The Mobile First Index: Everything You Need to Know

For over a year, Google has been explaining the forthcoming progression to the mobile-first index.

According to  the latest studies, over 55% of all traffic comes from mobile devices, and this trend will surely continue to increase.

Having said that, this doesn’t mean the death of the desktop is coming, what this has actually done is present a question that needs an answer:

“If users are more and more dependent on mobile devices each and every year, should we be looking at the mobile experience above that of the desktop?”

mobile usage statistics chart

The answer is yes, they should, and Google is testing this approach and is expected to be rolling it out sometime in 2018, which poses another interesting question:

“What is Changing with the mobile-first index?”

As more and more users are turning to mobile, Google wishes its search results to represent the majority of its users.

A search engine index is a culmination of pages and documents that the search engine has found, mostly through crawling the web through links. Google crawls the web from a desktop browser perspective, and this will change to a mobile browser.

“What if I Don’t have a Mobile Website?”

Google wants you to have a mobile site, but if you don’t it will still crawl your desktop site even if they’re using a mobile agent to view it.

If you do have a mobile site though, you will need to ensure that all the content and links are comparable to the desktop version so Google can digest the right content and rank your site as easily as they did by crawling the old desktop site.

“My Mobile Site Doesn’t Have as Much Content as the Desktop Site – Should I be Concerned?”

Google will look at the mobile site in the same way that it viewed the desktop version and if a particular mobile page is thin on content in comparison to the desktop site, then that’s precisely how it will be viewed.

This is why a responsive approach is the best strategy to ensure that each page is consistent.

“What About Drop Downs, Hidden Tabs & Accordions on Mobile?”

With normal sites, Google may not rate the content within hidden tabs, accordions and drop downs as highly. But Google has confirmed that when it comes to mobile it will be given full weight so long as it is done with UX and conversion rate in mind.

“Will This Seriously Effect Google Rankings?

magnifying glass analysing rankings

Google confirmed that this update shouldn’t change overall rankings. They are aiming for minimal change, but at this point, it’s too early to know for sure.

“When Will We See These Changes?” 

Google has already started testing on some users. But the word is that we won’t be looking at a full rollout until spring next year at the very earliest. If testing goes well, we could see it sooner, if not it could be some time before we see the full rollout.

“Is This a Boost for Mobile-Friendly Rankings?”

We all know that content that’s not considered “mobile-friendly” will not rank as well. This remains the case with the Mobile First Index.

In the current index, which most people will continue to reap rewards from, desktop content is indexed and utilised to show listings for both desktop and mobile users. A customised mobile-friendly ranking system is then used to give Google’s mobile listings a boost. Content that isn’t aimed towards being mobile-friendly doesn’t perform as strongly.

In the new index, some will see early results as Google continues the testing process, the only difference is that it is mobile content that is crawled instead of desktop and used to show listings for both desktop and mobile. The same process occurs as the mobile-friendly ranking system gives a boost to mobile-friendly pages.

“Is Google Seeing My Mobile Pages?”

The most effective way is to utilise Google Search Console’s Fetch & Render tool. Specify the mobile:smartphone agents and look at the preview after the process is complete. Google will then show you what it is able to see of your site and any indexed results from your mobile site. You will then be able to note down anything that’s missing and then decide how to fix it.

“Where Will Ranking Signals Come From?”

At the moment Google ranks your mobile site based on signals from your desktop site. This is going to change and will be flipped on its head. It means that Google will rank your site crawling both mobile and desktop sites, but using a mobile view only.

This means that page speed and onsite factors will play a huge factor, as your mobile site will most likely be the main focal point above the desktop. But we’ll cover this in more detail later.

“Will Google Use Different Indexes for Mobile and Desktop?”

The idea is that Google will have use just one index, based on mobile content, that will serve listings for mobile and desktop. During the testing phase, however, there will be two indexes working in tandem, but anyone getting results from one or the another will probably be unable to tell which index they’re using.

As testing continues and confidence in the mobile-first index increases only one index will be used. There is also a possibility that Google could revert back to the desktop-first index if the mobile index is not deemed useful – after all Google has characterised this whole process as an ‘experiment’

“Will Links and Rankings Change as a Result?”

There is a concern that mobile content tends to have fewer links than desktop content. Google’s search results are still very dependent on links and content. So, it’s reasonable to assume that if links and content are affected, the rankings will be too?

Google says that because the testing is in such an early phase, they aren’t 100% clear on the impact that these changes will have on rankings.

“Will I Need to Change Canonicals?”

Canonicals aren’t affected, so there is no need to change anything. Follow these recommendations and you’ll be fine.

“Will I Be Able to See Any Impact on Search Results?”

Google has stated that there should be no visible impact of the mobile-first index rollout at this phase. In fact, they have also confirmed that they don’t expect there to be any impact on the user even when the rollout is fully completed.

“How Can I Prepare My Site for Mobile First?”

tools surrounding big blue letters spelling webCreate a Responsive Site –

If you don’t specifically need a mobile website, replicate the desktop version of your site for mobile. This will keep you ahead without a great deal of effort on your part.

It will also help bring a consistency throughout the site and it means there won’t be any rogue pages that are light on content etc.

Load Speed – 

The record for mobile page speed set by Google is less than one second for Above-the-Fold content to ensure the user is easily able to interact with the page.

Four seconds is the acceptable load speed, any longer than this and the user is likely to become impatient and leave the site completely, or worse head to a competitor.

Add Structured Data –

Increasing your chances of being found by ensuring that search engine bots are able to access your site should be your main focus. Structured markups are key to ensuring that the bots are able to discover your pages and content.

It’s more common for desktop versions of sites to be marked up correctly and more often than not the mobile version is ignored. And actually, since page speed is affected by markups, it actually makes sense to skip this for mobile. But, the Mobile-first index is changing this.

You must ensure that the essential data markups are found in the mobile version of the web pages. Yes, you can skip the non-essential ones, when compared to the desktop version of the same web page, if you think it’ll make the page size heavy and slow down the load time. Load time will take precedence, in any case.

Create AMP Pages –

Also known as Accelerated Mobile Pages.

AMP means you have to have streamlined CSS and are only able to use off-the-shelf JavaScript libraries made available by AMP.

Speed is the name of the game here and fast loading pages will mean that you’re not only looked upon favourably by Google, but you will also be getting the edge over the competition.

Optimise On-Page SEO –

Optimising on page SEO is essential. It’s now even more critical to have everything in place. Check Meta Data, internal linking, alt tags and verify everything is exactly where it needs to be, if not, get to work.

Run an Onsite Test –

Once you believe you have ticked all the right boxes, it’s time to run some tests.

Firstly, you need to be sure that Google can see all of your pages and can properly crawl them. You’ll need to check your onsite changes have taken effect and are working properly. And lastly, you need to ensure that your content is absolutely spot on.


Google isn’t looking to roll the updates out for some time yet. But, it’s essential that your site is in the right place to make the most of the updates. Most of these processes will have probably been completed already if your website is healthy and in a position to appeal to the current Google algorithms.

If you’re unsure what direction your site should take next, contact us here at POD Digital and we can offer a revolutionary service and only the very best strategies and advice. We take the time to get to know our customers and their business – we believe this is the only way to create a strategy that truly suits each customer.