“If a mobile version exists, that will be the first thing we index,” Google recently announced. This is a straightforward announcement, but a lot of website owners are worrying. What does Google’s mobile first indexing mean for you?
Google has noticed — as many of our clients have — that their customers are using mobile devices more than desktop ones. From Googling a good place for lunch on the way out of the office to looking up a funny video to share with a friend to those quick fact checks we rely on, we’re using our phones for more Google searches every day.
When Google based decisions about what to show people on desktop versions of websites, that could mean that they were showing searchers something different from what they expected. Google started favoring responsive websites a while back, but many website owners offer mobile devices something different from their whole website. They may show things in different orders, divert users to an app, or have a mobile version of their website that doesn’t include all the content.
Now, Google is indexing mobile versions before the desktop version, when the two are different. That lets them show mobile searchers the content they’ve indexed, not something that might be poorer quality.
What does mobile first indexing mean for your professional website?
Is your website responsive? That means that it shows the same thing to desktop and smartphone users, as well as people accessing the site on a TV or a tablet or their Kindle.
This is our preference, and Google’s too. If your website is like this, then you don’t need to do anything. You have a single website and Google will index and rank it according to the quality of the site and its content. Relax.
But what if your website offers a different experience to mobile devices than to desktop users? Sometimes this is a good idea. For example, your hospital website might offer emergency information first to mobile devices, and give desktop computers a more luxurious brand-building experience. If you know that people are likely to use your website differently with a phone than with a desktop computer, offering different content can make sense.
If you have a separate mobile version of your website, it’s time to make sure that it is the best possible site it can be. Make sure that the code is correct, that you have your mobile version connected with Google Analytics and Search Console, and that the content is optimized.
What if your website is not mobile-friendly?
If you have a website that looks good on a desktop but doesn’t work well on mobile devices, you have some decisions to make. Mobile first indexing isn’t your biggest issue. Google will still index and rank your website.
Google will also favor your competitors who have responsive sites.
Sometimes people in this position ask us about creating an app or a mobile site, instead of updating their main website. Google reminds us that a good responsive website is better than an incomplete mobile site. Don’t rely just on looks if you’re in this situation. Putting up a quick mobile version with, say, a picture of your office and a phone number will actually be harmful. That site will be indexed first, and there won’t be much there for Google to work with.
Your best choice is to go ahead and build a new responsive website. If you are determined to build a mobile version instead, make sure that your mobile version is fully functional and completely finished before you launch it.