All We Know About Google’s Mobile-First Index So Far

Google is rolling out a mobile-first index. This will allow Google to create and rank search listing based on the content’s mobile version, even if the listing is shown to a desktop user. If you’re wondering how this works, we’ve compiled some answers.

Since making this announcement, we’ve tracked what Googlers are saying about the change based on questions from industry insiders and laypeople alike. Below you’ll find a compilation of questions and answers based on coverage from Jennifer Slegg, Jenny Halasz, and Barry Schwartz.

What is changing with the mobile-first index?

More searches are happening on mobile. Google wants the index and results to represent the majority of their users (see: people using Google via their mobile device).

Google began using the mobile version of the web as their primary search engine index. The search engine index is a collection of documents and pages that the search engines discover. This is primarily done by crawling the web through links.

Google crawls the web from the point of view of a desktop browser. Now Google is changing so that it crawls the web from a mobile browser point of view.

What if I don’t have a mobile website?

According to Google, “If you only have a desktop site, we’ll continue to index your website.” Google will index your site, even if they’re using a mobile user agent to view the site. So, you don’t need to worry. While Google wants you to have a mobile site, they will still crawl your desktop version.

If you have a mobile site, make sure the links and content are similar to the desktop version so Google can consume the correct content. Then it can rank your site as well as it did when it crawled your desktop site.

My mobile site contains less content than my desktop site? Should I be nervous about this change?

You may have some issues. Google has said that it will crawl the mobile version of the site. If you have less content on mobile page A than you have on the desktop page A, there is a good chance Google will only crawl and index the content on mobile version therefore returning a result with ultimately less content than is truly there.

That’s why Google recommends that you use a responsive approach. Then the content will be the same on a page-by-page basis. Your desktop and mobile site will be the same. You can do the same with other mobile implementations. However, there’s always room for error.

What about expandable mobile content?

With a desktop site, Google said the content hidden behind expandable boxes, accordions, tabs, etc. would not be weighted as high as other content on the page. But with mobile, according to Google’s Gary Illyes, content like this will be given full weight if these methods are used for the purpose of user experience. The idea behind this decision is that expandable content makes more sense on a mobile device than it does on a desktop.

Will this change my pages Google ranking in a big way?

Both Paul Haahr and Gary Illyes from Google said this would not change the overall ranking. In fact, they want the mobile-first index to have a minimal impact on rankings. Of course, they said, it’s too early to tell. However, their goal is to have this change in indexing make a negligible impact on current rankings.

When will this change fully roll out?

Google said they’ve already begun testing the mobile-first index with some users. However, it appears that they are months away from this index being fully rolled out. Google won’t release a date because they’ll still test the rollout and if things go well, they may push the change through sooner. If things don’t go well, the roll-out date may be pushed back.

Google did not say they would push out the mobile-first index to more searchers as they become more confident in the index.

In this a boost for mobile-friendly ranking?

Google has said before that content that’s not mobile-friendly will not rank as well. That remains true with this index change.

The current index, which is where most people will continue to get their results, indexes desktop content and is used to show listing to both mobile and desktop users. The special ranking system is mobile friendly and is then used to boost content for Google’s mobile listings. If content is not mobile-friendly it won’t perform as well.

In this new mobile-first index, which some people will get results from as Google rolls out the change, mobile content will be indexed and used to show listing to mobile and desktop users. Then the mobile friendly boost to ranking is applied to the mobile friendly pages, as with the current indexing system.

How can I tell if Google is able to see my mobile pages?

The best way to determine if Google can see your site is to use Fetch and Render in the Google Search Console. Just specify mobile: smartphone user-agent. Then, look at the preview after the fetch and render is done. What Google will show are the rendered results. This is what Google will see and index your mobile site. If your content is missing, then you should look at how you can fix this and run the tool again.

Ranking signals will some from your mobile, but not the desktop version.

Google has ranked the mobile site based on many signals received from the desktop site since we covered this before. That is going to change and Google will rank both the desktop and mobile sites based on signals received from crawling the site from the mobile view.

So, the mobile site’s page speed will determine the mobile site’s ranking and desktop site in Google. Google will look at your tags, structured data, H1s, title, and content generated from the mobile site and use them on the desktop site.

Doesn’t this flip the issue the other way where Google ranks the desktop results based on how it sees your mobile site?

Yes, and Google knows this. The current trends show that mobile will keep growing, so more searchers will use mobile search over desktop search.

Will Google have a different index for mobile and desktop?

Eventually, Google plans to only have one index. This index will be based on mobile content, and serve these listings to both desktop and mobile users. As the new mobile-first index is rolled out, there will be two: mobile-first and desktop-first. A smaller group of users will get mobile-first index results. This is not something a searcher can control. Most people will have no idea of which index they’re using when making a search.

When Google grows confident in the mobile-first index, it will eventually become the only index used. Or, the new index may not be deemed useful, Google may go back to using the desktop-first index. Google has, after all, called the mobile-first index, an “experiment”.

In a blog post, Google said: “Our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps.” According to Google, their algorithms will primarily use the mobile site’s content to rank a site’s pages.

Paul Haahr from Google has said there will not be an index of desktop pages for desktop users and mobile pages for mobile users.

Will rankings and links change because of this?

There is some concern about the mobile content which tends to have fewer links than the desktop content. This is a concern similar to the concern listed above about mobile sites having less content than a desktop site. Google search results depend on content and links. So, if link and content are impacted, will ranking also be impacted?

Google said they’re testing this index, so this is not 100 percent clear. Gary Illyes says they don’t want to say anything definite about links because there’s too much in motion.

Canonicals: Will I need to make a change to them?

Google said canonicals won’t need to be changed. All you have to do is keep the tags as they are, and then follow the recommendations listed in their blog post.

Can I see the change and the potential impact on the search results now?

Google said you would not see the change or the impact of the change from the mobile-first index roll-out. In fact, Google said that it hopes there will be little or no impact after the index rolls out. Paul Haahr said that he would be very surprised if people detected any effects from the mobile-first index at this point.

Technically, the mobile-first index is a global roll-out, which means it won’t just hit specific regions.

This should be a comprehensive recap of all of the compiled questions and answers.

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