Google search is going mobile first - here's what it means

Guy Jarvie, head of SEO, iProspect
By Guy Jarvie, head of SEO, iProspect | 18 October 2016
Guy Jarvie, iProspect.

Google has been continuously investing and improving the way it delivers relevant search results for users on mobile devices.

Although we’ve had some pretty obvious clues that Google search is become more mobile-orientated with the advent of ‘Mobilegeddon’ in 2015 and the introduction of Accelerated Mobile Pages in February this year, it’s now clear that Google is taking this a step further.

Google search is set to become mobile-first. Currently Google has a single index for search across desktop and mobile, but last week Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed at Pubcon in Las Vegas they are going to create a separate, rapidly updated mobile index, which will become the primary index used for search.

A secondary desktop index will be in place, but won’t be as up-to-date as the mobile index. We don’t know exactly when the changes will be rolled out, but it will likely only be a matter of months.

We know Google has been working on creating a separate mobile index for a while now, but with mobile searches now accounting for more than 50% of all searches, it’s making more sense to prioritise a more relevant and positive user experience for users on mobile devices.

What does this mean?

At the moment, it’s still too early to say how having two separate indexes will work or be maintained by Google. But knowing that Google is prioritising mobile content, it would be prudent to ensure that you do the same for your website. If your business is not thinking about mobile first design and giving users a singular journey and experience, then this update will put you at a big disadvantage.

It’s likely that we’ll see ranking signals change between mobile and desktop devices, which will mean a different approach to link-building for mobile devices, content and website optimisation.

Responsive sites will benefit the most and will be well placed for the change. However, websites which have a separate mobile site will suffer the most as a strong focus on optimisation will be necessary to get them up to speed if they’ve been neglected in the past.

Google knows that users value speed above all else when it comes to mobile search. As a result, it’s going to be massively important to ensure that your website speeds are as fast as they can be, particularly the mobile version. It would be a wise time to invest in Accelerated Mobile Pages and using all the tools at your disposal such as the PageSpeed Insights tool to get these speeds as low as possible.

What’s Next?

Although we don’t know exactly when the new mobile index will be introduced, the good news is that there’s still time to prepare if you’ve never though about mobile before.

The first step you should undertake is to analyse your top pages using Google's Mobile-Friendly Test tool. If you don’t currently have a responsive website, you should also start thinking about your website’s currently visibility and user-experience, and look at ways to improve it over the coming months.

It’s also going to be important to begin openly analysing the experience a user or customer has on your mobile site versus the desktop site. If the experience is inconsistent and confusing, it’s time to start investing in making it more effective and uniformed.

Finally, if mobile optimisation is currently an afterthought with all focus being placed on your desktop website – it’s now more important than ever to ensure that it becomes the new front and center of your content optimisation strategy.

If you’re not making your content visible to users on mobile devices, it’s likely that this update will have a considerable impact on your overall traffic and search engine visibility.

Above all, Google is going mobile first, so we have to do the same.

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