Some rather big news was announced from Google last month – the separation of its search index, giving mobile searches priority over desktop.
For those not quite sure what that means, it refers to the way Google ranks web pages. Currently, web pages are based on their quality (although it’s a bit more complicated than that) as viewed on desktop. But more people are doing searches while on their mobiles.
This leaves the ranking system a little out of date. To tackle the issue, Google has set out on a mission to separate the two. To give you a little more detail why, here’s an extract of an article by Matt Southern from Search Engine Journal:
The split will see Google’s index broken into a rapidly updated mobile version, and a desktop version which will not be updated as frequently. […]
Having a separate index for mobile creates an opportunity for Googlebot to strictly crawl the responsive/mobile version of a web page and index it accordingly. This could lead to Google delivering better mobile-optimized content to people searching on smartphones.
In addition, with expedited indexing, Google can get breaking news out to users faster than ever before.
Since more searches are now made on mobile than on desktop, it makes sense for Google to want to prioritize the indexing for mobiles. This will mean, however, that some websites will need to make some changes in order to stay afloat properly when the change happens.
But not every site will be affected. There are some that won’t be affected at all, and some that will be affected more than others. Here’s an article by Jennifer Slegg on The SEM Post to explain a little more:
While all sites will see their content ranked on the mobile version, there are two specific areas where site owners will likely need to make changes.
The first is for sites that serve different content to mobile users compared to desktop users. The second is sites that have removed structured data markup from their mobile pages.
Sites that are currently utilizing m.example.com configurations, where mobile and desktop are on completely different pages and sometimes even sites, will be the ones most impacted my the new mobile first index. […]
If you have removed markup from the mobile pages in order to speed up load time, you will need to add that back to the mobile page, otherwise you will eventually lose those rich snippets once Google changes over to the mobile first index.
If your website is one of the above, don’t despair – you can fix it so that your ranking won’t drop. While Google is taking it slow and testing the separate indexing, you have plenty of time to adjust for it.
The changes will be tested for a few months and fine tuned according to Google, to ensure that they release a smooth and well-working indexing system that works well for people doing searches. Over these months you can adjust anything you need to.
Thankfully, they aren’t leaving anyone out to dry. They’ve made some recommendations and given some advice about who will need to make changes and what those changes should be. Here’s an article from Barry Schwartz on Search Engine Land to tell you:
Here are some recommendations Google is giving webmasters to prepare for the change:
- If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.
- If you have a site configuration where the primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes to your site.
- Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version. 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 appropriate 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.
Essentially, the goal of this is to improve the experience consumers get when searching on their smartphones, since that is now the majority of searches. Google wants to provide the most helpful, accurate results, in the most user-friendly websites.
Since mobile became the most used device for searching online, it’s become more important than ever to have a website that works well on mobile. Prioritizing mobile over desktop has become less of an advantage and more of a necessity, and that is only to be magnified by the coming changes.