Google’s next big mobile shake-up is fast approaching and it’s raising a lot of questions from website owners. Google is switching to mobile-first indexing, meaning it will use the mobile version of your website to index your pages – ahead of the ‘desktop’ version.
Sounds simple enough, but there are a number of things to consider if you have a separate mobile site or use design techniques to adapt your content for different devices. So let’s run through what mobile-first indexing means and whether you need to do anything about it.
Responsive sites will be fine
If you’ve already got a responsive website, then your mobile page and desktop pages are one and the same. So mobile-first indexing won’t really change much of anything. Google has been recommending responsive design for years as the way to go about mobile optimisation but it’s never given a direct advantage to these websites.
This could change once Google fully rolls out mobile-first indexing.
What about separate mobile sites?
If you have a separate mobile site, then things are a little more complex. Google says you should still be fine, even if you have separate mobile pages but there are some things to consider.
For example, if the mobile version of your site has less content on it than the desktop version, things could get messy. Google will be indexing the mobile page first (as the name suggests) in these cases, which means it could miss the content on your desktop pages altogether.
So.If you have a separate mobile website, make sure all the content you need indexed is on the mobile version, too.
How will this affect hidden or expandable content?
A common technique on mobile designs is to make content more navigable is to use expandable boxes, accordions or tabs. For desktop sites Google gives this hidden/expandable content less weighting but the search giant says this approach on mobile sites will be given the same weighting – as long as its for the sake of improving user experience.
What happens if I don’t have a mobile-optimised site?
If your site isn’t optimised for mobile users at all (where have you been for the last few years?), Google doesn’t want you to panic. In this case, its bots will simply go ahead and index the desktop version of your site as normal.
Google also wants to be clear that it doesn’t expect any major change in rankings to follow this change. While it can’t rule out any ranking drops upon rollout, Gary Illyes and Paul Haahr have both said they don’t want mobile-first indexing to impact the overall ranking of websites.
Of course, ‘mobile-friendly’ is already a ranking factor in Google’s search algorithm but mobile-first indexing shouldn’t bring any additional penalties for not being optimised.
When does mobile-first indexing roll out?
If all goes according to plan, mobile-first indexing should roll out over the next few months. Google is already testing the new setup with a select number of users and it’s fully committed to making the switch. If things run smoothly, it could even move rollout forward, but it hasn’t ruled out moving things back if they experience any teething problems.
So mobile-first indexing shouldn’t be anything to worry about for most website owners. The only real concern will be if you have separate desktop and mobile sites, with less content on the mobile version. Which reinforces Google’s recommendation of responsive design – something to keep in mind if you’re considering a mobile redesign in the near future.
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