Google clarifies what it means by mobile first indexing for SEO

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Google clarifies what it means by mobile first indexing for SEO

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In November 2016, Google announced that it would be changing the way it indexes websites and coined a new phrase – mobile first indexing.

This means that instead of using the desktop version for its index, Google will look at the mobile version of a website. It will index keywords, content and then evaluate relevance to the user based on the mobile version.Google mobile first indexing

Google had always previously used the desktop version to crawl, however changing search habits mean that the mobile version will be used instead. For all running responsive website, the changes should be minor, however there will be some issues for those running different versions of their website for mobile users:

  • 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.

Some websites are already migrated to mobile first indexing

Some may have already seen messages appear in their Google Search Console informing them that their website has been shifted to mobile first indexing:

Mobile first indexing enabled for http://YOURWEBSITE

To owner of http://YOURWEBSITE

This means that you may see more traffic in your logs from Googlebot Smartphone. You may also see that snippets in Google Search results are now generated from the mobile version of your content.

Recent update from Google on mobile first indexing

As the wheels are in motions Google has recently published a series of tweets that are intended to clear up confusion around the issue:

  • URLs in search: With Mobile-first indexing, we index the mobile version. When we recognize separate mobile URLs, we’ll show the mobile URL to mobile users, and the desktop URL to desktop users – the indexed content will be the mobile version in both cases.
  • Crawled counts: The total number of crawled URLs/day generally won’t change, but the balance will shift from mostly-desktop to mostly-mobile crawls. During a switch-over to mobile-first indexing we may temporarily crawl more as we reindex everything.
  • Cached page: Unfortunately, it looks like we’re currently still not showing a cached page for many mobile-first indexed sites. This is a bug, not by design, and should get resolved over time. It’s just the UI, it doesn’t affect crawling, indexing, or ranking.
  • Speed update: The mobile speed update coming in July is not related to mobile-first indexing.
  • Mobile website UIs: Using “hamburger-menus” and “accordions” on mobile websites is fine.
  • On requirements: Mobile-friendliness and mobile-responsive layouts are not requirements for mobile-first indexing. Pages without mobile versions still work on mobile, and therefore are eligible for indexing.
  • On ranking: The mobile-first index doesn’t change anything in terms of ranking positions. The only thing that changes is Google is now indexing the mobile content only. While mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor on mobile, being in the mobile-first index is not.

We think that a good responsive web design will be fine. However it is always worth reviewing mobile performance with regard to speed and what is displayed so you optimise the mobile user experience as that becomes increasingly important.

One note of caution is that while the global average shows 52% mobile versus 44% desktop, this is skewed by people in less developed countries being more reliant on smartphones for their Internet access.

Worldwide market share of Internet usage


Desktop versus mobile market share in Europe

The richer, developed markets in Europe say still show a majority using desktop computers, 56% desktop versus 38% mobile. There are also differences in age and demographics too.

Further reading

Statcounter destop versus mobile usage data

Google mobile first indexing

Google clears up confusion on mobile first indexing

Mobile first indexing goes live