If you haven’t already heard of Google’s mobile first index, welcome to the party.
At the time of writing this (late 2017) no, the mobile-first index has not been rolled out, despite many people thinking the contrary.
The purpose of this post is to shed some light on what the mobile first index is, what it means for SEO, and how web designers and other web professionals can leverage this knowledge to best serve their clients.
What is Google’s mobile first index?
The mobile first index is an updated version of Google’s index where everything that exists within the index is discovered by crawling the web using the same perspective as a mobile device, rather than a desktop.
Currently, Google’s primary index is based on crawling the web as a desktop device. This means whatever content you can see on a website as a desktop, gets stored within the primary index.
Once the mobile first index is rolled out, that will change. Rather than a desktop device, Google will be only indexing content that it finds while crawling the web as a smartphone.
Why is this important for SEO?
There are a few reasons for this:
I think we can all agree that there is less screen size on a mobile device, which means designers and developers need to be better at prioritizing content and making tough decisions on what gets displayed where and how “different” the mobile and desktop versions of a website are.
This content difference could potentially negatively impact organic visibility if there is considerable amount of content that is removed or hidden on a mobile version of a website.
If you’re hiding significant portions of content on pages (think product descriptions, supporting content in feature lists, etc.) then this could impact the overall visibility.
2. Link profile and consistent domain and protocol.
If your website has a both non-www and www versions indexed, and/or both https and http versions indexed it’s time to get serious. Decide on a consistent domain name theme and protocol. We use https://www.seobrothers.co here. Then make sure all other versions redirect to the main version.
Make sure both your mobile content and your desktop content gets served from the exact same URL. Don’t serve a different version within a sub folder (domain.com/mobileversion/) or on a sub domain (m.domain.com) as this could significantly how your existing link profile benefits your visibility.
If everyone on the internet has linked to your website with the www.domain.com version, and your mobile version is being displayed on an m.domain.com version this is a big issue.
It basically means that in a mobile-first index world, your domain does not have any inbound links (as m. and www. are different “domains”).
Be consistent across the board.
3. Page Speed.
This is a long-time coming as even though page speed is a highlight on a lot of SEO’s lists, it has very little impact on actual rankings and visibility (but conversion and user experience is another topic).
Long story short, the time to first byte and the download time of a website is going to more significantly impact organic visibility.
Great, but what does the SEO implications of the Mobile-First index mean for designers and developers?
Understanding both what the mobile first index is and its impact on organic search will allow you to not only come across as an authority in your local market, but also build websites in a way that will perform just as well in a mobile-first world as they would in a desktop-first world.
This is a great topic to bring up during a rebuild discussion with a potential client, or another area to add to a potential audit as a way to sell in a beautiful, responsive website.
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