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We expected this was coming and even heard about it over a year ago, but this is the first time Google posted details about the mobile-first index on their blog.

Most Google searches are mobile, but Google’s index is desktop

Google explained that it sees more mobile searches than desktop searches daily. But when Google evaluates a page’s ranking in Google, it currently looks at the desktop version of the site — an issue we pointed out over a year ago. To fix this, Google will look at the content, links, and structured data of the mobile version of your site if one is available.
Google wrote:

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, 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. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

With this change, Google will primarily index mobile content and use that to decide how to rank its results, regardless of whether you’re on desktop or mobile. There will no longer be any “mobile-friendly” adjustment done just for mobile users. Effectively, if you’re not mobile-friendly, that will have an impact even on how you appear to desktop searchers.

Related: Mobile-First Indexing: Your Guide to Google’s Big Shift

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Google is testing this but hopes to roll it out to all

Google said it has started this experiment and will “continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale.” Google will “ramp up this change when we’re confident that we have a great user experience.”

No mobile site? Don’t worry

Those who do not have a mobile version of their website do not need to worry. Google will use the desktop version to rank the site. Google wrote, “[I]f you only have a desktop site, we’ll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we’re using a mobile user-agent to view your site.” This also means that if you have a responsive site, one that dynamically changes content depending on desktop or mobile device, there’s nothing special you need to do.
Of course, you won’t benefit from the mobile-friendly ranking boost if you do not have a mobile site. But that is separate from this mobile index news.

How can you prepare?

Here are some recommendations Google is giving web admins to prepare for the change:

  • You shouldn’t have to change anything if you have a responsive or dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup are equivalent across mobile and desktop.
  • If you have a site configuration where the primary content and markup are different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making changes to your site.
      • Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile versions. Sites can verify the equivalence of their structured markup across desktop and mobile by typing the URLs of both versions into the Structured Data Testing Tool and 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 robots.txt testing tool to 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 relevant results to a user searching on desktop or mobile.
      • If you are a site owner who has only verified your desktop site in Search Console, please add and verify your mobile version.

We will keep you posted

As we see changes to the Google results and index, we will report back to you with any issues. We will let you all know when this mobile-first index fully rolls out.


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Article by Barry Schwartz

Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry can be followed on Twitter here.