Mobile First Indexing

Google puts an end to desktop crawls – from March 2021, Mobile First Indexing will become the standard for all websites. So if Google only uses the mobile version of a landing page as the basis for its ranking, webmasters, SEOs and online marketers should check in advance whether they are optimally equipped for mobile crawling.

According to its own information, Google currently crawls around 70 percent of all websites that rank in the search results with the mobile user agent. This means that the desktop crawler is still used for almost a third of all pages. Even pages that may not yet meet all mobile requirements are still visited by the mobile Google crawler. In the following we therefore want to look at the most important tips and conclusions for optimal Mobile First Indexing.

Contrary to the previous announcement to switch to Mobile First Indexing as early as September 2020, Google is now taking a step towards website operators and extending the deadline until March 2021.

The reasons seem to be manifold. According to the official Google blog post, problems in testing and also the generally uncertain situation have led to this decision.

1. Analyse Google crawling and errors

With which crawler does Google visit my website? Is the Google Crawler for desktop or for smartphones used? So does Google consider my URL to be mobile-friendly? Webmasters can use the Google Search Console to query the “mobile-friendly on mobile devices” and determine which crawler visits their website. An overview of all URLs included in the Google Index quickly reveals any errors, for example if the content is wider than the screen or the clickable elements are too close together.

2. Optimise mobile loading times

Since the Google Speed Update of July 2018, the loading speed of mobile websites has been a ranking factor for Google. Three top tools for checking mobile performance are:

Speed in the Google Search Console: This report on Google Search Console load times, still in the experimental stage, is based on actual data from Chrome users. It is particularly useful for reading speed trends over a longer period of time – if the proportion of slow URLs on the mobile device increases, action should be taken.

Google Page Speed Insights: This tool from Google provides a good overview of the load time performance of each URL for desktop and mobile. While the values for desktop performance should be pleasing for many pages, the tool can give first hints for construction sites in the field of mobile performance optimization.

Google Lighthouse: As an open source tool for the technical audit of a website, Lighthouse offers dedicated analyses for the performance of a website with different user agents. The URL-based tool can be accessed via the developer tools in the Chrome Browser.

It is very likely that with the switch to the mobile Googlebot, the importance of mobile page speed will also increase. Google has been pushing this topic for years; it would not be surprising if a new round in the mobile speed frenzy is now being heralded.

3. Rely on responsive web design

Google has been preaching for years about responsiveness in web design. With this variant, the design adapts to the width of the screen, there is no multiple source code for the same content on different end devices and, moreover, only one URL. Google once again advises against having its own mobile subdomain, as was popular in the early years of the mobile web.

Now, webmasters don’t have to rush to migrate an m-dot domain to a responsive web design over the summer; Google continues to support separate mobile domains as well as dynamic serving. However, it can’t hurt to take a closer look at the technical changeover to a responsive format in order to be well positioned for mobile SEO in the long term.

4. The same content on every device

Some webmasters and SEOs rely on different content on the desktop and on the smartphone despite responsive page versions. For example, the desktop version often has longer content that is “hidden” in tabs or accordions for a supposedly better user experience and only becomes visible when touched. In future, this content would no longer be used for ranking in search results.

That is why Google advises that the content in all page versions should be uniform for all devices. In addition, meta tags, structured data, titles and descriptions, images, videos or links should match.

5. Mobile performance

When Google switches completely to mobile indexing, ranking changes will certainly accompany it. Pages with slow mobile performance may have problems with their mobile rankings, pages with shorter content in the mobile version may have problems with their desktop rankings. On the other hand, modern websites with a fresh, responsive mobile experience could gain visibility in organic search results.

So it can’t hurt to pay special attention to SEO visibility and rankings on different devices, especially in the transition phase to full mobile indexing.

There are still a few months to go before Google switches completely to Mobile First Indexing in order to address potential construction sites on its own web projects. A responsive website with identical content on desktop and smartphone as well as good mobile performance values should be at the top of the to-do list for webmasters, SEOs and online marketers this summer, so that there are no negative surprises in autumn 2020.