Mobile-First: How You Can Prepare for Google’s New Index

November 16th, 2016 | SEO News 7 comments

Google has announced nothing less than the end of an era: Until now, a URL’s desktop version has been used as Google’s main index for evaluating websites and determining rankings. In the future, a site’s mobile version will be used. We look here at the most important questions and answers surrounding the mobile-first index – and provide an analysis of the pages in the US Google index which currently show the largest difference between their desktop SEO Visibility and their Visibility in Google’s mobile results.

Our solutions for Mobile SEO

Google Mobile Index

The issue of Google’s main index has been discussed by the SEO industry for a while now – at least since Mobilegeddon in April 2015. Are there separate indexes for desktop and mobile? Or is there “only” one main index? Google has now clarified this issue in its Webmaster blog: There is still just one index, but its emphasis is changing. Until now, the desktop version of the page was used for Google’s evaluation. In the future, information will be drawn from the mobile version.

Four ways to prepare for the mobile-first index

1. Register your mobile page in the Search Console

If you have a separate mobile page and haven’t yet verified it explicitly in the Google Search Console, then now is the time to act. All mobile subdomains – with and without www – should be verified, to clearly communicate to Google the existence of a separate mobile version. Canonicals do not have to be changed; in the past these tended to direct to the mobile version from the desktop one. If you have a responsive page, whose main content and markup structure are the same for desktop as for mobile, then Google says you don’t have to do anything.

2. Use the mobile user agent to analyze pages

Around a year and a half has passed since Mobilegeddon, yet there are still countless URLs in the mobile search results whose mobile friendliness leaves room for improvement – even pages that have been labeled as mobile-friendly. Cookie messages, app download banners, newsletter interstitials: Google is sure to apply stricter evaluation criteria in this area in the upcoming months. This underlines the importance of using a mobile user agent to crawl your own website. This is true of the Search Console, but also for analysis and optimization tools like Page Speed, GT Metrix etc. Doing this will help to answer the following questions: How user-friendly is the page? Is the main content immediately available? How is the loading time? Do banners or interstitials impinge on the user experience?

3. Check your structured markup

In its announcement of the mobile-first index, Google emphasizes the importance of structured markup. In the past, there were presumably numerous websites which used either too many or inappropriate markup structures. Now “large amounts of markup” should be avoided, whenever these are not relevant for the specific document in question. This means: webmasters should check the markup structure of their landing pages – and ideally use one markup per page. The markup should consider what the page is primarily offering, be it products, a blogpost or recipes. This helps Google to identify the main content of the landing page more quickly.

4. Compare Desktop vs Mobile Visibility

Google is now set to judge websites according to their mobile versions – this further increases the necessity of assessing the performance of your websites in the mobile search results. Set up a monitoring program and compare the Desktop and Mobile Visibility of your online projects via Searchmetrics Suite.

Our solutions for Mobile SEO

Open questions regarding mobile-first index

Google’s webmaster post is detailed, but it still doesn’t answer all the questions. One is how exactly Google is going to recognize the main content on a page: Will this be measured by user behavior, by seeing how long people spend on a particular area of a page? Or will the main content be generated from the information which is visible above the fold? And could this mean that footer texts and links are no longer going to be included? And what if my landing page provides product advice and product offers at the same time? How will Google establish a page’s emphasis, particularly on a smartphone, where users tend to be impatient and expect to see all the key information straight away?

Another question which is yet to be clarified is how Google intends to address “hidden texts”. Until now, content elements could be collapsed or hidden to make it easier for users to view the page on a mobile display. Google would then rank these elements as less accessible and less important for the user. Google’s Gary Illyes has now stated that, in the mobile-first index, content which is hidden for UX purposes will still be weighted fully – this marks a clear change of course.

Possible indicators of which content Google considers relevant for specific content categories could be provided by changes in AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). Since Google has now opened up AMP for “normal” web results, and no longer only lists news articles as AMP, John Mueller has confirmed that it is possible for any landing page to see accelerated performance on mobile devices – whether it have a commercial, educational or any other purpose.

Analysis: Mobile vs. Desktop SEO Visibility

Here we have analyzed the websites which currently show the largest difference between their Desktop and Mobile Visibility. If a page is much less visible in the mobile search results, and Google is set to use this version for its main index, then these websites could potentially see a drop in visibility in the search results displayed on all devices, including desktop. The list is based on data from the US Google index, and excludes domains which have recently seen large fluctations in visibility.

