Mobile First Indexing Rolled Out Web-Wide

Gary Green
Gary Green
September 23, 2022

Over the past few years a lot of information was released about Google’s intention to roll out mobile first indexing web-wide, and this has meant that it has been difficult for developers and site owners to keep up with the news.

Recently, Google finally rolled out its mobile first algorithm, so developers and site owners alike now need to know what Google is seeking in terms of mobile usability and also to understand what having an identical experience on both desktop and mobile devices really means in order to meet Google’s high expectations of best practices for mobile first.

Here, we take a look at everything you need to know.

No Separate Mobile Index

Google has reported that no separate index for mobile first exists. Instead, Google uses primarily a web page’s mobile version when indexing and ranking websites. This was first announced all the way back in 2018.

The Rollout

It was announced in 2018 that mobile first indexing would be rolled out slowly across the web, and in 2018, the announcement of expansion of the rollout was made so that websites would have time to properly prepare for the change.

Websites published after 1st July 2019 had mobile first indexing enabled as default but as of 2020, not every website had yet switched to mobile first indexing, and although the full rollout was set to take place in September 2020, due to the global COVID 19 pandemic, Google postponed the rollout until 2021. This date has now been and gone, so all sites now need to adhere to the best practices to ensure that their ranking status doesn’t drop.

Mobile First Indexing And Mobile Usability Aren’t The Same Thing

It was explained in 2019 that if content didn’t pass the test for mobile usability it could still move to mobile first indexing. This meant that even if the mobile usability report on the Search Console showed that the website had valid URLs that didn’t necessarily mean that those pages were ripe to be mobile first indexed. This is because mobile usability isn’t the same thing as mobile first indexing. This means that pages were able to be enabled to be mobile-first indexed even when they weren’t considered to be usable on mobile devices.

Provision Of Identical Experiences On Desktop And Mobile

January 2020 revealed that Google had added to its best practices for mobile first indexing with the primary emphasis on the provision of identical experiences on desktop and mobile devices. This meant in practice that:

  • Googlebot needed to be able to render and access desktop and mobile resources and content.
  • Ensuring the content on the mobile website is the same as that on the desktop website.
  • Making sure the meta robots tags are identical on both versions of the site.
  • Ensuring that the headings are identical on both site versions.
  • Making sure the desktop and mobile sites both have identical structured data.

Google has warned that if less content is purposefully served on a page’s mobile version that on its desktop version a drop in search traffic is likely to arise since less information will be able to be derived from the page.

Best Practices For Mobile First Indexing

Google’s list of mobile first indexing best practices include:

  • Ensuring Google is able to see any lazy-loaded content
  • Ensuring Google is able to crawl all resources
  • Using identical metadata on both desktop and mobile websites
  • Ensuring ads don’t result in a poor experience for users of mobile devices
  • Providing good-quality images on mobile sites
  • Using a format that is supported for videos and images
  • Using identical alt text on both site versions
  • Avoiding image and video URLs which change each time a page loads on mobile sites
  • Ensuring videos can easily be found and viewed on mobile versions
  • Ensuring error page statuses are identical on both site versions
  • Avoiding any fragment URLs in mobile sites
  • Ensuring desktop pages all have their equivalent mobile page
  • Verifying both desktop and mobile sites in the Search Console
  • Checking all hreflang links on the separate mobile URLs
  • Ensuring mobile sites are able to handle the increased crawl rate
  • Ensuring robot.txt directives are identical on both site versions

How To Check Effectively For Mobile First Indexing

The Search Console offers several ways of checking for effective mobile first indexing. Your page’s status will be shown on your settings page and also in your URL inspection tool if you are checking one specific URL in regard to the most recent time it was crawled.

Google’s guidance for making every website work well for mobile first indexing is still relevant for all existing and new websites, and all of that advice has already been outlined above. When updating any existing website or creating any new ones, it’s vital to carry out a double check to ensure that you have adhered to each and every one of these best practice guidelines before launching the site to ensure that your search engine ranking won’t be negatively impacted by the switch to mobile first indexing.

URL Testing Tools also allow site owners and developers to check both mobile and desktop versions of websites easily, but it’s also possible to use other analysis tools like monitoring tools and crawlers as long as you use a mobile user-agent to ensure you’re seeing what Google Search does.

It goes without saying that Google has been putting mobile first as its top priority for some time, and this is a policy that isn’t likely to change any time soon. In fact, Google has actively stated that it will be continuing to update its algorithms and make changes in line with changing consumer expectations and requirements.

Therefore, developers and site owners must get to grips with the basics of mobile first indexing and ensure that they have done the necessary work to get their websites in order if they want to be confident that their site will remain in a good position in the search engine rankings.

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