The Mobile First Index: How It Could Change Your Website Forever

by Aleks Vizulis on November 15, 2016

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The term "mobile first index" is starting to pop up everywhere in the marketing world, accompanied by a little bit of panic. And, if you're like a lot of people, you're probably wondering just what mobile first indexing is all about. It's time for a new term, so we've got a quick FAQ to bring you up to speed.

What is Mobile First Indexing?

It's all about Google. In the past, Google looked primarily at the desktop search index when deciding on page rankings – well, it may have looked at mobile searches too (reports are divided on this point), but when it came to ranking, Google always gave the most weight to desktop search activity. If your blog did well on the desktop, it did well in page rankings, end of story.

Now Google has announced plans to switch to mobile first indexing. In other words, when assigning page ranks, the search engine will look first and primarily toward mobile search activity. How well your mobile content performs – according to Google's algorithm – will primarily control your page ranking in the future.

What Exactly Will It Change?

Let's break it down into several of the most important points:

  • Two Indexes: Google appears to be maintaining two different indexes at this point, mobile and desktop. The mobile index will be the primary index used to decide page rankings, but the desktop index will still exist and have its own effect. Again, Google is secretive and there are conflicting reports on this, but it looks like there will be two indexes that both feed into the same ranking decision.
  • Re-Ranking: Yes, this absolutely means that websites will be ranked differently, and that those changes could be big. This should vary by industry, because some industries are simply better at keeping up with mobile improvements than others. But it's safe to say that, for those companies who have been ignoring mobile, this is some painful news.
  • There's a Ways to Go Yet: Things aren't changing yet. Google has announced its intentions, but hasn't announced that mobile first indexing has been activated, so we have some time. Of course, knowing Google, it could happen at any time without us knowing, so watch for sudden page ranking shifts.
  • Responsive Design Questions: While there are a lot of details to consider, one of the biggest questions is, "How will this affect responsive design?" Responsive design wants everything under one roof, with desktop changes cascading appropriately over to mobile and SEO that can be used on both sides. Google appears to be saying, "Whoa now, we sort of want the mobile and desktop worlds to be separated." That could spell trouble for responsive design, which is by far the most common, go-to mobile strategy.

What Can I Do About It?

Create excellent mobile content. There are a lot specifics to discuss with your IT and marketing teams, but that's what it really come down to. Create great mobile content, focus on speedy performance, and wait to see what mobile first is all about. It's sort of like waiting for a hurricane: It could bring a major storm and force reconstruction, or it could be a surprisingly light sprinkle of rain, and there's no way to tell until it happens – but you should prepare nonetheless.

However, we want to end on a note of encouragement: There are a lot of poor B2B mobile sites out there. Mobile first indexing could be just the shake up you need to pull ahead of competition, as long as your mobile site is ready to be scanned and meets Google's ideas for best practices. Think of this as an opportunity above all else!

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Aleks Vizulis

As operations manager at 21 Handshake, I bring an analytical perspective to the discussion table. My vision is to take projects from 'just strong' to superb. Often you will find me capturing behind the scenes photos in the 21 Handshake office or at a clients location. I play a fierce round of 18 during warm weather and catch me on the slopes during the other months of the year!

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