Mobile-First Indexing: Why is it Important?

Business owners and digital marketers alike have been quite concerned about the latest big change Google has made to its ranking algorithm, mobile-first indexing. Part of this concern stems from a misunderstanding of what mobile-first indexing is, and the other reason why this change has the attention of most business owners is that they don’t know how mobile-first indexing will affect their website’s rankings. As mobile SEO experts, our team has seen major changes in Google’s algorithm before, and the best way to ensure that updates like mobile-first indexing don’t negatively affect your website is to:

  • Understand what mobile-first indexing entails from a technical perspective
  • Determine the practical effect mobile-first indexing will have on your website and your competitors’ websites
  • Determine which changes, if any, need to be made to your website in order to avoid any negative effects mobile-first indexing could have on your website’s performance

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

The online marketplace is changing at a rapid pace. Online users view, consume, and share content differently than any other time since the advent of the internet itself. One of the changes in consumer behavior that has had a substantial impact on all websites is the types of devices most website visitors use to view content. According to Google, 70% of online traffic is coming from mobile devices. This represents a shift that has been ongoing over the last decade. As mobile devices have become more prevalent and efficient, desktop computers are being used less and less. 

With this in mind, Google has changed its platform to accommodate the large amount of traffic coming from mobile devices by implementing updates like the speed update, which uses mobile page-load speed as a ranking factor for websites, making Google apps available for all mobile devices, and encouraging websites overall to shift to mobile-friendly formats. Mobile-first indexing is simply the latest update in a long line of changes Google has implemented to cater mobile users. 

How does Mobile-First Indexing Work?

As you may know, Google is the equivalent of a massive online library. Google uses a process called crawling to locate different web pages and websites online. Google’s crawlers then try to analyze and understand what a web page is about through a process called indexing. Once a page is indexed, a version of each webpage is categorized based on a number of different factors. When you submit a search query, Google then displays what it believes to be the most relevant web pages based on the data it gathered through the crawling and indexing process and the words or characters within the search you submitted. 

Typically, the web pages that have been indexed by Google were the desktop versions of the web pages, but mobile-first indexing is a process used by Google to rank and index the mobile version of a web page, rather than the desktop version it indexed in the past. Remember, the data gathered through the crawling and indexing process is what Google uses to rank a web page, so if there is any type of change to this process, it can impact a web page’s ranking on Google. Consequently, the effect that mobile-first indexing could have on your website’s ranking in Google’s search results is something you should be concerned about. 

How Does Mobile-First Indexing Impact SEO?

As with any update Google implements, the primary thing you should analyze is the practical effect the update will have on your website from a short-term and long-term perspective. So, what is the practical effect that mobile-first indexing will have on your website? It depends. For starters, Google will not be keeping a separate mobile-first index, and the desktop version of a web page will still be indexed if a mobile version is not available or if the mobile version and the desktop version of a web page are the same, as is the case for responsive websites. Moreover, the desktop version of a web page can still achieve a #1 ranking on Google’s search results by offering content that Google feels is the best match to a user’s search and utilizes Google’s recommended SEO techniques

However, the problem that business owners who operate a desktop-only website could encounter is that their web pages experience a decrease in Google rankings due to the fact that the indexing process is completed through the lens of mobile devices. Meaning, desktop-only web pages are generally harder for mobile devices to load, and they are often more difficult to navigate with a mobile device. These are the factors that can affect you website’s rankings, because mobile-first indexing is performed using Google’s smartphone Googlebot, which replicates how a web page loads with a mobile device during the indexing process. As a result, issues mobile users would experience such as slow load times, content that doesn’t load properly, and website features that don’t operate properly for mobile users can all have a negative impact on how Google views your website during the mobile-first indexing process

Changes You Can Make to Avoid the Negative Impact of Mobile-First Indexing  

The best strategy you can implement to ensure that your website is not negatively affected by mobile-first indexing is to make your website as mobile-friendly as possible. If you operate a desktop-only website, convert it into a responsive website. Optimize your website for mobile users by using load-friendly image formats, ensure that all of your website’s features can be accessed by mobile users, and regularly run page speed tests and mobile-friendly tests to ensure that your website is loading as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

Do You Still have Questions about Mobile-First Indexing?

The mobile SEO experts at On the Map Marketing are here to help. Our team of mobile SEO experts have been helping business owners like you maximize the performance of their websites for years, and our team is ready to start working on your website today. So, call our office today to speak with a mobile SEO specialist who will explain how our team can help you.