Almost a year ago, Google announced that It was considering changing how it’s index is built. It decided that since most people now use mobile devices to search and view websites, that it would begin to index mobile sites first, before desktop sites.
The blog post goes on to say “Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.”
So, what does this really mean to you – a website owner and business person?
Before we get to that, let’s first explain how your website gets into Google in the first place.
Googlebot – a website owners dream and nightmare
For your website to get into Google, whether it’s been submitted by you or someone you know, or it is linked to by another website, it must be visited by Google’s crawling bot Googlebot.
Googlebot’s only mission is to find and follow all links on your website, and store all your pages on Google servers, so that they can be indexed and then used to build Google search results.
Googlebot was originally just a stripped-down version of a text based web browser like Lynx. Compared to todays Googlebot, this version was pretty dumb. Sure, it was fast, it could crawl through your site and index content quickly, but it couldn’t handle things like style entries, scripts, videos or even images that well.
One of the many early problems with Googlebot was that sometimes it would run out of control, attempting to index hundreds, or even thousands of pages of content in a short period of time, overloading your webserver and crashing your site. Sometimes it would index content you never wanted to make public.
Googlebot has evolved over time to enable it to see images, videos, and even parse scripts and peer into documents like PDFs, word documents, and spreadsheets it finds on your site.
Of course, as time went on and mobile devices became more popular, Google developed mobile friendly bots, so they could see websites the way devices like mobile phones and tablets see them. And that brings us to now – when Google announces that they will be switching to a “mobile first” index.
What is Mobile First?
Just as it sounds, Google will be building its index based our what it’s mobile crawler finds, as opposed to what it’s desktop crawler finds. Up until now, it’s index and current rankings, have all been determined based on the desktop view of the websites in it’s index. While Google has looked at the mobile versions, the index itself, even when you search on your mobile device, is determined by the desktop version of your website.
But that’s about to change.
Google will soon begin building it’s indexed, and displaying search results based on the mobile version of your site. The version you see when you go to your site on your phone or tablet. This has the potential to shake up search results in a way we’ve never seen before.
How Will Mobile First Affect You?
There are 3 cases I see here, and depending on which case your site falls into will determine how you are impacted.
Case #1 – no mobile website – Obviously, if you don’t have a mobile friendly site, you need to get one now. While Google does say that they will continue to index your site just fine, it doesn’t say how this new index will affect your rankings. But I think it’s pretty safe to say that your rankings will suffer.
Case #2 – mobile website that has differences to desktop site – Early on when site owners realized that mobile would be more important, some site owners decided to develop separate stand-alone mobile websites which were distinct from their desktop versions. While they had much of the same content and images, they were still essentially different versions of the site. Such a mobile site COULD have negative impacts for your ranking, especially if the mobile site lacks much of the content of the desktop site. For example, your mobile e-commerce site still pulls from the desktop version to display your store. Essentially all those non-mobile friendly pages would likely be devalued by Google and therefore your rankings could suffer.
Case #3 – mobile friendly Responsive website – This is the ideal solution. Mobile friendly responsive websites use all the same code on the mobile device as the desktop device. They are called responsive because they respond to different screen sizes and configurations and can resize themselves accordingly. If this is your site then you won’t have to change anything, and could likely see rankings improvements, especially if your competition has not made the switch to mobile or responsive.
How to Tell if Your Site is Ready
Because this switch to a mobile first index is so important to Google, they have already developed a tool so that you can test your website to see if it’s mobile friendly. Simply input the URL of your site and let it do it’s thing and within a few seconds you will get a result.
What you want to see is:
You Do Not want to see:
If your site is mobile friendly, you should also get a snapshot of what your mobile site looks like to Google. In this case, this site looks like this:
Here you can see that our website is essentially the same on both desktop and mobile. The only thing different we do on the mobile version of the site is remove the sliding images at the top of the home page. But other than that, the rest of the site is identical.
If you have run the test on your site and gotten the green “Page is Mobile Friendly” indicator then you are all set.
However, unless you are 100% sure that your site is responsive, you may want to revisit it to be sure. Because, as I said, some mobile sites do not contain all the same content as desktop sites. Therefore, you should check with your IT person or web designer to make sure that is the case.
If you don’t have an IT person, or know who the web designer is, contact us and we can do a free assessment for you and let you know if you will be adversely impacted by the upcoming Mobile First index.