For all new domains, the Google search engine will enable mobile-oriented indexing by default.
The search engine will soon be based on mobile versions of websites for the ranking of its results. Risk as much as an opportunity.
Since its creation, Google is based on the desktop version of the web pages to classify its results, including mobile. But that will change. Soon, it will be the mobile version that will be taken into account, even for results generated on the desktop.
This mobile-first indexation was announced at the end of 2016. At first, it was to take place a few months after the announcement. But the deployment is more complicated than expected. Google had, therefore rejected it, and it did not took place before 2018. This shows that this update is far from minor. Everything has not been detailed, but Google is moving towards a functioning where only what is presented to its crawlers for smartphones will serve as a basis for classifying pages. The “eyes” of Google will focus only on what appears on a smartphone.
For mobile compatibility, Google considers responsive design, dynamic delivery, and dedicated mobile site addresses. Responsive design is recommended for new sites.
The prioritization of mobile-oriented indexing stems from the fact that Internet users now mainly access Google via a mobile device. Nevertheless, there is no separate index specifically designed for mobile content.
Recall that slow sites on mobile are likely to be penalized by the famous search engine. This is a ranking factor for mobile searches.
Two types of sites have nothing to do to prepare for mobile-first indexing and this change. First, sites that do not have a mobile site, their desktop version, which is displayed on smartphones, will be taken into account, Google has clearly announced. Responsive design sites, which serve from the same URL the same HTML codes and content on mobile and desktop, will have nothing special to do.
The problem arises particularly for sites with different content on mobile and desktop. There are real risks for them. This is especially the case for sites with a dedicated mobile site (m.monsite.fr). This can also be the case of sites using dynamic serving (or “dynamic broadcast”), that is to say, serving a different code depending on the device. They will have to check it.
Responsive web design encouraged
The future update implicitly encourages sites to use responsive design. During the mobile-friendly update, it was already one of the technical solutions that were officially “recommended” by Google. Today, it is again the one that will make things easier.
In its official documentation, Google refers to the 3 configurations to adapt a site to mobiles but recommends the responsive design.
For sites offering dynamic serving or a mobile version of “m.monsite.fr” type, it will be necessary to conduct an audit to highlight the differences between the content presented on mobile and that on desktop. “Titles, Hn tags, text, or images will have to be combed in. A crawl made by a crawler simulating a smartphone will also bring back interesting information since it will also be used by Google. The Search Console, the ‘Explore like Google’ feature for mobile will have to be used, and the errors reported will have to be analyzed with the greatest attention.
Google also insisted on the need to insert the same micro-data on the mobile version as on the desktop version. This data helps him to better understand the pages. In addition, they are used to enrich the display of pages in the results. “Merchant sites that convert well on mobile, such as travel or ready-to-wear, have already achieved this kind of optimization, but it is not sure that it is the case of all the sites”, remarks the head of performance content, which reminds that many sites still have more traffic from the desktop than the mobile.
On the technical points, Google has already answered several questions posed by this new indexing. The hidden contents in the “menus in accordion”, very used on mobile to save space, will be well taken into account. For sites with two URLs, one for mobile, the other for desktop, the engine also confirmed that it was necessary to leave the canonical tag pointing to the desktop site, and let the alternate tag orient to the mobile version. On the other hand, we do not know what happens if the opposite is done (canonical to mobile, and alternate to desktop). This inverted configuration, however, seems more logical with a mobile-first indexing, for which the mobile version is canonical.
Another question: how will the popularity of the pages be measured if only the mobile crawl is used? These robots sometimes see only part of the links, and most importantly, they see a lot of links pointing to the desktop versions of the sites. Other versions could, therefore, seem less popular in the eyes of Google. This is a very important point that remains to be clarified. It also remains to be seen what Google will do with its crawlers for desktop: perhaps they will be used in addition to those for mobile before becoming increasingly useless.
Changes in this new indexing may seem consistent. “They should not be taken lightly,” even warns Google in its official announcement. But do not be too worried either, because a break too brutal is to be excluded. A neutral effect on the quality of results has been promised. In addition, prior to deployment, Google assured that he would communicate more about this future indexing. In the meantime, should we start to think that we have to abandon SEO for desktop and do only mobile SEO? In any case, it would not be illogical to do SEO mobile-first, and no longer desktop-first.