Mobile First Indexing and SEO

The internet is absolutely massive. There are billions of pages and billions of devices connected to it. Filtering through everything without the help of search engines would be impossible. Search engines, however, must rank results in some way, and every search engine on the internet uses some sort of algorithm to display the most important results.

For Google, the world’s preeminent search engine, mobile is the future of computing. To reflect that belief, Google has started to roll out its mobile-first indexing policy, which effectively lends greater weight to mobile versions of websites than to desktop versions.

How will this affect your website?

The trends

The beginnings of this paradigm shift are rooted in the trend towards mobile. In the United States, over four-fifths of residents have smartphones, and nearly 50% have tablets. In some developing countries, mobile is a natural choice, as the cellular networks are well-established but wired infrastructure is lacking.

Moreover, mobile computing is becoming more powerful, allowing users to perform more tasks on their mobile devices. With the added feature of mobility, devices like smartphones and tablets are a natural choice for the globalised world. Wired-only connections are often viewed as backwards technology.

Google’s Decision

To retain its position as the world’s leading search engine, Google has decided to use mobile content as the first type of content indexed. If both a desktop and mobile version of a website exist, the mobile content takes priority, but the desktop content is also indexed. As the majority of Google’s search traffic is already mobile, and the aforementioned trends are likely to continue, it makes sense for Google to move in this direction.

Impact on your rankings

If you only have a desktop site, you may be adversely affected by the change. Your desktop site will still be indexed, but if you have mediocre content, a competitor’s equally mediocre mobile site may have a slight advantage. If you offer stellar content, Google will not rank your desktop version below a mediocre mobile site. The company is committed to delivering the best results to users, and even if desktop sites are not suited for mobile devices, if content and all other indicators favour your desktop site, it will not fall in rankings.

However, if your competitor has an equally stellar desktop site and a decent mobile version, they may appear higher in search results solely on the basis of having both versions with adequate content. The concept is mobile-first, not mobile-only.

The main takeaway from this change is that maintaining a mobile version is a high priority, partially because it will likely improve your search rankings and partially because it is the wave of the future. But don’t just hack together a mobile version: the traditional ranking factors, like responsiveness and navigability, will still have more impact on your mobile ranking than simple existence of the mobile version. A poor mobile site may actually penalize your overall ranking, as the poor mobile version will drag down your desktop version’s ranking.

Tracking your user base

If you have both mobile and desktop sites, it is worthwhile to analyse traffic to both. If you notice substantially more desktop traffic, ask yourself why: does your content favour the higher processing capabilities of desktops or do your users avoid your mobile site for lack of content?

The general trend is towards mobile, so if that trend doesn’t manifest in your data, there could be a problem. One way to determine this problem is through your app analytics, if you have an app. If your app user base is similar to your desktop user base, your users might be avoiding your mobile site.