It’s Here! What Does Google’s Mobile-First Index Mean For You?

Google has been talking about their proposed Mobile-First Index for over a year and a half now. That’s a very long time to hear and read about an idea that they had – so much so that many started to believe it wasn’t going to actually happen.

Even when the Google Maccabees update hit in December, showing signs of changes to the way Mobile Friendly websites ranked, people still didn’t really connect it to the idea of the Mobile-First Index. Well, all of those who stopped believing in it are going to be sitting red-faced now – the Mobile-First Index is happening now.

As in right now; as we are writing this and you are reading it, Google has released its Mobile crawlers into the wilds of the internet to reindex every website.

What Does This Mean In The Immediate Future

Okay, so first things first, you don’t need to panic straight away. Unlike Mobilegeddon, this isn’t going to be a “done and dusted” switch to a new ranking system. The indexation has started today, as announced on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, meaning that Google will have to recrawl each website in its index.

This will take some time, and as such, the ranking changes won’t take effect immediately. Instead, the ranking changes will happen once all websites are re-indexed as part of the Mobile-First Index. This is to avoid giving websites an unfair advantage if they are re-indexed first.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can just sit back and relax. Google has a huge amount of computing power at its fingertips, so whilst it will take some time to reindex every site, it won’t be that long.

So, in the immediate future, nothing much will change. But it could be as long as a few months or as short as a couple of weeks (or quicker) before Google finishes its re-indexation. At that point, we’ll experience one of the biggest shifts in the SEO world since the original launch of Panda or Penguin!

What About The Long-Term Effects?

Okay, so now that we’ve looked at the immediate issues, it is time to review what this actually means, once the indexation is finished and the ranking changes come into effect.

In short, Mobile-First Index is Google’s latest step to force you to get a Mobile-Friendly website. The idea of responsive design has been pushed since the original Mobilegeddon, and with the increase in Mobile users across all industries, it is the most logical thing to have anyway.

Yet, there are still websites that do not have a responsive design. In fact, Google may even be partly to blame for this, as the panic caused by Mobilegeddon led many businesses to throw together a separate mobile site as a “quick win”.

Doing that is now going to come back and bite them. So, let’s break down the four different scenarios your website could be in and how the Mobile-First Index will affect each one, once the indexation is complete and the rankings start to change.

No Mobile-Friendly site

As rankings and indexation will be done entirely through the Smartphone Googlebot, your website will fall considerably in Search Results, losing positions to Mobile-Friendly websites. This will, in turn, lead to a significant drop in traffic and potential conversions.

A separate Mobile site

Use of a separate Mobile site, such as m.example.com, would mean that the Smartphone Googlebot will only ever be able to index that version of your website. In turn, this would mean that only the Mobile version would appear in Search Results, including on Desktop devices. This would then lead to lower engagement levels and conversion rates from Desktop devices.

A responsive yet not optimised Mobile site

You might see a very slight improvement in overall performance, but more likely, rankings would stay the same or fall slightly as better optimised responsive sites overtake you. On top of this, you may struggle to hold on to positions once the Google Speed update comes into play later this year.

An optimised responsive site

This is the best case scenario. Your website is responsive, loads quickly, has the content optimised and engages with users on all devices. You will be protected from the indexing changes, and almost certainly see improvements in ranking, Organic traffic and potential conversions.

As you can see, if you don’t have a responsive website that is optimised, you’re in a pretty bad situation. In fact, even if you have a Mobile-Friendly website on a subdomain, it will have a huge negative effect on your Desktop site’s performance.

What Should We Do?

Well, if you’ve already got a responsive website that is optimised for speed, content and usability, then you’re flying high!

On the other hand, if you don’t have those aspects in hand, you’ve got a lot of work to do.

The first thing you’ll need to do is ensure that your Desktop website is responsive. That could very well mean an entire redesign or rebuild of your current site, which is a big project – however, as you can see from above, it is imperative.

Once you’ve got the design of your Desktop website sorted, if you have a separate Mobile site, it is time to turn that off and put a full redirect strategy in place, so that all of the SEO equity is passed to relevant pages on the now-responsive Desktop site. This needs to be carried out carefully and concisely, to avoid any potential loss of equity and rankings.

The next step would be to start working on improving the page speed of the responsive website as much as possible. This often involves highly technical tricks to decrease the load time, so you’ll need a very skilled developer to do this.

Finally, you’ll need to optimise the site architecture, structure, content and conversion rate through planned and strategic on-site SEO tactics. Doing this will help to improve user performance metrics, meaning that Google will value your new, truly Mobile-Friendly website better. In turn, this will help your rankings improve even further.

We know that this all sounds like a lot of hard work, but unfortunately, that’s because it is. This is why we have been working with our clients for a very long time, optimising and redeveloping websites in preparation for the Mobile-First Index.

So, if you are worried or concerned about getting your business’ website up to scratch in time for the effects of the Mobile-First Index, then get in touch and let us help you figure out what you need to do.

Written by Gareth Torrance

Hello there. I'm Gareth, the Digital Marketing Manager at Brave. With almost a decade of experience in PPC and SEO, I've seen everything from Pandas and Penguins to the horrible time that was Mobilegeddon. As an Adwords Certified Google Specialist, I have lived through almost every major shift in the industry! And that makes me feel old.

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