Google’s Mobile-First Indexing is Officially Underway

Since Google’s announcement earlier this week about rolling out its mobile-first indexing, SERP volatility has been alarmingly high across all search categories. In other words, Google’s algorithm is in dramatic flux, and sites that are not responsive across all devices could take a massive hit.

SERP Volatility Google Mobile First Indexing

This measurement is based on SEMrush Sensor, a Google rank and algorithm tracking tool.

What Does Mobile-First Indexing Mean?

After more than a year of ongoing experimentation and testing, Google has finally started migrating sites that apply the mobile usability best practices. Before, Google’s search engine algorithm typically relied upon the desktop version of a page’s content. This quickly became an issue with the uprise in mobile Internet use, as the desktop version of a page can often be vastly different from the mobile version.

According to Google in its announcement of rolling out the mobile-first index:

“Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for. We continue to have one single index that we use for serving search results. We do not have a “mobile-first index” that’s separate from our main index. Historically, the desktop version was indexed, but increasingly, we will be using the mobile versions of content.”

Google will be informing sites that are migrating to mobile-first indexing via Search Console. Webmasters and site owners can expect to see an increased crawl rate from the Smartphone Googlebot. Further, Google will display the mobile version of a page’s content in both the search results and Google cached pages.

Mobile-First Moving Forward

Sites that are not included in the initial migration need not panic, as the index will be rolled out over time. Mobile-first indexing is based on how Google gathers content and not about how the content is actually ranked. In other words, content gathered by mobile-first indexing will not have any ranking advantage over both mobile and desktop content that hasn’t yet been gathered. Additionally, sites that exclusively provide desktop content will continue to be represented in Google’s search index. 

Moving forward, there’s no question that mobile-first indexing will, in time, have a momentous impact on local SEO. With increased popularity of mobile search usage, trends in localized queries like “near me,” and immediate needs to be met from mobile users, there’s no time to waste in optimizing your site for mobile.

Google encourages webmasters and site owners to ensure their site’s content is mobile-friendly. Google also provides good takeaway points in keeping both mobile responsiveness and usability variables top of mind:

We do evaluate all content in our index — whether it is desktop or mobile — to determine how mobile-friendly it is. Since 2015, this measure can help mobile-friendly content perform better for those who are searching on mobile. Related, we recently announced that beginning in July 2018, content that is slow-loading may perform less well for both desktop and mobile searchers.

  • Mobile-indexing is rolling out more broadly. Being indexed this way has no ranking advantage and operates independently from our mobile-friendly assessment.
  • Having mobile-friendly content is still helpful for those looking at ways to perform better in mobile search results.
  • Having fast-loading content is still helpful for those looking at ways to perform better for mobile and desktop users.
  • As always, ranking uses many factors. We may show content to users that’s not mobile-friendly or that is slow loading if our many other signals determine it is the most relevant content to show.

For more information, check out the Google Webmaster Central post about mobile-first indexing and what to expect in the weeks to come.