What is mobile-first indexing?
With the increase in mobile usage, search engines have realized that the majority of users access the internet through their mobile devices.
Therefore, they prioritize websites that are optimized for mobile devices and provide a seamless experience for users.
By using mobile-first indexing, search engines can ensure that their search results provide the best possible experience for users on mobile devices.
Timeline of mobile-first indexing
Mobile-first indexing was first introduced by Google in 2016, but it was not until March 2018 that Google officially started migrating websites to mobile-first indexing.
The migration was done gradually, and Google provided website owners with notifications via Google Search Console when their sites were moved to mobile-first indexing.
In December 2018, Google announced that it would use mobile-first indexing for all new websites starting July 2019.
This meant that all new websites created after July 2019 would be indexed primarily based on their mobile version.
This was part of Google's efforts to provide a better and more up-to-date view of websites for mobile users.
As of February 2023, mobile-first indexing is the default indexing method for all websites, meaning that Google primarily uses the mobile version of a website's content to index and rank pages on its search engine results pages.
How does it work?
Mobile-first indexing is a process that Google uses to determine how to rank websites in its search engine results pages.
With mobile-first indexing, Google gives priority to the mobile version of a website's content over the desktop version.
This means that Google's algorithms primarily use the mobile version of a website's content when crawling, indexing, and ranking pages on the SERPs.
Google predominantly uses the mobile version of a site's content, crawled with the smartphone agent, for indexing and ranking. This is called mobile-first indexing.
It simply means that there are no two indexings, instead, there will be an indexing with mobile indexing as a priority.
Why is mobile-first indexing important?
Mobile-first indexing is important because it reflects the current trend of how people use the internet.
As the majority of internet users access the web through their mobile devices, it is crucial for websites to be optimized for mobile devices.
Mobile-first indexing ensures that search engines prioritize websites that provide a better mobile experience, which means that those websites are more likely to rank higher in search results. This, in turn, can lead to increased traffic and more business for website owners.
Additionally, mobile-first indexing encourages website owners to focus on creating a better mobile experience, which can lead to better user engagement and ultimately, better conversions.
Do you have to shift to mobile-first indexing or does Google do it for you?
Google automatically shifts websites to mobile-first indexing when it deems them ready. Website owners do not need to manually request or initiate the shift to mobile-first indexing. Google elaborates it this way
Mobile-first indexing is enabled by default for all new websites (new to the web or previously unknown to Google Search). For older or existing websites, we continue to monitor and evaluate pages based on the best practices detailed in this guide. We inform site owners in the Search Console of the date when their site was switched to mobile-first indexing.
How to check mobile-first indexing?
You can check if your website has been switched to mobile-first indexing using Google Search Console.
Go to Google Search Console and select your website.
Click on the "Settings" icon in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.
Under the "Settings" section, click on "Site settings”.
Look for the "Googlebot Smartphone" section. If it says "Enabled", then your website has been switched to mobile-first indexing. If it says "Disabled," then your website is still being indexed based on its desktop version.
Moreover, Google Search Central suggests checking the “URL Inspection Tool” option where you can check if your page is in has “Googlebot smartphone” next to “Crawled as”
How to create mobile-friendly sites?
Use responsive design
Responsive design is an approach to web design that aims to create a website that can adapt to different screen sizes and devices.
It involves designing a website's layout and content to be flexible and scalable, so that it can provide a consistent user experience across all devices, from desktops to smartphones.
An example of responsive design can be seen on a news website. When viewed on a desktop, the website may have a three-column layout with a header, navigation menu, and sidebar on the left, a main content area in the middle, and a list of related articles on the right.
However, when viewed on a smartphone, the website's layout may adjust to a single-column design with the header and navigation menu at the top, the main content area below, and the related articles pushed down below the content.
The font size may also be larger, and the navigation menu may be condensed into a dropdown menu to make it easier to navigate on a smaller screen.
By using responsive design, the website can provide a consistent user experience across all devices, regardless of screen size or orientation.
Dynamic serving technique
Dynamic serving is a technique for serving different HTML and CSS codes to different devices based on the user agent that is accessing the website.
In the context of mobile-first indexing, dynamic serving can be used to optimize a website's content and design for mobile devices.
With dynamic serving, a website's server detects the user agent of the device accessing the website and serves a version of the website that is optimized for that device.
For example, if a user is accessing the website from a smartphone, the server may serve a version of the website that has a simplified layout and smaller image sizes to improve loading times and usability on a small screen.
Use separate URLs
Using separate URLs for mobile-first indexing involves creating a separate mobile version of a website with its own unique URL, which is then served to users accessing the website from a mobile device.
With this approach, the website's server detects whether the user is accessing the site from a desktop or mobile device and redirects them to the appropriate URL.
For example, a user accessing a website from a desktop computer might be directed to "www.example.com", while a user accessing the same website from a smartphone might be directed to "m.example.com".
