For years, mobile-first indexing has been a hot topic. Have you kept up with it? For more information on Google’s mobile-first index, keep reading.
Okay, so Google’s announcement of the mobile-first index took place a few years ago. Most websites have switched to Google’s mobile-first index, thus it’s no longer a “hot” SEO topic.
The most acceptable tweet I’ve come across to describe the lack of attention given to this issue is one from John Mueller, Google Search Advocate, from 2021:
In keeping with the idea that mobile-first indexing is “part of life” (which I totally agree with), it is helpful for SEOs to be aware of some of the background and the current situation.
For instance, Google now emphasizes Page Experience, a ranking criterion that heavily incorporates mobile, in addition to the mobile-first index, which was first announced years ago.
SEO Agency will discuss first the origins of the mobile-first index and what we now know before moving on to that subject. Then, it’ll discuss what Google values in terms of mobile usability, what it means to have a consistent user experience across desktop and mobile, how you can adhere to Google’s mobile-first best practices, and more.
Mobile-First Indexing by Google
According to Google, there isn’t a distinct mobile-first index. Instead, mobile-first indexing refers to Google’s preference for using the webpage’s mobile version for ranking and indexing.
Google clarified in 2018 that with mobile-first indexing, the URL of your site’s mobile-friendly version is crawled. Google displays the mobile URL to mobile visitors and the desktop URL to desktop users if your website has different mobile and desktop URLs.
The mobile version of the article will be indexed nonetheless.
The Mobile-First Index Will Now Be Used
Google made the announcement that it would begin gradually implementing mobile-first indexing by the end of 2017.
Google said in March 2018 that they were broadening the deployment and gave websites instructions on how to get ready.
Even three years later, not every website has been converted to the mobile index.
Google reported that even though the majority of websites were configured for mobile indexing, there were still those that weren’t in June 2020.
At that time, Google declared that it would postpone the transition to mobile-first indexing until March 2021 rather than September 2020 as originally planned.
Google explained the delay in the rollout by citing a number of site-specific concerns, such as issues with robots meta tags, slow loading, blocked assets, core content, and mobile videos and images.
In November 2021, Google finally announced that it had lifted its own self-imposed deadline, citing the fact that some websites were still not yet included in the mobile-first index because they weren’t ready to be switched over.
Google went on to say that the website’s lack of preparation was brought on by a number of unforeseen difficulties.
Because of these challenges, Google says, “we’ve chosen to keep the timeframe open for the final stages of mobile-first indexing.”
As for the transition to mobile-first indexing, Google added, “We don’t presently have a particular final timetable and want to be mindful about the remaining significant steps in that direction.”
For new websites, mobile-first indexing should be the default.
After July 1, 2019, if your website was published, mobile-first indexing is turned on by default.
Google announced this adjustment in May 2019 and stated that it applied to websites that Google Search had not previously recognized.
The explanation of why Google will make mobile-first indexing the default for new websites were included in the release.
Google claims that they have come to the conclusion that new websites are often prepared for this kind of crawling after years of web crawling with a smartphone Googlebot.
Usability Of Mobile Devices And Mobile-First Indexing Are Not the Same
Mueller clarified in January 2019 that even if your material fails the mobile usability test, it may still be shifted to mobile-first indexing.
The “mobile usability” report from Search Console may have indicated that your site has proper URLs, but that does not imply that the pages were prepared for mobile-first indexing.
According to Mueller, smartphone usability and mobile-first indexing are “totally distinct.” Therefore, even if a page was not determined to be viewable on a mobile device, it might still be allowed for mobile-first indexing.
Mueller’s explanation can be heard beginning at 41:12 in the video below:
“First things first: mobile usability and mobile-first indexing are two entirely different things.
A website may or may not be mobile-friendly, yet it may still have all the material required for mobile-first indexing.
As an extreme example, imagine trying to navigate a PDF file while using a mobile device. Both the text and the links will be challenging to click.
However, the material is still present in its entirety, and mobile-first indexing would be the ideal method for indexing it.
Usability on mobile devices differs from mobile-first indexing.
In conclusion, mobile-friendliness and responsive layouts are not prerequisites for mobile indexing.
Pages lacking mobile versions could be indexed because they still function on mobile devices.
The experiences on mobile and desktop should be the same.
In January 2020, Google updated its mobile-first indexing best practices, placing a strong emphasis on maintaining a consistent user experience across mobile and desktop.
