Historically, when Google crawled websites to add pages to their indexing they have done so as a desktop user. This meant that when Googlebot visited your website it would see the website it as if you’re browsing on a desktop or laptop computer. Mobile-first indexing means that now when Googlebot visits your website it sees the website as if you’re browsing on a smartphone and loads it using the same technology, and then browses as a desktop user.
Why is mobile-first indexing important?
When you look at a website on a mobile device, it is often not just the screen size that differs. Mobile devices tend to render pages differently and in a different order to start with. Some mobile browsers also have more restrictions and otherwise different capabilities. Ultimately these factors do affect the experience users have of a website and can lead to differences in the content that is delivered across different devices.
It’s also important to bear in mind the majority of mobile users will be using cellular data rather than WiFi, which can be noticeably slower and the loading speed is a huge factor in ranking and experience.
What does this mean for you?
Google’s change in indexing means that in order to secure positions anywhere near the first page your website must deliver a high-quality experience on mobile devices. Simply having a “mobile-friendly” website is no longer enough, the website needs to be designed and engineered for mobile devices primarily.
We’re not just talking content here either. Your website needs to load as quickly as possible, even on the slowest of networks, and every page needs to be available. Plus, links and buttons need to be large enough to be clicked on touch screen devices. Implemented technologies such as AMP (accelerated mobile pages) is also going to help to improve user experience.
Why has Google done this?
If you’re reading this there’s a good chance it will be on something other than a laptop or desktop – i.e a smartphone. In fact, it was way back in 2016 when the number of mobile searches performed overtook desktop searches. Ever since then the lead of mobile search has continued to increase. Now, going into 2020, we are seeing a wider range of devices perform searches and voice searches are rapidly becoming a significant player.
This makes total sense. Mobile devices and ‘virtual assistants’ add layers of context that laptops/desktop struggle too. Plus, it’s far easier and quicker to ask your phone, Alexa, Google, or Siri to look something up for you rather than a turn a computer on.
Search engines have long been wise to this fact, Google especially, and over the years have introduced changes that make search results more accessible across a range of devices. These changes go beyond simply making result pages responsive – the way results are shown and the length of excerpts have been optimised for smaller screen sizes too, plus featured snippets have been implemented.
Featured snippets essentially extract answers to queries in the most relevant format and displays them directly in the search results, with a link to the source. Snippets are generally either a paragraph, small list, or a table however more and more formats are being used including segments of videos.
On top of this, Google now calculates most mathematical equations that are typed into the search bar and offers more conversions that you can imagine.
As a consequence in March 2019, Google confirmed they took things one step further with the rollout of mobile-first indexing in order to deliver a better experience for the majority of their users. By switching to mobile-first indexing, Google can ensure search results are an accurate representation of the information that can be found on the page. It also helps to reduce the amount of lower quality websites served to people.