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What is Mobile First Indexing?

February 2019

In March 2018, Google announced that it would be “migrating sites to follow the best practices for mobile-first indexing.” The announcement signalled a sea change in how Google indexes sites and prioritizes them for search rankings. In the past, the search engine had always looked first and foremost at the desktop version of a website. Not so long ago, mobile sites were only a blip on the radar—a luxury that some websites offer, but not all. However, when mobile searches overtook desktop searches a few years ago, Google started experimenting with a mobile-first index to stay with the trends. Today, we are officially living in a mobile-first world.

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What does mobile-first indexing mean, exactly? Ostensibly, it means that Google is making its decisions about search rankings based on the mobile version of a website. Mobile-first indexing does not say that Google now has two separate versions of its index: one mobile and one desktop. There is still just one Google index, spanning all the websites on the internet.

What mobile-first indexing means is that most of the sites in that index are indexed by their mobile versions instead of their desktop versions. This form of indexing helps Google better serve the wants and needs of the growing number of users who are conducting searches on their smartphones or tablets.

As of 2018, Google was just rolling out mobile-first indexing. The company had not yet gone the full nine yards to switch everything over to mobile-first indexing, which means it probably still isn’t universal. In other words, some sites on the web are now being indexed mobile-first, while others are being indexed in the traditional desktop-first manner.

Since the rollout isn’t complete, the consequences of mobile-first indexing probably won’t be felt across the board for another few years. For instance, Google noted in its initial blog post that sites being indexed desktop-first would not automatically rank below sites that had been indexed mobile-first. Therefore, we likely haven’t seen any significant search ranking shifts because of mobile-first indexing—yet, at least.

The important point to note is that mobile sites are starting to matter more and more for search engine optimization. Sites that are responsive and mobile-friendly have little reason for concern from Google’s pivot to mobile-first indexing. Websites that are still difficult to access, navigate, or read on mobile platforms can expect to see dips in their rankings sooner or later.

Of course, Google still considers many factors when indexing sites and appraising them for search rankings. If a site has the most relevant content for a search, Google will still rank it highly—even if that site does not have a mobile-friendly design. However, for mobile searches especially, sites that aren’t easily usable on phones or tablets are going to start ranking lower and lower.

How can your business respond to these shifts? If you don’t have a responsive site design, getting one should be your first step. Having a site that loads quickly is essential, too, and focusing on readability is never a bad idea. On mobile, smaller paragraphs tend to be preferable to big blocks of text.

At Inherent, we can help you navigate and master these changes so that your site is ready for the world of mobile-first indexing. Contact us today to get started.