A fantastic summary of what Google meant by the same experience was supplied by Matt Southern:
- enabling Googlebot to access and display resources and content on desktop and mobile pages.
- ensuring that the content on the mobile site is identical to that on the desktop site.
- using the identical meta robots tags for the desktop and mobile versions of the website.
- utilizing the same headings on both the desktop and mobile sites.
- ensuring that the structured data on the desktop and mobile pages is identical.
Google cautions that if you deliberately deliver less material on a page’s mobile version than its desktop version, you may see a decline in traffic.
The cause? Google claims that they won’t be able to extract as much information from the website as they formerly could (when the desktop version was used).
Google suggests that the main material be the same on the mobile site and the desktop version. Even on the mobile version, Google advises using the same headings.
Google specifically states in its documentation on mobile indexing that just the material on the mobile site is used in indexing, which serves to emphasize this point even more.
The content on your mobile site should therefore match that on your desktop site, if possible.
During Pubcon Pro Virtual 2020, Mueller reaffirmed this fact and added the following comment:
“…we’re now nearly finished indexing the web using a Googlebot for smartphones, which is far more in line with what people would actually see when they search.
And one of the things we’ve observed that folks are still frequently perplexed about is the idea that even if they only have content for their desktop computers, Google will still see it and take that content into account.
However, the reality is that going forward, we will exclusively index mobile content.
We will therefore remove everything that is exclusively on a site’s desktop version when mobile first indexing is implemented. We’ll largely disregard that.
Everything you want indexing must be available on the mobile site.
Best Practices for Google’s Mobile-First Indexing
To ensure that your users have the best experience, Google offers a thorough list of recommended practices for mobile-first indexing.
The majority of the knowledge Google offers as best practices is actually not brand-new.
The list is actually a compilation of many suggestions and pieces of advice that Google has previously offered elsewhere over the years.
Other best practices for ensuring a consistent user experience across mobile and desktop include the following:
- Ensuring that both the mobile and desktop versions of the error page have the same status.
- Fragment URLs should be avoided on the mobile site.
- Ensuring that the mobile pages are equivalent to the desktop versions.
- Examining the desktop and mobile sites in Search Console.
- Examining the hreflang links on various mobile URLs.
- Ensuring that a faster crawl rate won’t affect the mobile site.
- Ensuring that the robot.txt directives on the desktop and mobile websites are the same.
Google has a whole area dedicated to URL ideas for different pages.
Check out the “Troubleshooting” part of the best practices guide as well.
It contains frequent mistakes that may prevent your site from being suitable for mobile-first indexing or may result in a reduction in rankings after your site is enabled.
Mueller clarified that in terms of sites employing different mobile URLs and rel-canonical, nothing really has changed with mobile-first indexing. Mueller advises maintaining the same annotations.
Even if the rel-canonical specifies the desktop URL, Google will still utilize the URL for mobile devices as the canonical.
Mueller produced a useful diagram that illustrates the indexing procedure for desktop and m-dot URLs “before” and “after.”
One more thing regarding ideal procedures.
While having a mobile version of your pages is not needed to have your material included in Google’s search results, it is highly advised, according to Google’s documentation on mobile-first indexing best practices.
Although having a mobile version may seem straightforward, I have encountered resistance when discussing going mobile-first.
At one conference, a participant questioned whether having a mobile version of the website was required during my session if no one was accessing it using a mobile device.
He kept saying “no one” with emphasis. My response? Try it anyhow.
Google highly recommends it, and regular visitors, in particular, may not be using mobile devices due to the negative experience.
We need to concentrate on making sure that visitors have a positive experience on the page in addition to having sites ranked in search results.
Updated Page Experience + Mobile-First
The discussion also needs to include the Page Experience upgrade.
The Page Experience upgrade, which incorporates measuring signals on how visitors feel about their interaction with your website, was formally published for mobile devices in 2021.
Google claims that this impression extends beyond the page’s informational value. As a result, Google considers the Core Web Vitals, often known as page loading speed, visual stability, and interactivity.
As part of the ranking system, Page Experience also takes into account mobile-friendliness, HTTPS, and invasive interstitials.
For instance, when mobile-friendliness was revealed to be a ranking factor in 2015, the upgrade became known as Mobilegeddon (not by Google, but by the industry).
The readability of the language, tap target spacing, and unplayable content were all taken into consideration.