Optimize mobile speed
Optimizing page speed is an important aspect of mobile-first indexing, as Google takes into account the loading speed of a website when ranking it in search results. Here are some tips to optimize page speed for mobile devices:
Optimize images: Images can be one of the biggest culprits of slow loading. Optimize images by compressing them and reducing their size without compromising on quality.
Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN): A CDN can help speed up website loading times by serving website content from servers located closer to the user, reducing the time it takes to load the website.
Enable browser caching: Browser caching allows a website to store certain files on a user's device, such as images and CSS files so that the website can load faster the next time the user visits.
Minimize server response time: Slow server response times can cause delays in website loading times. Optimize server response times by using a fast web hosting provider and minimizing server requests.
Practice mobile parity
When you have a desktop version and a mobile version of your website, it's possible that the mobile version doesn't have all the content that's available on the desktop version.
In this case, Google will still only index your mobile site, which means that any content that's exclusive to your desktop site will not be considered by Google.
This can result in a situation where a significant amount of your website's content will never rank on Google because it's not being indexed.
This can have a negative impact on your website's SEO because Google won't be able to fully understand the scope and relevance of your content.
To ensure that your website's content is fully indexed by Google, it's important to practice mobile parity, which means making sure that all of the content on your desktop site is also available on your mobile site.
In order to ensure that your website is optimized for mobile-first indexing, it's important to run mobile-friendliness tests.
These tests can help you identify any issues that may be preventing your website from being fully mobile-friendly and can provide suggestions for improvement.
There are several tools available for running mobile-friendliness tests, including Google's Mobile-Friendly Test, which evaluates your website's responsiveness, load times, and other key factors that impact mobile user experience.
Other tools like Pingdom and GTmetrix can also help you identify areas where your website may be falling short.
By regularly running mobile-friendliness tests, you can stay on top of any issues that may be impacting your website's search engine rankings and user experience.
What to do to make sure that Google can access the content?
Use the same meta tags
When it comes to optimizing your website for mobile-first indexing, it's important to use the same robots meta tags on both your mobile and desktop site.
These tags provide instructions to search engines about which pages to crawl and which pages to exclude from indexing.
By using the same robots meta tags on both your mobile and desktop site, you can ensure that search engines are able to access and crawl all of your website's content, regardless of which device it's being viewed on.
This can help improve your website's search engine rankings and overall visibility.
Some of the key robots meta tags to consider using include "index," which allows search engines to index a page, and "noindex," which instructs search engines not to index a page.
Make Google crawl all resources
When Google crawls your website, it follows a set of rules in the "robots.txt" file to determine which pages and resources it should access and which ones it should not.
The "Disallow" rule is used to tell Google not to crawl certain pages or resources on your site.
If you have different URLs for the same resource on your mobile and desktop site, it's important to ensure that you're not blocking the mobile URL with the "Disallow" rule.
This is because Google needs to crawl both versions of the URL to ensure that your site is properly indexed and can be found by users on both desktop and mobile devices.
To avoid blocking the mobile URL, you should make sure that your "robots.txt" file allows Google to crawl all the resources on your site, including those with different URLs for mobile and desktop.
You can do this by either removing the "Disallow" rule for those URLs or by using a wildcard (*) to allow the crawling of all URLs on your site.
Be careful about structured data
With the rise of mobile usage, Google has shifted its indexing strategy to prioritize mobile versions of websites.
This means that the structured data of a website, which is used to provide additional information to search engines about the content on the page, should be optimized for mobile-first indexing.
To ensure that your structured data is compatible with mobile-first indexing, you should check that it is properly implemented and functional on both desktop and mobile versions of your site.
This includes verifying that the structured data markup is correctly implemented in the HTML and that the schema markup is mobile-friendly.
To ensure that your website is indexed correctly and has the best chance of appearing in search results, it's important to have consistent metadata across both versions of your site.
By having the same metadata on both versions of your site, you're providing consistency for Google's crawlers and making it easier for them to understand your content and what it's about.
Optimize visual content
Websites need to be optimized for mobile devices to ensure that they appear in search results. One key factor to consider when optimizing your website for mobile-first indexing is the visual content.
You should check that all visual content, such as images and videos, is optimized for mobile devices. This includes ensuring that the file sizes are appropriate and that they load quickly on mobile devices.
Additionally, you should ensure that the visual content is responsive, meaning it adjusts to fit the smaller screen sizes of mobile devices without losing quality or functionality.
Mobile-first indexing is no longer an option but a necessity for website owners and developers. With mobile devices becoming the primary source of internet access, Google has shifted its indexing strategy to prioritize mobile versions of websites.
So, it's crucial to keep mobile-first indexing in mind when developing and optimizing your website to stay ahead of the competition and provide the best possible user experience across all devices.