In early November 2016, Google announced on the Webmaster Central Blog that it will soon be implementing a mobile-first index. Coming early in 2017, Google will be indexing mobile pages as opposed to their desktop versions.
The Motion for Mobile-First Indexing
Today, most Google users are searching on a mobile device. However, Google’s ranking mechanism still uses the desktop version of a page’s content to assess its relevance to a user’s search query.
This can result in issues when the mobile version of a page has far less content than the desktop version. This is because Google’s search algorithms are not taking into consideration the actual page that is a mobile user is viewing (only the desktop version.)
In an effort to improve the quality of its mobile search results, Google has begun experimenting with its “mobile-first index.” In essence, Google’s search algorithms will soon primarily evaluate the mobile version of a site’s content to determine its page ranking. Further, the mobile-first index will help to better understand structured data and to show rich snippets from those pages in the search results.
Checking Your Site’s Mobile Pages
Most site owners only check their site’s mobile pages to assess whether or not they’re mobile friendly. However with the mobile-first index on the brink, site owners should check the mobile version of their pages to ensure their pages are serving sufficient content.
It’s a common theme among webmasters and site owners to make mobile pages much lighter (less text-heavy) than their desktop versions. But with Google’s mobile-first index, webmasters and site owners who serve two different versions of a page, will need to seriously think about this upcoming change and how to prepare for it.
From a SEO perspective, “If the content your desktop version of the page has does not appear on the mobile page, a site owner could lose traffic to those pages for those keywords.” according to Jennifer Slegg of theSEMpost.com.
SEO Implications of Mobile-first Index
We’ve touched on one of the most impactful implications of the mobile-first index. That is, retaining the same degree of content on mobile pages as their desktop versions. But there are a few additional considerations worth addressing.
Because webmasters take a minimalist approach to building the mobile version of a page, it’s now more critical than ever to ensure page-level optimization is consistent with that of desktop versions. Google will likely still consider Page Titles, Meta data, H1’s, and page copy in the mobile-first index and how it ranks pages. A missing header or 300 words of copy missing could dramatically hinder SEO.
Structured Data Markup
Webmasters will often times strip structured data markup from the mobile version of a page to make it lighter (or because they’re just lazy.) With the mobile-first index soon approaching, SEO’s and webmasters will need ensure structured data markup is implemented on mobile pages. This is to ensure rich snippets (and organic click-through rates) are retained.
This is a bit of a gray area, as there’s the overwhelming concern that mobile pages tends to have fewer backlinks compared to desktop content. This is a concern that’s parallel to mobile pages having less content than desktop pages.
According to Barry Schwartz’ recap on this topic at Search Engine Land, “Google’s search results are very dependent on links and content. So if both links and content are impacted, will the rankings be impacted?”
Google said they are still experimenting with new index, so it isn’t 100% clear how links will be impacted. Google’s own Gary Illyes said in a tweet, “I don’t want to say anything definite about links yet. It’s too early for that cos things are very much in motion.”
For more information about Google’s mobile-first index, visit the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog.