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What You Need to Know About Google’s Mobile-First Indexing

After approximately a year and a half of testing, Google rolled out its mobile-first indexing in March of 2018. What does that mean, and what does it mean for you? Second part first: if you have a mobile-responsive website already (you do have a mobile-responsive website, right?), you probably won’t see much, if any, change in your site’s ranking. But you still need to know what mobile-first indexing means and why it’s important, so let’s unpack it.

What Is Mobile-First?

Before we get into what mobile-first indexing means, it’s worth a moment to talk about how Google ranks websites in the first place. Basicially, Google deploys robotic programs called crawlers to the Internet, and these crawlers go from page to page, following links and sending data back to Google. This data gets entered into Google’s massive Search Index. Then, Google’s algorithm–a closely guarded secret formula that changes frequently–ranks the sites and serves them to users based on the search terms they enter.

In the past, Google’s crawlers would search the desktop version of websites. Going forward, the crawlers will be searching the mobile version instead. Why? Globally, the number of people accessing the Internet via mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have surpassed the number accessing it on computers. In August 2017, 52.7 percent of people worldwide accessed their Internet on a mobile device, with the highest rates of mobile adoption being in Asia and Africa.

Mobile Indexing and You

First, the good news: Most sites, even those without a (gasp!) mobile-friendly version, won’t have any changes to the way Google crawls and indexes them. Why not? Because there is no separate mobile-friendly page. Responsive design means never having to worry if your site can be easily read on a phone or tablet.

However, some sites still use a parallel structure for their desktop and mobile sites. Some will have separate URLs, often with an “m.” in front of the main URL. It’s known as m-dot and looks like “m.yoursite.com.” Others use dynamic serving, meaning that, although there is only one URL, users see different content based on what device they are using.

These sites may be affected by the change in Google’s crawling practices. Here are some tips to ensure your site won’t take a big hit the next time Google crawls it.

  • Ensure your content is the same on both the mobile and desktop versions
  • Ensure there is metadata–descriptions, alt tags, title tags and so on–on both the mobile and desktop versions
  • Ensure that the structured data–such as your Schema.org descriptions–are the same across both the mobile and desktop versions of your site

If your site has an m-dot structure, follow these additional tips:

  • Ensure your canonical and alternate link elements are correct across both versions of your site
  • Ensure your robot.txt directives, which tells Google’s crawlers what to crawl, are consistent across both versions of your site
  • Mobile links should point to other mobile links, and desktop links should point to other desktop links
  • Verify both versions of your site on Search Console

Cut Through the Clutter

Of course, the best thing you could do is not worry about mobile versus desktop in the first place and design your site responsively. Responsive design changes form and shape based on the dimensions of the screen upon which it is viewed.

Responsive design can be tough to pull off yourself. Luckily, you have an ally in Points Group, and we have some of the best developers in the business ready and able to convert your site to a responsive design and eliminate your mobile indexing woes. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help.

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