Domain Desktop Visibility Mobile Visibility Difference (absolute) Difference (%) Mobile-friendly?
etymonline.com 152,465 37,384 115,081 75.5% not mobile-friendly
pollstar.com 33,395 8,275 25,120 75.2% not mobile-friendly
ycharts.com 21,869 5,985 15,884 72.6% not mobile-friendly
indiatimes.com 133,181 36,464 96,717 72.6%
collegedata.com 20,241 5,753 14,488 71.6% not mobile-friendly
onlinecreditcenter2.com 21,374 6,146 15,228 71.2% not mobile-friendly
didigames.com 68,276 19,713 48,563 71.1%
freegames.ws 38,233 11,239 26,994 70.6% not mobile-friendly
fleetfarm.com 15,611 5,165 10,446 66.9% not mobile-friendly
earthcam.com 28,812 9,544 19,268 66.9% not mobile-friendly
winehq.org 18,888 6,290 12,598 66.7%
drudgereportarchives.com 15,142 5,049 10,093 66.7% not mobile-friendly
nndb.com 65,965 22,516 43,449 65.9% not mobile-friendly
imfdb.org 39,924 14,102 25,822 64.7% not mobile-friendly
darklyrics.com 20,967 7,651 13,316 63.5% not mobile-friendly
wikinvest.com 18,296 6,699 11,597 63.4% not mobile-friendly
eslgaming.com 13,570 5,011 8,559 63.1%
wordgames.com 20,652 7,644 13,008 63.0%
the-numbers.com 35,102 13,131 21,971 62.6% not mobile-friendly
cowboylyrics.com 26,254 10,002 16,252 61.9% not mobile-friendly
iucnredlist.org 19,090 7,413 11,677 61.2% not mobile-friendly
metal-archives.com 24,156 9,454 14,702 60.9% not mobile-friendly
genealogybank.com 25,367 9,934 15,433 60.8% not mobile-friendly
mozillazine.org 29,803 11,805 17,998 60.4% not mobile-friendly
ucsfhealth.org 16,958 6,804 10,154 59.9% not mobile-friendly
mountsinai.org 18,299 7,416 10,883 59.5%
thetvdb.com 20,238 8,376 11,862 58.6% not mobile-friendly
quotationspage.com 34,037 14,195 19,842 58.3% not mobile-friendly
periodictable.com 13,883 5,823 8,060 58.1% not mobile-friendly
att-services.net 12,202 5,130 7,072 58.0% not mobile-friendly
plentyoffish.com 36,030 15,215 20,815 57.8%
mapquestapi.com 22,411 9,464 12,947 57.8% not mobile-friendly
onetonline.org 42,286 17,888 24,398 57.7% not mobile-friendly
airnav.com 24,850 10,555 14,295 57.5% not mobile-friendly
shockwave.com 111,017 47,291 63,726 57.4%
e-chords.com 32,931 14,041 18,890 57.4%
cpan.org 23,664 10,182 13,482 57.0% not mobile-friendly
molottery.com 12,391 5,333 7,058 57.0% not mobile-friendly
wordcentral.com 31,984 13,941 18,043 56.4% not mobile-friendly
poynter.org 27,498 12,098 15,400 56.0% not mobile-friendly
elyricsworld.com 23,310 10,336 12,974 55.7% not mobile-friendly
humblebundle.com 13,046 5,806 7,240 55.5%
didblog.com 11,589 5,158 6,431 55.5%
podbay.fm 17,278 7,707 9,571 55.4% not mobile-friendly
rationalwiki.org 75,642 33,930 41,712 55.1% not mobile-friendly
ip-adress.eu 20,313 9,124 11,189 55.1% not mobile-friendly
247sudoku.com 11,315 5,093 6,222 55.0% not mobile-friendly
geocaching.com 28,761 12,977 15,784 54.9%
usclimatedata.com 21,729 9,825 11,904 54.8% not mobile-friendly
artcyclopedia.com 12,491 5,649 6,842 54.8% not mobile-friendly
Average 32,456 11,835 20,621 61.0% 76% not mobile-friendly
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P.S.: Who’s writing this stuff? My name is Jan and I am Content Marketing Manager here at Searchmetrics. Among studies and whitepapers dealing with search- and content optimization, I'm blogging about new product features, Google Updates and analyze fresh data from the Searchmetrics Suite.
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Comments (7)

Comments (7)

  1. 2016/11/17

    Mobile friendly websites are a must! Thanks for pointing that out. AMP pages will probably also be a good ranking and visibility factor in a near future.

  2. 2016/11/17

    This text is important. Businesses who don’t have mobile friendly websites will lose more and more visibility. AMP pages will probably be the next requirement very soon.

  3. 2016/11/19

    The era has convert Desktop to Mobile…..Now mobile has become one of the best source of business….Nice post. I have submitted request for detail.

  4. 2016/11/23

    It’s not only about search engines but it is mostly for the users. Now a days internet users are using mobile devices more than desktop computers or laptops. Any business wants to get maximum out of those people who are using mobile devices, its website has to be optimized properly for it. Responsiveness, proper use of structured data, fast website and mobile usability are the key factors and obviously the AMP is the newest development. Semantic SEO and machine learning is changing the SEO a lot and hopefully this will continue and make the internet cleaner.

  5. 2016/11/24

    It’s going to be a fascinating few months (and years!) ahead. Time will see whether this is a real game changer or not. Some great tips in the article though, good to be prepared.

  6. 2017/01/02

    Thanks Jan Grundmann,

    You have clearly illustrated how it’s useful for websites to be mobile friendly, responsive or there should be mobile version of the Website. Even AMP seems to be more interesting & in future I think Google will also consider AMP Website Pages where the chances of users to engage are more.

    What’s yours thought on Users Engagement?
    I think users engagement will be the most important factor which will be considered by Search Engines.

  7. 2017/01/15

    Excellent article. The importance of ensuring your website is mobile friendly is now even more important. Stats on a number of our sites shows nearly two thirds of our visitors are now via mobiles and tablets which endorses this articles content.

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