February 15

Mobile-First Indexing: What You Need to Know

Online marketing


This year we will celebrate 6 years since mobile internet traffic exceeded desktop traffic at global level. To mark this profound change in the way people interact with websites, Google will roll out a significant change in the way it indexes sites. By March 2021, the internet giant plans to adopt mobile-first indexing.

What Is Mobile-First Indexing?

In simple terms, mobile-first indexing means that Google will index the mobile version of web pages instead of the desktop version. In reality, this is not a sudden decision that will strike websites overnight out of SERPs. Actually, March 2021 announces the completion of a process that has been going on for some years now.

Here is a quick timeline:

  • November 2016 – Google announces mobile-first indexing and tests this method on some websites
  • March 2018 – Google starts rolling out mobile-first indexing
  • December 2018 – in just nine month, 50% of sites crawled by Google are on mobile-first indexing
  • July 2019 – mobile-first indexing is the default mode for any new website
  • March 2020 – over 70% website are on mobile-first indexing
  • July 2020 – the completion of mobile-first indexing is delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Therefore, it is quite possible that your website is already on mobile-first indexing.

How to Check If Google Indexes Your Mobile Website

To see how Google indexes your website, go to the Google Search Console -> Settings. In the About section, check the Indexing crawler. If it specifies “Googlebot Smartphone”, then your site is in the 70% group on mobile-first indexing.

If Google still indexes your desktop version, it is time to prepare and make sure that your website is ready for the new indexing method. For clarification purposes, there won’t be two different indexes, one for desktop and one for mobile. Therefore, if your site is not mobile friendly, it will likely be left out from SERPs, no matter how well you optimise it for keywords and user intent.

First Step: Check that Your Website Is Mobile-Friendly

How do you know if your website is mobile-friendly? Google has a tool for this. All you have to do is go to the Mobile Friendly Test page and type in the URL of your website in the text box.

In a few moments, you will have your answer. It is not just a basic “Mobile-friendly” or “Not mobile-friendly” response, but also a list of issues that you need to fix. Thus, Google does your homework – all you have to do is follow the recommendations.

How to Prepare for Mobile-First Indexing?

Having a mobile-friendly website is not enough in order to continue ranking in search results. Google’s Developers section includes several actionable tips. Here are some of the most relevant:

1. Make Sure that Google Spiders Can Access Your Mobile Site

In order to allow the Googlebot to crawl your mobile site, you must have the same meta robots tag on both versions of your website (desktop and mobile).  Issues with different meta robots tags appear when you set “noindex” or “nofollow” tags for various pages.

2. Desktop and Mobile Pages Must Contain the Same Amount of Text

Some websites have a shortened version of the written content for the mobile version. Google warns that if you do so, you will see a decrease in traffic once the mobile-first indexing becomes the norm.

Therefore, make sure that both versions of your site contain the same text.

3. Use the Same Page Title and Meta Description

Some websites have different page titles and meta description for each web page for the desktop and the mobile version. If this is your case, use only one set of metadata for all pages.

In fact, forget about the idea that you have two versions of the website. Only one will matter for Google – the mobile site.

4. Check Your Visuals

Make sure that the photos and videos on your site have format supported by Google. Also, check that the metadata is similar for website and mobile versions for your visuals. And last but not least, make sure that the photos displayed in the mobile site have a high quality. Some websites display smaller, lower quality images on their mobile version. This is a mistake that will result in lower ranking for your website.

Last but not least, make sure that the template and layout of your website display well on a mobile screen, with easy access to navigation, legible fonts and proper placing of images and videos.

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