Google is switching to a mobile first index

Google makes changes to how they search for, store, and rank webpage content on a fairly regular basis. This is one of the top reasons why website owners who are concerned with their web page raking (SEO), are never finished working on and maintaining their site.

Google recently posted on their webmasters blog that it is their intention to switch how they index webpages from being desktop dependent to mobile first indexing. Google calls this decision an “important shift” and that could be underselling the significance depending on how your website is currently serving up content to users.

What is indexing and why is it important?

Indexing is the process where Google, and the other search engines, get the content of your webpages into a database. That database will be consulted any time a user types a phrase in Google search. Indexing is the middle step of Google responding to a search request. The three main steps are crawling, indexing, and ranking. Crawling is the Googlebot following hyperlinks on the web to find and discover content. Indexing, as just explained, is storing that content. And of course, ranking is the found and indexed content being displayed to users after they type in a phrase and click search.

The importance of indexing is apparent. If Google doesn’t have your content stored (indexed), then it obviously will not rank your page in the search results. For a small business owner, suffering in the Google rankings is serious marketing issue.


Will I have a problem after the change?

Maybe. There are really only three situations that any website can find itself in terms of being mobile friendly. The website is responsive, there is a mobile only version of the desktop site, or the website isn’t mobile friendly at all.

If your website is responsive, the impact should be minimal. Responsive in this case is a technical term that means that your website automatically reformats itself on the fly depending on the device being used by the viewer. Check out these graphics of the Small Biz Media website. The first is how the top portion of the home page looks on a big desktop monitor. The second is how the website has reformatted itself to be properly viewed on a cell phone.

non-mobile-version    mobile-version

Note how the menu changes from a full screen blue bar on a desktop to a simple thin bar with an icon on the cell phone. The Small Biz Media site is responsive. It is designed with modern technologies with the idea that many different devices will be used to surf the site. This site, and all other responsive sites, should be just fine. Test your own website to see how it looks on big monitors, tablets, and cell phones. Responsive sites will be fine because the new mobile first index will pick up all webpage content as before. Moreover, because it is responsive, it will still look great on all devices.

If you happen to be in the group that has both a desktop version and a mobile version of your website, you will be impacted the most. If you use redirects to send mobile users to your mobile version, the crawler will see only the mobile version. Most small businesses in this category have a stripped down version of content on their mobile site and as such, will likely suffer in the rankings.

The final group are the websites that have no mobile friendly design whatsoever. Most of these sites were built with older technologies or with DIY tools using non-standard techniques. For indexing purposes, these sites will not be impacted very much. For ranking purposes, Google already makes these sites pay a heavy price for not providing mobile users a great experience.

What is the bottom line?

  • Responsive websites
    • Not much impact is expected. Good job on keeping your websites up to date!
  • Desktop version + mobile version
    • Begin planning how to move away from this method.
    • Do this now.
    • Get a responsive site.
  • Non mobile friendly websites
    • Indexing should still be okay for you.
    • Google is punishing your ugly website for not providing mobile user goodness!
    • Get a responsive website.

This will not be the last change Google makes to the way it crawls, indexes, and ranks web pages. We must stay on top of these changes and adapt to stay relevant. Contact Small Biz Media to discuss your situation so your small business website is the marketing star you want it to be.


Posted in Small business issues, Web design