On 13th October 2016, Google’s Gary Illyes announced at Pub Con that they would be switching from a desktop to a mobile index. This was further clarified in an official blogpost on 4th November 2016.
Why is this happening?
This change to indexing is coming about due to the fact that more than 50% of searches take place on mobile rather than desktop. If a user searches for a query on their mobile, they would expect the website to serve the content related to their query.
However, if the desktop version of a site is being indexed, the mobile site may not have the same content, which could result in a dissatisfied user. And as mobile market share is projected to grow to 75% by the end of 2017, it does not make sense for them to be indexing desktop sites instead of mobile.
Once it is implemented, the mobile version of a site is what will be assessed by Google for relevance to a search query.
When will it be implemented?
There is no official launch date for the change but they have stated that they have already started testing for the new index. It is anticipated that it will happen at some point in 2017, which is why it is sensible to prepare for it now.
What if you don’t have a mobile site?
If you don’t have a mobile version of your site, then Google will still index the desktop version. However, having a mobile-friendly site has been a ranking factor since April 2015.
So if you don’t have one, implementing a mobile site is long overdue.
What sites will suffer the biggest impact?
Because Google will no longer be looking at the desktop version of the site, those sites that have reduced their content for mobile will potentially see a drop in rankings. Websites that have the same content on mobile as desktop such as responsive sites should not notice any change.
What preparation can be done?
Although Google hasn’t released full guidelines, there is plenty of preparation that can be done in order to minimise any impact from the change.
Is your site mobile friendly?
The first thing to do is assess the condition of your existing mobile site if you have one. If you don’t have a mobile site, then the development of a new responsive website should be on the top of your development roadmap.
Mobile site audit
You can use the fetch as Google tool in Google search console that will show you how Google renders your site on mobile.
This will enable you to verify how Google sees your site and see if there are any potential issues such as effective page rendering or any important files being blocked from the Googlebot.
It is also worth using Google’s mobile friendly test.
You will need to ensure that any important content isn’t being hidden on the mobile site. Often the mobile version of a site will carry a stripped-down version of the desktop site for UX reasons.
However, with the new mobile index, any important content missing from the mobile will no longer be indexed. If this is not addressed, it could have a negative impact on rankings.
Is the mobile site on the same or a separate domain?
If you have a responsive site, this won’t be an issue, however, if you have a separate mobile site, this could be a key area where the content is different or stripped down as it is effectively a different website.
Wait and see!
While it is important to review the above points, we won’t really know the full impact until Google release guidelines or the mobile-first index goes live. Either way now is the time to place mobile at the centre of your online strategy.