Ad Technology

To Be or Not To Be: That is the Mobile First Index

By: Jess Carson

Anyone who has even the smallest link to a search engine marketer has heard the phrase “Mobile First Index” uttered in reverence, anxiety and/or fear. We know this major algorithm update will shake up Google’s search engine results in a huge way, but the question is when? With the announcement coming out way back in late 2016, it is now likely the update won’t happen until 2018 at the earliest. As Google likes to stay as tight-lipped as possible on the timing of algorithm updates (especially the major ones), the best thing for you to do is prepare as soon as possible.

Back up for those who are catching up: What is the Mobile First Index?

That is the question, is it not? The search engines have two separate indexes for a site – one for desktop and one for mobile. As of now, Google creates its search listings based on the desktop version of your website. As the world turns more digital and smartphones inch closer and closer to being handheld personal assistants, it is not surprising that there is a massive uptick in the amount of users surfing the web on mobile devices. Therefore, to cater to this, the Mobile First Index will flip the listing ranking algorithm on its head and use the mobile version of sites to determine rankings – even for those listings shown to desktop users.

Is this Mobilegeddon 2.0?

Well…no. Mobilegeddon was a mobile index-specific algorithm update back in 2015. This was likely put into place in order to encourage users to make sure their site was mobile-friendly by boosting those sites within the mobile search index. The upcoming Mobile First Index casts a wider net by taking the entire mobile index and using it first when determining the ranking for a site. I’m sure this update will get its own nickname in due time, though, don’t you worry.

Should I be worried? What if I don’t have a mobile site?

That really depends on your site. If your site is mobile-friendly, has great content and is technically sound, Google is actually hoping that you won’t see any negative change. If you have a responsive website, then you’re basically already ready for the update (assuming your site follows best practices).

If you only have a desktop site, don’t worry, Google will still index your site just fine. But, keep the user in mind here. So many are searching on mobile devices now so, if your desktop site provides a less-than-stellar user experience, you may suffer in the rankings because of other factors.

What are some things I should make sure of?

The Official Google Blog has some excellent steps to take to ensure your site is in the best position possible to benefit from this update. Here are a few:

  • Make sure both your desktop and mobile sites are verified in Google Search Console
  • Serve structured data for both versions of your site
  • You can check if Googlebot can access your mobile site by using the txt tester

And lastly, if you’re in a rush to build a mobile site due to this index, keep in mind that a well-functioning desktop site will fair better than an incomplete, sloppy or technically flawed mobile site. At the end of the day, all the updates that are happening are done so that the end user has the best experience possible. As long as you are making sure of that on your website, you should be just fine.