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how does google mobile first indexing work

Mobile-first indexing has been grabbing the attention of SEO professionals for the last two years. And talk has intensified among search experts as Google is slowly making strides towards making the web more mobile friendly.

Mobile-first indexing indicates a major change in Google’s guidelines for SEO professionals and website owners. This has given birth to a lot of questions for site owners and experts.

What are going to be the effects of mobile-first indexing?

How it will change the search indexing and ranking of a website, whether for local search or broader searches?

How Google Mobile-First Indexing Works and Its Effect on SEO

To get a clear idea of what Google is trying to do you have to first understand the process of indexing and ranking.

Indexing and ranking

I will try to be as simple as possible. So, when you index your website, it is crawled by the search engine crawler that reads and stores the information on your website. Basically the search engine is storing all the information of your website in its index, like a library.

Ranking is the process that happens after the complete indexing of your website. This is where the search engine uses the information it has already stored in its index regarding your website to rank you on search results pages. Search engines will rank you on the basis of quality and relevance of your content with regards to your search queries.

Long story short, indexing is the foundation and your rankings are built upon it.

Mobile-first indexing

Mobile-first indexing is exactly as it is written -- it is indexing. Though a major shift, it’s simply a change in Google’s indexing policy in which your mobile site will be given first preference when indexing. That doesn’t mean that your desktop version will be completely disregarded but it will no longer be the primary version of your website.

This probably will not affect your website search rankings much since your website is just having its mobile version indexed first. A problem may arise only when your mobile version is not up there with your desktop version, if there is less content on the mobile version or if the videos and pictures are not there in the mobile version, this may damage your rankings.

Why is Google moving towards mobile-first indexing?

This is a no-brainer, as with the ever-increasing mobile traffic Google’s attention was bound to take a turn towards this. Most users surfing the internet are mobile users. If you monitor the traffic on your website, you will see the majority of traffic is from smartphone Googlebot. It was inevitable that Google was going to make website owners move toward mobile-friendly versions of their website.

What happens now?

There’s no need to get jittery about it, and I’ll tell you why. First, Google is in the testing stage of this process and is moving rather slowly and cautiously. Only the websites Google deems ready for this change are being given this pill to swallow.

Secondly, it will not affect your business and ranking a whole lot if you have a live responsive version that is fast and equivalent to the desktop version. If that is the case, then you probably need not worry.

Just keep your mobile website optimized and up to the task.

What should one do with his or her mobile website?

If you have a mobile version of your website, which you must have, then you need to keep an eye on certain things.

  • Make sure your website has the same high quality or similar high quality content with the same information and keywords. Don’t forget that if you have images or videos on your desktop version then they must be on the mobile version also. It is all about providing the consumer a complete experience.
  • The same goes for meta titles and description of your website -- keep them identical or similar to your desktop version.
  • Make sure your social buttons on the desktop version are also present on the mobile version of your website.
  • Also keep in mind that any links to the sitemap of your website on the desktop are present on the mobile version.
  • Structured data must be the same for both the mobile and desktop versions of your website, so just don’t add any irrelevant information within the structured data.


What if my mobile version is not responsive or I don’t have a mobile version for my website?

Firstly, you need to understand that the ranking of your desktop version will not stop as there is still a very significant number of users with desktop versions. But if the mobile version of your website is not responsive then you are going to suffer for rankings. Not that you will be stuck or automatically thrown down the pecking order, but websites with responsive and equivalent mobile websites will be given preference.

If you do not have a mobile version, I suggest you get one. Google is already forcing site owners to have a mobile responsive version, and this has become a major ranking factor. So, if you do not have one right now then it’s likely your rankings are suffering or will be soon.

And as the chart below indicates, the mobile share of organic search is trending up.

mobile share organic search trafficSource: Statista

Will Google use the mobile version to rank my website?

Basically, what Google will do is index your mobile version first, which means that Google will make mobile version of your website the primary version, as I mentioned earlier. Keeping this in mind, your desktop version will still have value, especially if that’s all you currently have. If that’s the case, it’s time to follow the mobile-first trend and get a responsive mobile version.

But that does not mean you disregard your desktop version. You will see search results vary on desktop searches and mobile searches. You will have to work equally hard on both versions.

Subhan Irshad is a contributor and blogger who loves to share his experience and knowledge about digital marketing. He’s currently associated with SEO Hub, writing about the latest trends in digital marketing.

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