Mobile-First Indexing: What You Need to Know to Be Prepared

changes from mobile-first indexing

Now that almost all Google searches are generated on mobile devices, Google will use the mobile version of your site as the baseline to determine search rankings. The time to prepare is now.  


It’s been a long time in the making, but Google has finally announced that on July 1, 2019, mobile-first indexing, or using the mobile version of a website to determine search ranking, will now be the default method of indexing moving forward.


Google has been developing and testing the mobile-first indexing initiative since 2016 when it first announced the concept and plans to eventually roll it out web-wide. It was then applied to select sites, bit by bit, and by the end of 2018, half of all pages on the web were being indexed by the mobile version of their website.


So, what exactly is mobile-first indexing and what can you do to make sure you’re in alignment? Here’s what you need to know:


What is mobile-first indexing?


In the simplest terms, mobile-first indexing is Google’s way of catering to the new wave of mobile users by helping them to easily search the web. Instead of initially scanning the desktop version of your site to deal rankings and deliver search results, Google will now start with the mobile version of your website as the baseline for those determinations. Basically, mobile-first indexing turns the mobile version of your site into the primary, and the desktop version is considered the alternate.


Why is this change necessary? Because for years now, the majority of all Google searches have begun on mobile devices. Since most everyone prefers to search the web using mobile, it makes sense that Google would use the mobile version a website to deliver search results, as opposed to the desktop version.


How to prepare for mobile-first indexing


The good news is, if you already have a mobile-responsive site with the same content as your desktop site, you’re probably golden.


If, on the other hand, you don’t have a mobile site, or if your mobile site does not mirror the desktop version of your site, you’ll want to pay close attention to the following:


  • Your content: Your content, including text, videos, links, and images, should be the same across the mobile and desktop versions of your site.


  • Structured data: Include the same structured data on both the mobile and desktop versions of your site, but make sure that the URL’s in the structured data on your mobile pages are updated to the mobile version.


  • Metadata: This is one area that does not need to be identical to the desktop version of your site. Instead, they only need to be equivalent. Feel free to shorten the character count, but be sure to relay the same information and keep all relevant keywords.


Social metadata on the desktop version of your site should also be included on the mobile version.


  • Fast loading: To stay on the right side of mobile-first indexing, your mobile site should load even faster than your desktop version, if possible. Shoot for a load time of under 2 seconds.


  • Google Search Console: Make sure the mobile version of your site is added and verified as a separate property in Google Search Console.


  • Server Capacity: With mobile-first indexing, there will be an increased crawl rate from the (Smartphone) Googlebot, so make sure your mobile server has the capacity to handle that.


  • Hreflang: If you use rel=hreflang for internalization, you’ll want to link between the mobile and desktop URLs separately. Your mobile URL’s hreflang should point to the mobile versions, and your desktop’s URL’s should point to the desktop versions.


  • Google’s Webmaster Blog Post: Since there is no such thing as being too informed, try reading the post that Google released to get the lowdown straight from the horse’s mouth.


While lots of sites today have gone through the motions to prepare for this initiative, those who have not have a variety of tools and resources to help them get up to speed. The URL Inspection Tool can be used by site owners to see when it was last crawled and indexed, and there is also an abundance of information offered by Google on how to make and adjust websites so that they comply with mobile-first indexing.  


At the end of the day, this initiative is a direct reflection of the forward momentum we continue to make as a community of mobile searchers. If you keep that in perspective and do what it takes to be mobile-first and compliant, you’ll sail through this monumental algorithm update.


Learn more about how mobile-first indexing fits into your overall SEO strategy.

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