September 3, 2021

Understanding The Changes to Google's Mobile-First Indexing

Increasing Google rankings is a goal for all website owners. However, it can be challenging to implement, especially since the search engine company keeps changing their algorithms. For instance, Google announced in 2020 that by March 2021, they would be implementing mobile-first indexing for all websites. It means they will drop desktop-only websites, while the m-dot versions of these sites could experience bugs. According to the search giant's senior webmaster John Muller, the date is unlikely to change. 

"One of the things that we noticed that people are still often confused about is with regards to, like if I only have something on desktop, surely Google will still see that and it will also take into account the mobile content. But actually, it is the case that we will only index the mobile content in the future [...] anything that you want to have indexed, it needs to be on the mobile site," he said.

Understanding The M-Dot Mobile Indexing Bug

Some websites have a separate m-dot mobile version, hosted on a different subdomain. For example, if your URL is https://sampleurl.com, your separate m-dot website might be m.sampleurl.com. After the update, Google might not be able to send desktop users from SERPs to the website. Instead, Google will only send desktop users to the m-dot version since it is the one indexed. 

Mueller does not see the situation changing soon, though he did not specify why this bug happens. The only way to resolve this is to make sure that users redirect from the m-dot to the desktop version on a desktop browser.

Why Does Google Implement Mobile-First Indexing?

Today, most people search on Google using mobile devices. People are using their phones or tablets, even for work. However, until very recently, the internet's ranking systems still looked at only the desktop version of pages to determine its relevance to users. This could be problematic, especially when the mobile version has less content than the desktop one. Since mobile searchers might not see (or choose to view) the desktop version, the domains are getting a ranking that does not reflect the website's actual usefulness to users.

So that results become more useful, Google started a years-long initiative geared toward ensuring that indexing becomes more friendly to mobile users. Since 2016, Google has been rolling out changes to its algorithm, prioritizing websites' mobile versions to rank pages and understand structured data.

For years, SEOs have relied on the idea of having one URL for every piece of content. However, Google does not want to treat itself as a 'link search engine.' It has always been a search engine "for the internet," which means helping people access the best information online, wherever it is. The internet is much larger than the worldwide web, and it contains information that isn't available for viewing through a browser.

Today there are massive amounts of data and information without HTML formatting on the internet, which is critical for big data and the Internet of Things. Google wants to leverage this information, but it is only accessible through APIs. Mobile-first indexing is a way of getting to that data.

How Does This Affect SEO?

Mobile search trends affect the trend for content relevance. Marketers pay attention to mobile-first indexing because it has implications for establishing a content strategy online. It means Google is putting less stock on URLs and will favor API or "entities" it pulls from structured data. The key benefit of mobile-first indexing to SEOs is that once the rollout is complete, algorithmic changes will not disrupt rankings anymore as soon as they launch.

Like anything Google produces, though, they will also greatly benefit from mobile-first indexing. Aside from enabling them to be less reliant on crawling URLs, it could also change how data gets collected and preserved online. 

Mobile-First Means Cloud-First Indexing

Many of Google's latest mobile-oriented updates also de-emphasize URLs, links, and site structure. Google has been trying to separate rankings from link relevance. Increasing Google rankings in the future will rely less on URLs and more on content. It seems like Google wants to associate specific pieces of content with rankings, like what you see with on-page structured markup or XML feeds.

In time, Google will have more assets in their cloud since this decreases their reliance on crawling and allows them to gather insights into how users browse for content on their search engine. When information is in Google's cloud, it is easier for them to monitor activity around rich results like carousels and other non-text elements.

What's more, since cloud hosting costs less today, it is now a more cost-effective option for Google. With cloud hosting, they rely less on crawling. Crawling is the aspect of their services that is most difficult to scale, and if they host websites' content on their cloud, they do not have to focus on crawling. They will know when you update content or post something new. They can better monitor the number of requests on their system for specific content on the user end. Thus, they will have a clearer picture of a website's capacity for engagement.

It also enables more efficient data collection. Since Google uses its own caching and compression algorithms, content is faster. Google can also detect the device and network connection speed of the user requesting content, and they can adapt the information they send. Doing this allows them to deliver to different operating systems or devices without too much trouble.

This speedier delivery of content will benefit both Google and its users accessing cloud-hosted content. The search giant prefers to include rich results in SERPs today, which means more time spent on the search engine and improving mobile user experience on their product.

What Do You Need To Do?

First of all, do not panic about the changes in mobile-first indexing. If you already have a responsive website design, you will probably not need to implement many changes. However, you will need to ensure fast page speeds and short load times. You must also correctly optimize dynamic elements or images. In mobile-first indexing, content hidden in tabs will not get different treatment from visible content.

Take time to evaluate your website's mobile version. Are the font sizes large enough for a small screen, or do you need to make it more readable? Are the buttons large enough, and do they link to where they should? Are your image file sizes too big, or are they just right for mobile? Get the answers for these and you'll be sure to have a mobile-friendly website.

Conclusion

Mobile-first indexing will surely have a significant impact on SEO over time. Since the world is leaning more and more toward mobile browsing, prioritizing mobile-friendliness will help you improve your website’s rankings. Seeking the services of SEO experts will also help.

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