Most web searches are carried out on mobile devices, as they have been for several years. This shift in user behavior shouldn’t be news to any site owner or ecommerce retailer, and nor should Google’s enthusiasm for the mobile platform. The search giant has been cheerleading for mobile-friendly design for the best part of a decade.
This July will see another adjustment in the way Google balances the importance of desktop pages and mobile pages as it will enable mobile-first indexing for all new domains.
There is some confusion about what exactly that means, so it’s worth clarifying what will change and what won’t. The most important point to understand is that there is only one index. Google does not keep separate indexes for desktop sites and mobile sites. All results are drawn from the same index.
What may change is which versions of pages are indexed. Google aims to show mobile users a URL that provides a good mobile experience, and the same is true for desktop users. However, in the past, it was desktop page content that was indexed, not mobile pages.
To put it another way, Google’s web crawlers were based on a desktop browser, so they only saw the desktop version of a site.
Starting the first of July, all new domains will be crawled with a bot based on a mobile browser. It will see the mobile version of web pages, and it’s the mobile version that will be indexed.
What Does Mobile-First Indexing Change?
If you’re wondering what that means for your site, the answer is: probably nothing. The majority of modern WordPress sites, WooCommerce stores, and Magento stores use responsive themes. They send the same page to desktop and mobile browsers, and the layout of the content “responds” to the dimensions of the screen. For sites with responsive design, a mobile-first index changes nothing.
If your site doesn’t have a responsive design and doesn’t have a separate mobile-friendly version of its pages, there will also be no change. In this case, the desktop version is the only version, and that is what will be indexed. However, mobile friendliness is a ranking signal, so if your desktop version doesn’t provide a good user experience on mobile, you can expect to see it rank lower than mobile-friendly sites in mobile search results.
Mobile-first indexing will only affect sites that serve different content to both desktop devices and mobile devices. If a site has separate URLs for desktop and mobile, Google will index the mobile version. If the site dynamically generates different content depending on the user’s device, Google’s bot will see the mobile version, and that’s what will be indexed.
Most sites will not be affected by the change to mobile-first indexing. If your site or ecommerce does serve different content to mobile users, you should take a look at Google’s guidelines and ensure that the mobile version is properly optimized for search.