first indexing update, or you simply want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your online presence, get in touch with us today. We will provide you with a free overview of how your website can be optimised and updated to maximise traffic, including ideas for mobile-friendly website designs that will help your site perform excellently on Google.

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