Mobile is the Future of the Web.
Five years ago, this might have seemed like a bold claim. But no longer: as we near the end of 2016, it’s become abundantly clear that mobile is the platform that will define the Internet of the future – and Google’s recent introduction of mobile-first indexing all but confirms it for good.
What Is Mobile-First Indexing?
When indexing a site – in other words, scanning its content and recording it in an index, which is then used to provide search results – Google has always defaulted to the desktop version of a site. Mobile-first indexing, on the other hand, prefers the site’s mobile version, using this content to determine whether or not a site should rank (and how high) for a given search.
Is The Change Permanent?
According to the Google Webmaster blog, Google officially began testing this algorithm update last week. And as with all major Google changes, it’s likely the testing phase will go on for a while before the update is introduced across the board. But with Google’s emphatic focus on mobile-friendliness in recent months (and years), there’s good reason to believe this update will stick once Google finds the testing results satisfactory.
How Will Mobile-First Indexing Impact Search (And SEO)?
To date, this is one of Google’s boldest signals that mobile web experience is of the utmost priority, both for users and for search engines. In short, the update – when made official – will ensure that search rankings are solely guaranteed by the relevance and usefulness of a given domain’s mobile website, unless there is no mobile version of a site (in which case the desktop site will be indexed, but webmasters shouldn’t expect dominant search rankings).
It goes without saying, then, that the focus of SEO will begin to lean heavily toward the mobile format. If indexing becomes mobile-first, then so too should the site’s SEO strategy. And optimizing the performance of the mobile site should become a foremost priority as well – ensuring the site loads quickly, functions smoothly across multiple mobile platforms, and offers a high degree of usability for visitors on mobile. (Here are some tips from Google on optimizing for mobile-friendliness, avoiding common pitfalls in mobile design, and mobile SEO in general.)
How Should Website Owners Take Advantage Of This Update?
Again, making sure your website’s mobile version – whether based on responsive design or a separate “m.” site – is performing as well as possible should be the biggest priority. You should also make sure your mobile site can be indexed by Google, using Google’s robots.txt testing tool, and that you’ve verified ownership of your mobile site in Google Search Console. Finally, check up on your site’s structured data in both the desktop and mobile versions by entering both URLs into Google’s Structured Data Tool. (You should strive to make them as similar as possible, or at least ensure that your mobile site is serving the structured content you want it to, remembering to avoid large amounts of markup that isn’t specific to each page.)