Mobile-first indexing: Why stellar mobile development is more important than ever

To paraphrase a certain Microsoft commercial that’s been dominating the ad breaks on my streaming service this month, we, at this very moment, have more technological power at our fingertips than any other generation in history. And whether it be by way of artificial intelligence (as beloved-rapper-turned-Microsoft-spokesperson Common has so eloquently laid out for us) or simply through digital media in general – there’s no real denying that today, a good portion of this technological power is accessed via smartphone.

In fact, a 2017 report from the data analysts at comScore goes as far to suggest that mobile access now accounts for upwards 69 percent of the time we spend on digital media in total, surpassing even that of traditional PCs. Now that’s a pretty significant statistic, if you ask me.

And though they definitely did not ask me personally, it just so happens that the fine folks at Google think so too.

In reaction to what appears to be exponential growth in smartphone media access, Google has now officially announced their intention to begin rolling out mobile-first indexing to more and more websites in the coming months.

Mobile First Indexing

Yup, that’s right – hoping to tap into that reservoir of sweet, sweet smartphone power, Google made clear in a memo on March 26th that it has begun the process of switching sites over to mobile-first indexing on a larger scale than ever before. The ears of web-developers and content-makers alike have been burning in anticipation of this news since it initially broke in 2016, as it indicates one of the first definitive shifts from the desktop-centric mechanisms of years-passed to that of our iPhone, Android, and tablet-enabled future.

But while that all sounds fine and dandy in theory, about now is when you might find yourself wondering “what does this all mean for me?”

And you’d be right to do so – Google’s decision to move away from desktop indexing could have some pretty meaningful consequences for both webmasters and business owners. I mean, it only makes sense that as Google begins to look towards mobile first, those who are developing the digital media itself need to start shifting in the same direction.

Indeed, with this news, great mobile development may be more important than it has ever been before. And here’s why:


What is mobile-first indexing anyway?

Mobile First Indexing

Photo Credit: Moz

To fully grasp the ramifications of Google’s latest switch-up, it’s imperative that you first understand what mobile-first indexing even is.

In short, mobile-first indexing describes the way in which Google, as a search engine in primary function, crawls, indexes and ultimately ranks your website among others. In the past, Google has made a rule of indexing all sites by desktop version first, meaning not only that your ranking is determined by that page rather than your mobile page, but also that mobile searchers may come upon a version of your site exceedingly different from the version you want them to see.

Considering just how much time we spend on smartphone digital media, this could – and currently is – spelling disaster for many a site.

With mobile-first indexing, Google crawls the smartphone-enabled version of your webpage right from the outset, helping an arguably larger group of mobile users find the correct site, sooner. A practice that could – although dependant somewhat on your audience and content – get your webpage in front of a higher number of more thoroughly engaged users.


How will Google’s announcement affect your website?

Mobile First Indexing

Photo Credit: Search Engine Land

For now, Google is migrating websites over to mobile-first indexing relatively slowly. They have made it perfectly clear that they will only transition a site to the new indexing method when that site is good and ready.

Though some larger sites have already made the leap, and others are soon to follow, Google is currently evaluating the benefit of transferring over to mobile-first on a case-by-case basis, using their mobile-friendly best practices as a means of determining which websites are currently capable of making the switch.

If your site has been tapped to make the move, Google will notify the webmaster or site owner with a message in the Google Search Console. You can then expect a much higher crawl rate from the Smartphone Googlebot as well as the mobile version of your site to appear is both cached pages and Search results. Meaning that your site will cater primarily to mobile search users, as they make up the majority of all search users nowadays.

Keep in mind that this does not mean that the desktop version of your site will be lost to the Internet ether forever, but rather will simply be crawled after your mobile site. No need to panic.


What can you do to get your site ready for mobile-first indexing?

Not only will improving your mobile web development enhance users’ experience with your website (and, by extension, with your business), but with the advent of mobile-first indexing, it also has the potential to connect you to a significant amount more users (and, by extension, potential leads) than what your site currently experiences.

According to Google’s own research, 94 percent of people in the USA search for local info on their phones, and 77 percent of those mobile searches happen from inside a home or workplace where a PC is likely present. Yeah, you heard that right – people are making the conscious decision to find their information via smartphone rather than desktop.

So, without a stellar mobile webpage, you really could be missing out.

Mobile First Indexing


If your mobile site isn’t yet up to snuff – and thus hasn’t yet made the transition to mobile-first indexing – there are a few essential actions you might consider taking to get your mobile site proper working shape.

First and foremost, if you’re unsure of how your website even holds up on a smartphone, take Google’s mobile-friendly test here. The test, while not infallible, can help you determine exactly what it is about your webpage that is – or is not – compatible with mobile viewing.

Moving forward, make an effort to follow Google’s mobile-first indexing best practices, as they describe the exact criteria Google will use to evaluate whether or not your site will begin the new indexing method.

A few general rules they recommend following include:

  • Keep Mobile Content and Desktop Content the Same – All relevant text, photos and videos should be included in a crawl-friendly, mobile design.
  • Ensure that Both Versions of Your Site Display Structured Data – Use applications and plugins like Data Highlighter to guarantee that your site data is accurately reflected in both your URL and in use.
  • Always Include the Proper Metadata on Both Site Versions – Meta descriptions should be comparable across all versions of your webpage.
  • Verify Both Mobile and Desktop URLs in Search ConsoleYou should have access to messages and notifications for both the desktop and smartphone versions of your site.
  • Double Check That Your Servers Have Enough Capacity – Increasing the crawl rate on your mobile version could affect your server function. Make sure that your servers are up to the job before you make the shift.

Smartphones are surely becoming our main source of digital information and, as such, any business’s or developer’s main ingress to all that usable technological power (thanks again, Common).

Do you really want to miss your chance to tap into it?


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