Ten years ago, when you wanted to find a barber or a restaurant or even a really great marketing company, you would turn to your trusty desktop computer and search for the appropriate listing.
Today, any question you might need answered is easily managed with a mobile device. It’s well-known that there are more mobile searches than desktop searches done through Google right now. This poses a bit of a problem for Google, since its existing index and ranking methodologies have long been based on desktop users.
Enter the Google Mobile Index
Late this fall, Google announced it would be working to re-rank sites based on their mobile versions.
For site owners that don’t have mobile versions, this announcement came as a pretty huge upset, but since Google has been using the presence of mobile-friendly sites as a ranking signal for a while, really no one should be shocked. If anything, Google’s been implementing this change so gradually that anyone who has ignored it to this point has already missed the boat pretty big time.
Even with a properly functioning mobile site, many site owners and content marketers are worried about what the mobile search index will mean for them. Will it affect their hard-earned rankings, for example? Will this mean less traffic or possibly a blacklisting if Google doesn’t like how they’ve implemented mobile-first design?
Google says no. In fact, Google says that it’s still all about the user experience, that’s why switching focus to mobile search is so important.
If Your Site Isn’t Ready, Get It There
Google is still exploring the effects of mobile-first indexing, so it may be some time before the mobile-first index completely surpasses the desktop-first version.
The experts at the search engine can’t say yet what changes will result from this switch in focus. They also say that if you don’t have a mobile site, they’ll continue to crawl your desktop site. However, with the continued emphasis on mobile user experience, my guess is that there will come a day in the near future when not having a mobile version will be the death knell of your site.
For the moment, though, having no mobile site is better than having a poorly designed mobile site. If your mobile version has less content than your desktop version, for example, you’re going to see a penalty from the lack of all the keywords and other signals that no longer exist for Google’s crawlers.
If you can’t afford a site redesign right now or aren’t looking to make things too complicated, a mobile-responsive site can work magnificently in the place of a dedicated mobile site. Not only will it cost less to implement, but you can also be assured the content will be identical to your desktop site since it’s all the same data loading in different ways – depending on the device.
The ranking factors that have mattered in the past will continue to matter, though. Things like quality content, working links, properly functioning code, well-designed H tags and so forth are still part of the Google metric, they’re just not the only part. The biggest thing to keep in mind with this update is that now mobile matters more than anything else. It has come out on top and that’s not going to change.
See What Google Sees
If you’re not sure what Google will see when it comes to your site, you can Fetch as Google from the Google Webmaster Tools.
This will allow you to see the code Google sees, the page rendered as Google would render it based on that code and even error codes to help diagnose problems. You are limited, however, to 500 fetches each week (most site owners would never reach this limit, but you’ll be warned at 400 that you’re getting close).
There’s even a tool within Fetch as Google to request a recrawl if you make significant changes to your site that may benefit your ranking. The GoogleBot will crawl again and determine if the site meets quality guidelines. There’s a risk to this, though, if you’re trying to game the system: you can be unindexed. So, before you ask for a recrawl, make sure you’re really finished with your updates and that they matter to your users in a major way.
Google’s change-over to mobile-first indexing ultimately shouldn’t hurt anyone who was already adapting to the times. The companies who stand to suffer from this update are those who are still under-serving their mobile users and those who were relying on exploitive gaming of the desktop-first crawler.
If you’re using good practices, have a responsive site or mobile-first design and are interested in your user experience above all else, you have absolutely nothing to fear from the latest round of Google search indexing changes.