What Does Mobile First Indexing Really Mean?

First rolled out in 2018, mobile first indexing is a new way for Google to crawl, index and rank websites. In order to provide users with relevant results, Google needs to find out more about your webpages. To do this, Googlebot ‘crawls’ through various site information, including data from past crawls, sitemaps, dead links and new content. With this information, Google can then index and rank websites in order to provide users with relevant SERPs.

Prior to mobile first indexing (MFI), search engines relied predominantly on the desktop version of a web page for crawling, indexing and searching. This means that the desktop version of your site was the main factor when it came to your SEO rankings.

Since the introduction of MFI, however, Google places more importance on the mobile version of webpages. Due to this, it’s the mobile version of your site which will have the most impact on your rankings.

Why is mobile first indexing important?

The introduction of mobile first indexing is a major change in the way Google prioritises the data it gathers. Based on this, the way that it ranks sites has been changed significantly. As a result, you may need to modify your website and SEO strategy to ensure you maintain and improve your rankings.

Digital marketers are constantly having to respond to algorithm changes and new methodologies. However, MFI is designed to enhance UX, and is being welcomed across the industry. More searches are now conducted on mobile devices than desktops, so it makes sense for Google to prioritise mobile-friendly sites.

Mobile phone show increased use of mobile devices and mobile first indexing.

Prior to MFI, the majority of users were searching via mobile devices, but getting results based on data from desktop webpages. If webpages weren’t functional or not optimised for use on mobile devices the user wouldn’t receive useful or relevant results. By switching to mobile first indexing, Google is catering to the masses and ensuring that searches on mobile devices return functional, informative and relevant content.

For website owners, business managers and digital marketers, the introduction of MFI is an important change to the way Googlebot operates, and it’s something you’ll need to act upon.

What does MFI mean for your website?

The impact mobile first indexing will have on your site will depend on what type of website you’re running. If you have a mobile version of your desktop site, it will be the mobile, or mdot URL that Google uses when indexing your site. For AMP and non-AMP sites, Google will prioritise the mobile version of the non-AMP URL. Finally, Google will use mobile optimised content from dynamic sites to index them.

In cases of responsive websites, they’ll be no change to the way your site ranks, because your mobile version is the same as your desktop website. Similarly, the mobile version of Canonical AMP websites is the same as the desktop site, so they’ll be no change to the way your site is indexed.

If you don’t have a mobile version of your website, it doesn’t mean that your website will disappear from SERPs. Google still only uses a single index, so desktop-only sites will still feature. Essentially, a desktop website will appear on a mobile device when there isn’t a dedicated mobile version available. Due to this, Google will still index and rank your desktop website, despite the introduction of MFI.

Should you create a mobile version of your website?

If you only have a desktop version of your website, you could be missing out. Failing to optimise your content for mobile users is often a costly mistake, regardless of mobile first indexing. With the majority of users relying on mobile devices to browse the web, having site content which is optimised for mobile usage ensures functionality, speed and accessibility.

Typically, users spend less than five seconds on a website if they can’t navigate it easily or if it takes too long to load. If mobile users aren’t getting the speed or functionality they expect from your site, they’ll simply switch to a competitor instead.

Whilst MFI is a valid reason to switch to mobile optimised content, user experience is a significant factor too. Although Google will still index desktop-only sites, users may not be so forgiving. If your site doesn’t perform well on mobile devices, you should expect to see a drop in visitors.

Using tablet to show mobile device usage and mobile first indexing.

However, you don’t have to create a separate mobile version of your website to appease Googlebot or satisfy your users. Responsive web design (RWD) is one of the easiest ways to cater to a range of users. With RWD, you won’t need to create or manage various versions of your site. Instead, your site responds to the user’s behaviour and adapts accordingly. Essentially, your site will be optimised for usage on a laptop screen, a 46” SMART TV, a 5.5” smartphone screen or any other device.

As well as enhancing UX, having a responsive website also ensures that you’re satisfying Google’s new approach to indexing. With a responsive website, the mobile ‘version’ of your site is the same as the desktop one. As a result, you won’t miss out when it comes to indexing or rankings.

What does mobile first indexing mean for the future?

Users of all ages are using mobile devices more often that desktops or laptops, according to the latest statistics. The move towards mobile browsing highlights the advancement of tech and evolving user behaviour. As IoT becomes ubiquitious, the use of mobile devices is inevitably going to increase.

Google’s approach to MFI simply mirrors the change in user behaviour already taking place, and responds accordingly. If you don’t currently have a responsive or mobile version of your site, the introduction of MFI is a great reason to get one. However, enhanced UX, increased speed and seamless functionality are, perhaps, even more important when it comes to embracing mobile users.

Get your site ready for mobile first indexing now. To find out more, contact ClickSlice on 020 3287 3638 or email us at hello@clickslice.co.uk