What Does Mobile-First Indexing Really Mean?
Mobile-first indexing (MFI) refers to Google’s new method of crawling, indexing, and ranking web pages. The giant search engine introduced this concept in 2018 as a way of providing more user-oriented results for different search queries.
Google focuses on providing relevant results to all users even as sites update their content and other information continually. The search engine determines what to display in the SERP results based on over 200 ranking factors.
Before the introduction of mobile-first indexing in 2018, the SERP rankings in Google were primarily dependent on the desktop version of a website. So optimising the desktop version of your site could translate to an SEO advantage over your competitors.
Conversely, MFI now places more emphasis on optimising the mobile version of websites. There is no doubt that Google now ranks sites with well-performing mobile versions higher than their desktop counterparts.
Why is mobile first indexing important?
The unveiling of MFI implies Google is employing a different strategy in prioritizing the site data its bots gather. The result of such change is entirely new parameters of ranking websites. Therefore, if you need your website to rank high and attract organic traffic, a re-engineering of your SEO strategy is essential.
For digital marketers to stay on top of the game, they continually tweak their strategies in response to the ever-changing search engine algorithms and methodologies without necessarily boosting user experience.
On the other hand, mobile first indexing targets to enhance user experience and this has contributed to its widespread acceptance across the industry. With the high smartphone use globally, the majority of online searches now originate from mobile devices in contrast to the previous years in which desktop searches dominated. It is therefore sensible for Google to shift its ranking factors from desktop version-based to mobile version-oriented.
Previously, users searching the internet using mobile devices would receive results based on the information from desktop sites. This led to irrelevant or vague SERP results especially if the displayed websites were mobile-unfriendly. For instance, the web pages may contain files that cannot be opened on mobile devices leading to a poor UX.
Google’s decision to switch from desktop-based ranking to mobile first indexing is driven by need and ensures that the search results on mobile devices are functional and relevant to the user.
So whether you are a site owner, website developer, or digital marketer, MFI is a new concept that requires you to act appropriately if you want to remain competitive in this digital era.
How does MFI affect my website?
The impact of MFI will vary from one site to another depending on their type. For example, if your desktop site has a mobile version, Google bots will use the mobile version when indexing and ranking pages.
Indexing will also vary between the AMP and non-AMP websites as the search engine prioritizes the mobile versions of the latter and optimized content to determine which ranks higher.
For responsive sites, the new mobile first indexing will not affect their SERP ranking. This is because responsive websites have identical desktop and mobile versions. Canonical AMP sites with mobile versions will also not be affected by the MFI rule. If you’re running any of these types of sites, your SEO strategy is less likely to go down the drain.
While MFI may be a threat to the organic traffic of some sites initially received, it does not imply that all websites without an optimized mobile version will disappear from SERPs. Currently, Google uses a single index, which will still feature your desktop-only site on mobile searches if it lacks a mobile version. Nevertheless, with the ever-changing algorithms, acting upon MFI requirements is the most predictable way of succeeding online.
Do I need to create a mobile version of my website?
Even before the introduction of mobile first indexing, the lack of an optimized mobile version of a site could have gross consequences. Previously, the majority of users browsed from desktops. But the trends have now changed and mobile users form the larger proportion of website visitors. Failure to optimize content for these mobile users, therefore, leads to poor UX as functionality and speed will be quite compromised.
Visitors are less likely to spend more than four seconds while trying to navigate a website with slow loading speeds and poor functionality. As a result, you will lose the traffic from mobile users and register losses for your business.
With MFI, having a mobile version of your website is an added advantage. Apart from the aforementioned enhanced user experience, your site stands the chance of higher ranking with an optimized mobile version.
Notwithstanding, you do not need to create an all-new mobile version of your site to be in Google’s good books or improve user experience. Adopting a responsive web design (RWD) is a simple way of dealing with the needs of a mobile version. RWD optimizes your site for use on different devices including laptops, smart TVs, tablets, and smartphones. This guarantees an improved user experience as the site adjusts according to visitor behavior.
Again, a responsive design produces a mobile version similar to the desktop version of your site. Consequently, Google will index your website according to the MFI approach and enhance your SEO ranking. This all forms a good part of any Technical SEO Consultant work.
What does mobile first indexing mean for the future?
With the emerging trends of the internet of things and other technological advancements, an increase in the use of mobile devices is inevitable. Currently, more than 50 percent of web traffic is mobile-based but this is bound to spike.
Google’s new indexing and ranking approach is an anticipation of this future trend. MFI, therefore, is expected to be the primary tool of ensuring mobile users receive relevant content for their searches. Without a mobile version or a responsive design, your website is unlikely to keep up with the competition in the online space.