Mobile-First Index: What You Need to Know

Mobile-First Index: what it means for your site, and why desktop still matters

You’ve probably heard that google has been rolling out a ‘mobile-first’ index:

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. — source

One thing that hasn’t been explicitly made clear–until recently–is that mobile indexing will influence desktop rankings.

John Mueller recently tweeted:

This is a big deal. If you already haven’t, it’s time to take Google’s mobile-priority seriously. If your site doesn’t have a mobile-friendly architecture, your rankings will suffer.

Google will also rely heavily on their own cloud hosting to facilitate Mobile-First Indexing. They are calling this change ‘Mobile-First’ Indexing, but that is probably a misnomer. Ostensibly, it is more accurately described as ‘cross-device-first’ or even ‘cloud-first’ indexing in the long-run. Nearly every new Google announcement seems to be another front or ploy to get webmasters to host their content on Google servers. source

The reasons why Google is pushing mobile first (and as the above quote suggests, their cloud platform) might help to predict the future of ranking signals and mobile-first indexing. Here are a few of the obvious cases:

  • Google wants you to use their cloud platform to host your online content to lock you into their ecosystem.
  • Google wants you to use their cloud platform to host your online content because it’s easier to index their own platform than the web.
  • Google wants to rely less on links and more on content, such as AMP, API (like Twitter/Accuweather), and other mark-up for ranking signals
  • Google wants to promote “device-agnostic” content to increase SERP engagement and fast-loading content.

With structured data, especially in JSON-LD, XML feeds and API’s, Google is building a strong understanding of the world that is less reliant on URLS and links for organization and evaluation of the data. source

Hopefully that makes mobile-first a little clearer, and gives you some context on what the future might hold, here. Given everything we know so far, here are the next steps for you and your site:

  1. Make sure your site is mobile friendly.
  2. Make sure your mobile content and desktop content are the same
  3. Take full advantage of schema markup for all of your content
  4. If your site has a strong news angle, consider setting up Accelerated Mobile Pages
  5. Consider making a mobile app of your site/content (if it makessense), as it will be another source for Google to crawl and

Is Desktop Content Dead?

mobile first indexing seoAfter reading about the rise of mobile-first, you might be wondering what, if any, place desktop search holds in this mobile-heavy future.

Although search volume is clearly shifting to mobile, there is still an important gap in how consumers interact and when they use mobile devices versus tablets and desktops. And, of course, not all of our three hours a day on mobile devices are search-related.

Just like with keyword research, context matters. Here are some things to consider regarding the present-state of desktop vs. mobile search:

The Key Takeaway:

Context matters. If your site is primarily pushing content only (essays, news, opinions), new features in mobile SERPs are going to drive readership. If your site is primarily focused on ecommerce or complex purchasing (insurance, courses, etc.) desktop will continue to be the majority platform your buyers engage with.

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