Google declared that it was increasing this ranking component a year later.
The mobile-friendly change was initially just intended to affect mobile search results, but thanks to the mobile-first index, it now affects all results.
Returning to Core Web Vitals now.
Core Web Vitals are aspects of a webpage that Google believes are crucial to a user’s overall experience, such as Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).
Each of these elements, which each receives a “Good,” “Needs Improvement,” or “Poor” rating, affects the user experience.
Examine this in relation to mobile-first indexing now.
The mobile-first index and Core Web Vitals both evaluate a page’s performance on mobile devices, so there is a lot of overlap between the two.
You may use one of Google’s mobile-first indexing recommended practices, which is to make sure your mobile site loads quickly and connects everything together.
Using Google PageSpeed Insights and concentrating on the “Speed” section are only a couple of the particular pieces of advice provided by Google. Be aware that there are several tools available for speed testing, such GTMetrix, and WebPageTest.
In May 2021, Martin Splitt, a member of Google’s Developer Relations team, was questioned if the Page Experience Update would be implemented simultaneously on desktop and mobile pages.
In response, he said that mobile pages would be used first, which is exactly what happened in August 2021. In February 2022, it would be implemented on desktop pages.
Additionally, it was made clear that Google would evaluate mobile pages independently of desktop pages, thus there is no combined score for both mobile and desktop (at least not for now).
The Page Experience reports for desktop and mobile devices are available in Google Search Console.
For the Page Experience update, you must pay attention to both the desktop and mobile versions of your site, just as you do for the mobile-first index.
For comprehensive details on this update and how to apply patches, consult Core Web Vitals: A Complete Guide.
Before we continue, one final observation: Google will evaluate a page’s speed, stability, and usability before awarding it a score.
The hard part comes at this point. If you have an AMP version for Core Web Vitals, Google would use it for page experience scoring (i.e., speed, quality, and usability). It would not be utilized on mobile devices.
But for the mobile-first index, the mobile version would be the one that is crawled. In conclusion, the mobile version would be utilized for mobile-first indexing while the AMP version would be used for Core Web Vitals score.
Performance Improvement For Google’s Mobile-First Index
Here is a comprehensive list of things to look over that expands on some of the best practices that have previously been offered.
1) If you have many versions, ensure that all of the important content is displayed.
Make sure your website’s mobile version includes all of your critical material, such as structured data, internal links, photos, and so forth.
Even Google advises in its mobile-indexing best practices that switching your website to mobile-first indexing would result in some traffic loss if your mobile page contains less information than the desktop one.
2) Permit Googlebot to View Your Content.
Google advises against lazy loading primary content (Googlebot cannot load content that requires user input), using the same meta robots tags on mobile sites, and enabling Googlebot to crawl your resources.
3) Double-check that the structured data
It is identical throughout your website’s desktop and mobile editions, and make sure the URLs are accurate.
4) Quicken Mobile Pages
The mobile-first index and the Page Experience update have made page speed an even more crucial consideration. Page speed has long been a factor to take into account.
Identifying and addressing speed-related concerns that have an impact on Core Web Vitals and mobile-first indexing is made easy with the help of Advanced Core Web Vitals: A Technical SEO Guide.
5) Pay Attention to Mobile Errors
Getting a site to do well in the mobile-first index is not a “one and done” operation, as is the case with most SEO labor. In order to find and correct mobile issues, you must closely watch Search Console.
Make it a habit to frequently check the Search Console “mobile usability” and “Core Web Vitals” reports.
See a changelog for Google’s mobile-first indexing.
Google’s mobile-first indexing best practices’ changelog provides a brief summary of the adjustments made since 2016.
- May 4, 2020: Beginning in September 2020, all websites will be able to use mobile-first indexing.
- May 28, 2019: Beginning July 1, 2019, any new websites that were previously undiscovered by Google Search will automatically have mobile-first indexing enabled.
- December 19, 2018: When we switch a site to mobile-first indexing, we let the site owner know using Search Console.
- On March 26, 2018, a broader rollout of mobile-first indexing began.
- On December 18, 2017, we will assess each site’s preparedness before carefully implementing mobile-first indexing.
- We are experimenting with making the index mobile-first as of November 4, 2016.
As you can see, there is a lot about mobile-first indexing to understand and remember.
To be successful in the era of mobile-first indexing, make sure you are keeping up with best practices and tracking the performance of your website.