Google Starts "Mobile First" Indexing

Different Approaches To "Mobile-Friendliness"

Before the invention of tablet computers and the corresponding increase in the number of screen sizes available, most websites catered to mobile devices by having a separate website that was designed solely for them - usually accomplished by having a separate domain (For example, "m.bbc.co.uk"). This approach had some significant disadvantages, including the fact that any links to a company's mobile-only website would not benefit the desktop-only website and vice versa. Now, most websites use "responsive" web design, meaning that the same website is displayed to all users, but that the website responds to the various screen sizes being used by changing it's layout.

Google's Problem With Different Mobile And Desktop Website Versions

Most Google searches are now performed on mobile devices but, where both a mobile- and desktop-version of a website exists, Google's ranking systems still use the desktop version of websites to decide how relevant a page is to the user's search. This can result in search results on mobile which disappoint the user because mobile-only versions of websites commonly contain less content than their desktop equivalent. That is, the user is less likely to be returned search results that provide exactly what they are looking for.

To counter this, Google has announced that it has started experimenting with a "mobile-first" philosophy, whereby it will use the mobile version of websites to evaluate their relevance to search terms instead of the desktop version, regardless of the device used. This is a significant change, and one that will almost inevitably graduate from an experimental stage into Google's core algorithms. At this stage, Christi Olson from Bing says that they currently have no plans to emulate this approach.

How This Change Affects You

Here's how this change to Google's approach will affect you, depending on which of the following three scenarios your website falls into:

  • You operate separate mobile and desktop versions of your website: This change may have a significant impact on your search engine rankings. Your rankings might drop if your mobile-only version contains less content than your desktop version, and if less websites link to your mobile version than your desktop version.
  • You only have a desktop version of your website: This change is likely to mean that your website's search engine rankings will suffer even for searches performed on desktop computers. And since mobile-friendly websites rank higher on searches performed on mobile-devices, you really should consider upgrading your website to be mobile-friendly.
  • You have a responsive website: Congratulations - in this case this change will not affect you and you don't need to change anything. Even if your website's layout changes on mobile devices (for example if some navigational elements become hidden),if these changes are purely to enhance the user experience on mobile devices such elements will be given full weight.

Interestingly, if your website uses Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Google will not treat them as your website's default mobile version. This means that for optimal search engine rankings your non-AMP content still needs to be mobile-friendly.

Luckily, most websites built within the last few years will have been built responsively. But if your website is not yet mobile-friendly, or your website has both mobile and desktop versions, it's time to act before your website is left behind completely in the search engine rankings. And if you are not sure which of the above scenarios your website falls into, please leave a question below or Contact Us for a consultation.

Last updated: 13th December, 2016