Google’s mobile-first index: how to prepare your business

The important news that we have all been waiting for, Google has finally announced mobile-first indexing.

This of course takes into account that the majority of Google users now “search” on mobile devices, as opposed to desktop computers, and so a shift needed to happen somewhere at some point.

The fact now is that businesses will need to adjust to this new algorithm.

Even if the majority of your users are not searching for your company or industry on mobile devices, you will now need to take mobile search into account for best practice SEO.

Below covers the news from Google and then breaks-down exactly what you need to do to have your business be prepared.

Mobile-first indexing: how it works

Google announced that to date, its search engine has prioritized analysis of desktop version of a webpage’s content rather than mobile version in ranking on Google results pages—even though the majority of “Google Searchers” are using mobile devices.

man's hands with smartphone

As you might expect, they found this to be problematic, as it did not account for the mobile version in determining quality of web pages. Since mobile pages are ultimately the preference for most users searching Google, something had to change.

Google acknowledges that the goal is really to improve the experience for users, whether they are on desktop or mobile. This means that businesses are going to have to pay attention to both the functionality of their desktop page, as well as their mobile page (although this part isn’t really THAT new, since businesses should be optimizing for mobile by now).

Google will continue to index on one page as it does now rather than having a separate index for website and mobile. That being said, it will now place value on mobile pages when indexing a site and determining its position on search results.

Their index is actually going to be primarily comprised by mobile pages, meaning that snippets, structured data, and other content will appear on Google search results.

This is clearly a huge change in indexing, and even if you have been working on mobile optimization and planning for this kind of change over the past months or years, there are still things your business needs to do to be prepared. In the next section we will explore these more in-depth so that you can make a preparation checklist as we enter the New Year.

How your business can be prepared

Don’t panic just yet if you feel like your site is not quite ready to be indexed for mobile, there are definitely things you can do to improve your site right away!

Below are some tips to get you started that directly correlate to this new announcement from Google:

mobile-friendly-test

Optimizing for Mobile Indexing:

  • Mobile Responsiveness. If your site already has a responsive design, by Google’s standards, you will likely not have to do much to be properly indexed for mobile.
  • Mobile Site Configuration. If the content and markup of your site is different on mobile and desktop, you are going to have to make some changes. Read more about site configuration here.
  • Structured Data Testing. Run structured data tests for both URLs and compare the output. Adjust any errors that might be present, but avoid adding any markup that isn’t necessary to mobile sites.
  • Googlebots. Run the txt testing tool to make sure that the mobile version of your site is accessible to Googlebot—this will be key for indexing.
  • Canonical Links. If your site does have canonical links, there is no need to make changes. Google claims that they will “continue to use these links as guides to serve the appropriate results to a user searching on desktop or mobile”.
  • Verify in Search Console. If you have only verified the “desktop version” of your site, you will need to verify your mobile version as well.
  • Building a Mobile Site. If you are building a separate mobile site, it is better to wait and launch it when it is fully functional, rather than launching it too soon. Google will continue to index desktop sites, so it is better to have a quality and complete mobile site.
  • Webmaster Forums. If you have specific questions on your mobile site, you can contact Google Webmasters

It is going to take some time for Google to make this change in prioritizing mobile indexing, so in the mean time, do all that you can to optimize your site and get prepared!

Going through the optimization list will be comprehensive enough to make sure your site is indexed at this point. Google is very likely to put out more information soon, since this is so new, so stay tuned!

The Takeaway

As we all prepare for Google to make the shift to mobile-first indexing, it is really important to make sure that your business site is not only optimized for mobile, but also ready to be searched by Googlebots and indexed in general.

Ultimately, while your desktop version is the version that is affecting your search results currently, this is going to shift shortly. The sooner you can make improvements to your mobile site, the better.

Keep in mind that these efforts for optimization are not just for indexing, but also for mobile users. The reason Google is prioritizing mobile pages and going “mobile-first” is because most users search on mobile, so this is really for your audience and to better you company all around!

Is there anything else you are doing to your website to prepare for this shift? Let us know in the comment section below.

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for HigherVisibility, a full service SEO agency, and a contributor to SEW. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn

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