What is mobile first indexing?
Have you ever wondered how Google decides which pages show up at the top of a search result and which ones place lower down? As it turns out, the search engine uses a process called indexing. Basically, Google’s software crawls through web pages looking for matches between content and your search terms, then gives a ranking to each web page based on relevance. Since the internet began with websites designed for desktop computers, until now Google’s index has given priority to traditional desktop sites. However, sometime early next year, that’s all going to change…
The tech giant will switch to mobile first indexing towards the beginning of 2018. Instead of prioritizing desktop versions of websites, Google’s algorithm will first look at mobile sites. It’s about time, too! As far back as 2015, over 50% of all searches have been conducted via smartphones and tablets, not traditional computers. By using desktop first indexing, these searches often return web pages that aren’t optimized to your phone or tablet’s smaller screen.
So when’s the switch happening exactly?
That’s the million dollar question. Google has stated that it will make the switch once mobile first search results are, “quality neutral,” meaning the company will hold off until it’s confident the change won’t negatively impact user experience. That being said, Google’s webmaster trends analyst, Gary Illyes, confirmed on two occasions that the company is on track for a 2018 launch.
Let’s get to the bottom line… What does this mean for traffic to my company website?
That depends on how your web presence is structured.
If you have a responsive website – the layout and formatting adapt to fit the screen where it’s being displayed – you shouldn’t be affected. Instead of crawling through a desktop view, the algorithm will simply crawl through the mobile view. Since it’s all the same website, Google will see identical content and your ranking in its index will remain the same.
If you have separate desktop and mobile domains, your ranking could fall, especially if the mobile version of your website is truncated. Mobile first means that Google’s software will give your mobile presence priority over the desktop site. So if your mobile webpages have less content, then chances are they won’t appear as relevant in a search as your desktop site did previously.
If you have no mobile site, not to worry, your old desktop website will still be indexed. After all, we’re talking about mobile first - not mobile exclusive! Still, maybe consider this a gentle nudge to update your existing online presence? Remember, most customers are looking you up through their smartphones.
My mobile site stores some content in drop down menus and tabs… will that hurt my ranking?
No, it will not. This is one of the major shifts that will come with mobile first. Since smartphones provide smaller real estate to display images and text, Google decided that it will attribute equal weight to hidden content.