Google’s Mobile-First Indexing Tool

The entire search industry has been busy in discussing the biggest change in the way Google search results are displayed! Gary Illyes, the Google webmaster trends analyst, was recently spotted saying that Google would surely communicate a lot before rolling out this biggest update so far – mobile-first indexing

But, what is this hype all about? Let’s find out.

What is MobileFirst Indexing?

For every website owner, one of the biggest challenges is getting high ranking in the search engine results. That is where the whole concept of SEO arises from.

At present, Google indexes sites based on Googlebots which crawl the desktop or mobile device in question with the help of a desktop user agent. However, this method has caused some concerns for the mobile users. This is because, at times, websites with a poor mobile experience are ranked better in search engine results, which ultimately proves to be a setback for mobile users. This is what Google intends to fix with its new mobile-first indexing system.

On an average, the website indexing algorithm undergoes as many as 400 changes in a year. This is done to make the algorithms smarter and more efficient with each passing year.

Mobile-first indexing can be considered as Google’s most significant update. This approach of Google supports mobile-friendly websites and ranks them better in search engine result pages.


How does Google currently index your website?

According to a recent study, mobile devices provide 60% of all traffic, and this is expected to grow year by year.

Since this number is on the rise regularly, the transition to the mobile-first indexing tool is important. However, let us first understand how Google indexes the websites currently.

In order to understand this, we need to focus on three different concepts.

  • Crawling

This is the process by which Google follows the links to reach the actual content. New pages of information and data are discovered in this part.

  • Indexing

All the data that is found on your website is turned into something much more usable such that it can be stored in Google’s database. In common terms, this is the process by which Google makes a copy of your content in another format to analyze it.

  • Fetching

This is that part of the ranking process where the word vectors come into action. Google figures out query specific information from the content. And finally, when it comes to ranking, it ranks the websites in a serial order according to the tests carried out.

So, right now, Google creates signals for websites with Googlebots, taking help from the user agents. Next, Google crawls the sites once again in order to collect signals from the mobile-friendly sites. However, as a result of this, no new index is being created.

Right now, when a user uses Google to search something, the algorithm works by analysing information gathered by the desktop crawler only. Thus, the websites are now ranked according to the desktop crawler.


So, What Is Changing?

With the new update, mobile-friendly sites will get a higher preference. In other words, the experience provided by a mobile version of the website would matter more than the experience provided by the desktop only version of the website.

So, how will this affect you? For instance, if you have a website with a type of content structure suited to a desktop and another content structure suited to a mobile, the latter will be prioritised by the Google. In this situation, if there is missing content on the latter, it brings in bad news for your website. On the other hand, if your content structure is such that they are identical for both the mobile and desktop versions, then you will not be affected by this change at all.

Does this mean there will be two different indexing tools – one for mobile and the other for the desktop? Well, no. In a recent statement by Google, they made it very clear that there would only be one indexing tool.

The only change is that mobile-friendly sites will be given preference. And if your website is not suited to be used on a mobile, you could get yourself a lower position in the rankings.

Simply put, the mobile-first indexing tool will not devalue the desktop pages; instead, it would just focus more on the mobile pages instead of their desktop versions.

So, as a website owner, there is one important factor to consider here. If you want to rank higher in the search results, you need to make your site more mobile-friendly.


It’s Happening!

While this introduction of Google’s Mobile-First Indexing tool could bring in significantly altered mobile browsing, the timeline for the change has not been revealed yet.

As per Illyes, “We don’t have a timeline for the launch yet. We have some ideas for when this will launch, but it’s probably many quarters away. Our engineers’ timeline was initially end of 2017. Right now, we think more 2018. ”

Thus, if everything goes right, the change is not going to be visible before 2018, even though the original plan was to release it by the end of 2017. There is a reason for this.

The main idea is to make the search results ‘quality neutral’. Google will release this change in such a way that there is not a big difference in the results. They could either be the same or slightly better in quality. Until and unless this uniformity of results is achieved, the tool will not be made public.

At present, multiple tests are being conducted in order to concentrate on the issues observed and figure out the possible solutions. There is also a possibility that this tool can be rolled out in multiple batches. For instance, if one batch of files works well with the tool and brings out good results, it could be released earlier and then the next batch will be released with improved search results.


Tips To Prepare Your Website for Mobile-First Indexing

There are a lot of things you can do in order to keep yourself high in the rankings once the new mobile-first indexing tool is released. The main idea is to keep your webpage as optimised for your mobile as it is for the desktop interface. Here are a few things that could help you in the process:

  • Images on the website should be well customised for the mobile platform.
  • The content is the most important aspect of the webpage and that should be easily readable on both mobile and desktop.
  • All excess information should be removed. For instance, JavaScript, CSS, and HTML should be minified for a better user experience.
  • A quick response time always works well for mobile websites.
  • Every page containing textual content and media should be discoverable by robots.txt.
  • When all the images are compressed, it gives a more comfortable user experience.


Useful Tools to Get Help

At this point in time when Google’s mobile-first indexing tool is focussing so much on optimising websites for the mobile platform, here are a few tools that could help you in the process.

  • Google Mobile-Friendly Test

If you run your website through this simple testing tool, it will tell you if and how your webpage is mobile-friendly or not. Along with that, it also displays all the reasons why the page is not working well. For instance, the text in the content can be too small to read for the users, the content might be too broad for the screen, as a result of which the page is not well optimised. On the whole, the page becomes difficult to be viewed on the mobile screen and this tool tells you how to solve these issues.

  • Google Test My Site

This is yet another tool that tests how well your site can handle the mobile platform. The specialty of the tool is that it tests the site on three parameters. The first is mobile-friendliness. This is followed by mobile speed and desktop speed. Basically, if you need to make your site ready for the mobile-first indexing tool, it ensures that it is both mobile-friendly and produces a quick response time.

  • Google Mobile Usability

This tool again focuses on the mobile-friendliness of the site. It provides a more statistical analysis of the results of the test, giving tabular data and graphical representations. And if you want to learn about possible fixes, this tool has the answers for you there as well!


Over to You

3 out of 5 searches on Google happen on mobiles. Since a majority of the browsing traffic is generated on the mobile platform, it is important to keep your site prepared for the smaller screen in order to stay safe during the update.

The bottom line for all webmasters and SEO experts is to relax and make your websites mobile ready. As Illyes was quoted saying, “it is going to be a big change, but don’t freak out”.

However, since mobile-first indexing can jeopardise your website’s ranking significantly, it is always wise to take help from industry’s professionals and search engine experts.

If you are looking for an SEO partner that will guide you and help your website rank better even once the update is rolled out, get in touch with us today.

Julian Saunders

Julian oversees the High Impact team, putting to use his fifteen years experience in SEO, content and digital marketing. He is an award winning marketer with a strong entrepreneurial spirit.