Recently, Google officially announced the roll out of mobile-first indexing. This reportedly went into effect on March 27. This isn’t surprising news, since Google has been targeting early 2018 for the roll out, but we found a few points in the announcement that caught our eyes here at Seer.
What is Mobile First Indexing?
Mobile-first indexing means Google uses the mobile version of your site’s content for indexing and ranking. Historically, Google’s crawling, indexing, and ranking systems used the desktop version of a page’s content. Since most users engage with sites on their mobile devices, Google wants to ensure users have an optimal experience and serve them the most relevant content.
"Mobile-first indexing means that we'll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they're looking for."
How Does Mobile First Indexing Impact SEO?
"We are notifying sites that are migrating to mobile-first indexing via Search Console."
For all of you webmasters out there, be sure to keep an eye on Search Console. It would also be a good idea to benchmark the current performance of your websites to see how/if the mobile-first rollout impacts your site(s). If your site is impacted in a negative way check out these steps for assessing the issue and finding a solution.
"For sites that have AMP and non-AMP pages, Google will prefer to index the mobile version of the non-AMP page."
It's interesting to note that AMP pages will not be preferred by Google. Could this indicate that AMP is not worth the investment of resources in the near future? Probably not, but this is definitely something we will be keeping an eye on. If AMP is already a part of your strategy then it probably shouldn’t change based on this update. If AMP isn’t a part of your strategy yet, we believe it’s still worth looking into to see if your customers could benefit!
"Mobile-first indexing is about how we gather content, not about how content is ranked. Content gathered by mobile-first indexing has no ranking advantage over mobile content that’s not yet gathered this way or desktop content. Moreover, if you only have desktop content, you will continue to be represented in our index."
While mobile-first indexing isn't about "how content is ranked," content is still a major factor. It sounds like this update is first being rolled out to sites that are prepared for it, but there is still the potential for this update to be rolled out to sites that aren’t prepared (i.e. have a different content experience) and could fall in rankings. Ultimately, creating the best experience for your audience is the way to go.
"As always, ranking uses many factors. We may show content to users that’s not mobile-friendly or that is slow loading if our many other signals determine it is the most relevant content to show."
This is good to know, but we expect content would have to be exponentially better than mobile-friendly competitors to combat slow mobile site speed or small font, etc. However, it is always a good idea to provide answers and solutions for your customers.
It’s important to be aware of the mobile-first indexing and prepare (from a technical standpoint) as best as you can, but if you are solving the problems that your audience is searching for with your content, you shouldn’t feel the need to panic.
What Should You Do About Mobile First Indexing?
Chances are that you have been tracking your company’s or your clients’ keyword rankings, so we recommend starting there. Check ranking trends for your sites and see if anything has changed (such as: losing answer boxes, dropping from the first page, etc.) outside of normal fluctuations. Other things to watch for are drops in traffic to high-volume pages or less conversions from your site.
Seeing if your competitors have been negatively impacted isn’t as easy as seeing if you have been negatively impacted, but it’s possible. Again, check keyword rankings and see if your competitors lost ground as well. If you use a tool like STAT for keyword tracking, look at the share of voice graph to see who is gaining ground where you are losing it. SEMRush and Moz also let you check your competitors’ rankings compared to your own.