What Is Google’s Mobile-First Index And When Can We Expect It?

by Ella Patenall, Inspiring Interns

Google is always making changes to its search algorithms, to both the delight and dissatisfaction of digital marketers.

This means digital marketers must keep on top of these changes to stay ahead in the game. The latest change kicking up a fuss in the industry is Google’s mobile first index.

What Does ‘Mobile-First Index’ Mean?

Today, over half of the traffic to websites is coming from smartphones. At present, smartphone usage is at 2.5 billion, and in 2020, it is set to reach 2.87 billion and will continue to grow beyond this.

Google’s index refers to all the information Google gains about a web-page – through crawling the content and analysing the user experience. Google is aware of around 130 trillion pages on the web and this increases every minute.

When indexing websites, Google looks at the desktop version of a website. This means that although mobile websites are important for SEO, they have generally been viewed as inferior to web versions. But all this is about to change.

This change is long overdue. If the majority of people are viewing websites on their mobile, and this is set to increase, it makes sense for Google to focus on indexing websites by crawling their mobile version, rather than desktop.

When Will It Happen?

Google has been trialling this method, but no set date has been announced. Rumours have been popping up since early 2017 about its release. The likelihood is that it will be released this year, in the not-so-distant future, but we really don’t know yet.

What If I Don’t Have A Mobile Version?

If you don’t have a mobile version, don’t panic. Google has stated that it will still index the desktop version.

What If My Desktop Website Is Better Than My Mobile?

Many companies’ desktop website will be better than their mobile. If you want to maintain good rankings or improve rankings, you will eventually need to ensure your mobile website is as strong as your desktop version.

Google aims to have only one index – rather than one for mobile and a separate for desktop (which there is currently during the trialling period), so it’s important your mobile site is as good as it can be.

Google will be ranking your mobile site on factors such as its page speeds, coding tags and content.

Google’s Advice

Google is aware users are panicking about this change, so it wants its users to be well prepared. To help, they have released a guide on how to move from m.dot URLs to responsive mobile websites.

m.dot, Responsive And Adaptive Design

In the past, developers would have to create two separate versions of their site; one for mobile and one for desktop. This is known as m.dot pages.

With responsive design, this is no longer necessary. Responsive design does what it says on the tine and is responsive to different web sizes, only requiring you to have one version of the website.

Here is Google’s own explanation:

“Responsive web design, originally defined by Ethan Marcotte in A List Apart responds to the needs of the users and the devices they’re using. The layout changes based on the size and capabilities of the device. For example, on a phone, users would see content shown in a single column view; a tablet might show the same content in two columns.”

In adaptive design, another modern design, you will have a mobile, tablet and desktop version of your site and the server identifies the device and loads the correct version.

Google advises switching your m.dot website to responsive, prior to the mobile-first index change.

It has become clear that it is important to wise up on this change and make the necessary alterations to your mobile site before you get stung with a drop in rankings. For all we know the change could be 5 years off. But, it could happen tomorrow so it’s better to be in the know and stay ahead of your competitors. 

Ella Patenall writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in finding candidates their perfect internship. To browse our graduate jobs, visit our website.