Image to represent Google's Mobile First Index

Paul Thornton - Tuesday 22nd November 2016

Google’s Mobile First Index – what it means for you

For only the second time in history, Google have announced that they will be conducting an update to their algorithm before the update goes live. The previous time was what SEO’s dubbed “Mobilegeddon”, and this time it’s also specific to mobile, however, the forthcoming change also affects desktop. Although the exact date has not been set, we expect the ‘mobile first index’ to launch early in the New Year. The fact that Google has made the announcement ahead of time, giving SEOs and Webmasters time to get their sites in order tells you all you need to know about the importance and impact the update is likely to have.


What is the planned update?

Google announced on Friday 4 November that they are going to split the index and will have a separate desktop and mobile index. Currently the index on both desktop and mobile is based on your desktop site, however when the change is implemented, the index will be taken from your mobile site and the desktop index will not be as thoroughly maintained.


Why is mobile more important?

In May last year, Google announced that traffic from mobile visitors had overtaken desktop visits – and this is a trend that is only going one way. Google actually groups Tablets with Desktop computers, so it’s even more emphatic that visits from mobile devices have overtaken the two put together.


When will the update take affect?

Gary Illyes, from Google didn’t say when this will happen – unlike Mobilegeddon which was stated on a specific date – however, it is understood that it will be happening in the coming months. Our recommendation is that if you can’t get a mobile friendly website for Christmas, then at the very least you should ask for it for Valentines Day. Easter could be too late! Google have said that once further testing has been completed, they will be making further announcements on their official blog so watch this space.


How will this affect me?

What the split of the index means, and in particular, the emphasis Google is placing on mobile, is that if your website isn’t mobile friendly, then you have to rely on the desktop algorithm – which is updated less often. Googlebot will crawl your mobile/responsive version separately, more often, and index it accordingly. Google will be looking for pure mobile content within the mobile searches so if your website isn’t available to mobile viewers, you’d better hurry. Also, if you have different content appearing on your mobile and desktop versions, then it’s time to assess it.


What do I need to do to avoid losing my traffic?

There are a number of different things you can and should do to get ready for the split.

  1. Ensure your website is mobile friendly
    The first thing you need to do, and to be honest you should have done it over a year ago, is to ensure you have a mobile friendly version of your website –a responsive version is the bare minimum.
  2. Assess your content
    Secondly, you want to assess the content that both Googlebot Mobile and Googlebot desktop can crawl. Have you removed content from your mobile experience – can viewers see all pages and all content on each page? Do you still have structured data and schema on your mobile version? Also, how do your images appear – are they viewable on a mobile device or do they go outside the page width.


How can I be better than the rest?

As you know, SEO isn’t about complying with Google standards and you’ll appear top – it’s about being better than everyone else. The way to the top of the rankings is paved with gold, and for good reason. Here are a few things you can do to beat the rest:

  1. Consider implementing AMP
    We’ve discussed AMP (or Accelerated Mobile Pages) time and again and we’ve done it on purpose, because it’s such an advantage. Google takes a cache of your AMP page which means they can serve it almost instantaneously to a visitor. Who wouldn’t like that? Google does, and your visitors will too! At the moment, Google is indexing AMP pages on blogs, news websites, general information, recipe sites and review sites but expect more to follow so that Google can make the web a faster place.
  2. Look at Progressive Web Apps
    Progressive Web Apps (or PWAs) are websites that display in a browser much like a native iPhone or Android app works. They’re quick and mean that the user doesn’t need to download your app to have the same experience. This work perfect for eCommerce and Travel websites – we’d highly recommend them if you’re in these niches.



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