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Google's Mobile-First Index: Why Even Your Mobile Website May Not Be Safe

Smartphone screen that reads mobile first

Posted on 12/21/2016 at 08:00 AM

2015’s Mobilegeddon algorithm update served as a strong intervention for many website managers needing a reason to finally make the leap to mobile. And it worked! Website owners everywhere reluctantly went through the motions and did what they had to, bringing their website up-to-code with Google’s “mobile-friendly” test. Some went with a responsive design, ensuring that all their website content could be viewed correctly, irrespective of the device or screen size used to browse. Others went the mobile website route, creating a separate website to display only a limited number of the many pages that were displayed on their desktop version. Whatever method they chose, they made their changes and went on their merry way. 

With the recent announcement of Google’s new and improved “Mobile-First” index, people who had gone with the separate mobile website option are getting the impression they can rest easy, with no additional plans but to sail smoothly through this change, completely unaffected.

However, Google’s been known to complicate things, and as it turns out, there is much to be misunderstood regarding how the mobile-first index will actually work. Those who assume they are safe may actually be in for a rude awakening.

Here’s why: Currently, Google looks to the desktop version of a webpage in order to make decisions about where a website will rank. Yes, one factor considers if a mobile version of a page is available in some form, but when it comes to grading a page based on keywords, content, links, and all of your other typical ranking factors, Google does not use the mobile URL but looks to the desktop website instead.

Since the content of mobile websites is usually limited and not currently being graded like that of desktop websites, imagine how much a mobile website could be getting away with? Poor user experience, less or lower quality content, spammy links pointing to mobile URLs, and more! These are all factors that would negatively impact rankings, but only if they were being considered, and since so many think of mobile as an afterthought, their habit of haphazardly updating and monitoring their mobile website hasn’t been an issue.

That’s about to change. When the mobile-first index rolls out, Google will instead begin to index mobile pages as the primary URLs, using them to determine rankings. This is bad news for poorly maintained mobile websites. Everything and we mean everything, will matter; links, content, the presence of structured data, (remember, there are over 200 factors considered when ranking a website) on a mobile website will determine ranking. This could mean the difference between maintaining your position in results and dropping out of Google’s index completely.

The good news is, if you went the ‘responsive’ route, you’ll likely be okay since your mobile and desktop content is virtually the same. However, those with separate mobile websites may want to review their mobile websites and make sure they are up-to-par with the quality offered by their desktop version.

Better yet, revisit the option of a responsive website that will reduce maintenance costs and eliminate risk when it comes to losing your mobile-first rankings.

Need help making sure that you are prepared for the Mobile-First index? Contact the Global Reach SEO team today!

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