[UPDATE] Due to coronavirus, Google has decided to push back enabling mobile-first index on all sites until March of 2021.
Very rarely does Google reveal information about the way they rank websites. A lot of what we know today comes from trial and error and information shared by SEO experts and website developers.
Website optimization is an ongoing process that requires a lot of testing and experimentation. Most people who run their own websites know the basics of SEO, such as good keyword usage, backlink building, and proper content creation.
Other factors that play a role with page ranking also exist, but Google is usually pretty quite about how their search algorithm functions and how webpages are ranked, which is why when they announce major upcoming changes, it’s a pretty big deal.
A shift towards mobile-first indexing
Google announced a shift towards mobile-first indexing back in 2016, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that they finally announced the end of their system migration: September of this year.
A majority of search queries performed today are done on mobile devices, and in order to give users a better experience when searching online, Google is prioritizing mobile users.
Before 2016, Google would crawl desktop sites only, using a site’s desktop version when ranking content. A common practice back in the day was having two versions of the same site, one for desktop viewing, and one for mobile viewing. Often times the mobile version was a stripped-down version of the desktop site and provided users with less information. Because of this, Google ranked websites based on the desktop version.
Responsive website design has made it unnecessary for businesses to run two sites, and most websites created today through WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace (to name a few), show the same primary content adn markup regardless of device.
Do note that, while the content of your site is the same on both desktop and mobile, the way things are laid out due to sizing issues may create an unpleasant experience for your site visitors. This includes small text, unresponsive buttons, overlapping elements, hidden content, and more. You’ll need a web developer to go in and iron out any kinks and issues impacting mobile users.
Because of the increase in mobile search queries, along with a decreasing need to crawl two different versions of a website, Google has determined that all sites moving forward will now be crawled with smartphone crawlers (known as smartphone Googlebot).
Since the 2016 announcement, 70% of all sites are currently crawled by smartphone Googlebot, with the remaining 30% still being indexed using a desktop crawler. Sites that are poorly optimized and are not currently being crawled with smartphone Googlebot will notice a hit to their ranking. The other 70% of sites shouldn;t really experience any changes since they have been crawled with Googlebot for some time.
If you weren’t aware of the change to mobile-first indexing on your site, and you experienced your site taking a hit in the amount of visitors you were getting at some point over the past 4 years, this may be the reason why.
Mobile-first indexing is just one of the many changes Google implements each year, and one of the few they have publicly shared with a major heads up. You need to make sure all of your webpages are properly optimized and that your site visitors can easily navigate your website on their mobile device. We’ll be covering more search ranking topics such as page speed and user-experience in next week’s blog, so stay tuned!