Google to Change Search Index to Mobile First

Last week Gary Illyes, a webmaster trends analyst with Google, announced Google is splitting their search index into separate mobile and desktop search results. The change should affect sites that do not implement mobile friendly responsive design and stripped down ‘m dot’ or adaptive, mobile only versions of classic desktop web sites.

Google to Create Mobile First Index

our ranking systems still typically look at the desktop version of a page’s content to evaluate its relevance to the user. This can cause issues when the mobile page has less content than the desktop page because our algorithms are not evaluating the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher.
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.

The official Google announcement does provide some details that business owners and web masters should note:

  • Existing Responsive Web Sites Should Not Be Affected
  • Do not have structural markup differences between mobile and desktop experiences
  • You should verify your mobile site is in the Google Search Console
  • If your site is desktop only they will continue to index your site.

Based on the official announcement and other public content and articles we also know the index update will start happening soon. Google will start slowly and ramp up the mobile first ranking. The new, mobile index will be the primary index and the classic, desktop first, index will be a secondary index.

One of the most significant reasons Google is making this move is actual traffic. Research is showing more and more [desktop search queries are a minority] Our web performance research backs this observation and is one of the primary reasons we approach web development with a performance first attitude.

The most substantial change will likely be that by having a mobile index, Google can run its ranking algorithm in a different fashion across “pure” mobile content rather than the current system that extracts data from desktop content to determine mobile rankings. - Search Engine Land

This is not the first big move Google and Bing have made in favoring mobile first web sites over class desktop only experiences. Over the past few years, in response to the rapid increase in traffic originating from mobile devices both search engine giants have prioritized mobile friendly sites in mobile search results. Since the majority of search traffic originates on mobile devices this means any business without a mobile-friendly responsive design is losing potential customers. In many ways you can see this update a continuation of mobilegeddon.

Love2Dev has been an advocate of responsive design as a requirement for several years now. We have specialized mobile first web solutions since 2010. Responsive design is only part of the answer. Web performance, with the emphasis on fast, responsive mobile experiences is also a requirement.

The move by Google to manage two indexes is the latest move by the search engines to prioritize mobile friendly web sites. We expect this trend to continue and not be limited to just Google’s indexes. Over time we anticipate desktop search indexes to be retired and the mobile friendly version to be the sole index. At that point having a desktop only experience will leave you out of the search engines all together. It is prudent for businesses and organizations to immediately move to implement a mobile friendly user experience that employs responsive design and great web performance. Google and Bing will reward you with better search results.

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