What is Google’s Mobile First Index?

Google’s mobile first index is the news from the search engine that it is splitting the desktop search results from the mobile search results and placing the mobile search results as its priority index.

Why is Google making the mobile index its priority?

Google thinks that the world is going to focus around mobile the most. In fact, we already make more searches in Google on our mobile phones than we do on our desktops. So you can see why they have made the mobile index their priority. It’s not to say that the desktop index isn’t worth anything anymore, quite the contrary, but it says that they’re spending most of their resources on the mobile index, making it their primary one as it gets the most usage.

What can we take from this?

We can say that Google really wants us to focus on mobile and that mobile needs to be thought of at all times, starting with the design and UX of a website from its conception to how we market the site for mobile and how we make and tailor the content for mobile.

Google really wants us to focus on mobile and that mobile needs to be thought of at all times, starting with the design and UX of a website from its conception to how we market the site for mobile and how we make and tailor the content for it. It doesn’t mean that desktop now needs to be chucked to the kerb and forgotten about. Desktop is as important as ever because we spend most of our daily hours at work in front of a desktop of some kind. We also use a desktop at home, normally as a laptop or we use smart TV’s with keyboards or voice search. However, phones are for when we’re on the move, which is most of the time. It’s phones that have connected us to the internet like never before and it is phones that will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Cue Google Glass, VR, AR, voice search, AI, contact lenses with screens built in and other stuff to come and change that but, for now, mobile phones is the device par excellence.

mobile vs desktop

So what exactly will the mobile first index do?

Mobile first index will look at a website in a very similar way to the way it does for a desktop version but it will put more consideration into whether a site is mobile friendly and mobile optimised. Things like size of buttons, is a site mobile responsive, does a site have its viewports set up correctly, is content organised in a way that is easily readable or viewable on a phone screen, what is the page load speed like, does a site use Google AMP, is the most valuable content above the fold, how easy is it to navigate around the mobile version, etc. All of these little things that make the mobile user experience much better are what Google will be looking for.

It will also mean that if your site is awful on mobile but great on desktop, you won’t be punished in both indexes; you’ll only be punished in one index. Before the mobile first index, you were punished for having a bad desktop version of your site even if you had a good mobile version. Also, Google didn’t punish you if your mobile version of the site was poor but your desktop version was great. This meant that people were getting awfully designed sites in when they searched in Google on their phones despite the fact that better quality sites existed further down the search results. You now can’t rely on your desktop version to give you rankings for your mobile version. This is a good thing as it will drive website owners to design sites that work well for everyone no matter what device they are visiting the site on.

What does this mean for my website?

It means that you’re going to need to look at the mobile version of your website and stop treating it as an afterthought. You’ll need to think about the design on the mobile version as much as you would on your desktop version. You’ll need to think about the user experience, the user journey, the user interface and how your content is structured and displayed.

Mobile first index

What about SEO?

If you’re following best practice for the mobile index like Google has said you don’t need to worry. The SEO work that you’ve done will translate over to your mobile version and desktop version. However, you could go a step further and start thinking about how you should structure the content on the mobile version of your site. Should you hide some of it behind CSS in drop downs or discoverable sections to make the page shorter and easier to use. You can go even further and look at the type of content you are producing and check, does it work well on mobile? The best thing to do is to produce content that works across all devices so that none of them is neglected and that quality content is delivered to all at once rather than some at various times. You want your users to be able to have the same brand, product or service experience on your mobile and desktop versions and to complete the goals that you want. The only difference is how the person goes about that experience and if it does work well for them on that device.

If you’re thinking about redesigning or rebuilding a site and would like to ask a few questions or need some advice we’d be happy to help, contact us via email or phone.