Google’s long push to a mobile-first web is about to take another big step. The search giant has announced plans to change the way it indexes search results, based on the mobile pages for each listing.
So Google is officially going mobile-first and people in the industry are making a fuss about it (don’t they always). So what does this mean for the future of search and your website from here on in?
Keep calm and carry on optimising
First of all, don’t get caught up in the hype about this change. Sure, it’s no small thing on Google’s part but let’s not pretend this is a surprise. Since the big mobile update (aka ‘Mobilegeddon’) in April last year, we all knew things would go in this direction.
Before that, we also had ‘mobile-friendly’ tags confirming to users which pages are optimised for their devices. And, more recently, we’ve had Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) hit the scene – which are now integrated with mobile SERPs.
So let’s not get carried away. Let’s just keep calm and carry on optimising for mobile, as we should be doing anyway.
What is actually changing in all this?
You can find out Google’s full explanation of mobile-first indexing over at the Webmaster Central Blog. But, to sum up, the mobile version of web pages will be analysed and ranked by Google, ahead of their desktop counterparts:
“Our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results” – Doantam Phan, Product Manager at Google
This doesn’t mean ‘desktop’ pages will be wiped off of the SERPs, but they will have a distinct disadvantage. More to the point, you will basically be judged by your mobile pages rather than desktop.
So, if your website is responsive (ie: all your pages are mobile and desktop) there are no obvious changes ahead.
“If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.” – Doantam Phan, Product Manager at Google
However, we can’t be 100% sure on this without knowing more about how Google’s mobile-first indexing will operate. For example, how will it measure page speed: on average, as it does now, or on average across mobile devices only?
What about mobile-only sites and pages?
Things are a little more complex if you run a separate mobile site from your desktop version. Google has always recommended taking the responsive approach to mobile optimisation but this isn’t the way everyone has gone. Big names like Facebook and the Huffington Post have separate mobile sites and they’re by no means alone.
So here’s what Google has to say on the issue:
“If you have a site configuration where the primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes to your site.
- Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version.Sites can verify the equivalence of their structured markup across desktop and mobile by typing the URLs of both versions into theStructured Data Testing Tooland comparing the output.When adding structured data to a mobile site, avoid adding large amounts of markup that isn’t relevant to the specific information content of each document.
- Use the txt testing toolto verify that your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot.
- Sites do not have to make changes to their canonical links; we’ll continue to use these links as guides to serve the appropriate results to a user searching on desktop or mobile.” – Doantam Phan, Product Manager at Google
If you still haven’t catered for mobile users yet (boo), then Google wants to make it clear your site and pages will still be crawled and ranked. There won’t be any problems in this regard, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens to page rankings for these sites when the change goes live.
Google going mobile-first makes for some pretty good headlines and blog titles but it’s a bit of a non-event in many ways. The only real surprise is that Google is going for one, mobile-first approach rather than creating a separate indexing system for mobile pages. So the message is pretty much the same: if you’re not optimised for mobile yet, get a move on!