The world is increasingly mobile, with nearly 80% of Americans owning a smartphone. This is significant, considering a little over a decade ago, the first iPhone hadn’t yet been released. With the world marching towards mobility, and the Internet’s penchant for being at the forefront of technology, the search behemoth Google has implemented some changes to its indexing. It is called mobile-first indexing, and to reflect the growth and influence of mobile platforms; it prioritizes mobile content over desktop content.

What is Mobile First Indexing?

Google wants to use mobile content as the dominant component of its indexing process. Desktop content certainly will not be ignored, but Google’s site index, which attempts to map the global web, will crawl both mobile and desktop sites, giving the former more importance when returning search results.

The desktop site, which has access to greater processing capabilities and virtually unlimited bandwidth and electricity (as opposed to battery-bound and data-capped mobile devices) can provide a rich, interactive experience to users. Unfortunately, mobile devices are limited these capabilities, and therefore websites for them cannot be energy- and data-intensive. Moreover, the different screen sizes require a fundamentally different site layout. Mobile sites usually render poorly on desktop screens, with text and buttons appearing overly large.

For these reasons, some businesses, especially those attempting to cut costs, may only maintain one site, and they often choose the desktop version. And according to Google, they have no need to change anything, because their website will be indexed as it was before.

The problem lies with competitors. If a competitor has both a mobile and a desktop site, the competitor’s mobile content will be weighted more heavily in rankings, likely increasing the competitor’s rank, even if their desktop site is mediocre in comparison.

What it means for your business

You don’t want to lose customers or visibility because Google isn’t indexing your content as much as your competitor’s. And since the trend is toward more mobile devices, it is a strategic business policy to have both a mobile and desktop site, anyway. Therefore, one should consider having a mobile site in addition to the desktop one, and ensure it follows the guidelines of a good mobile site: responsive, fast loading times, and optimized for the screen space (sliding sidebar menus and vertical orientations are a good start).

Google also has only rolled this out to a few major websites as of March 2018. It has not completely converted its expansive index to mobile-first. This is the beginning of the roll-out phase, so there is plenty of time to prepare.

Factors to Consider

With the mountains of data available, businesses should take advantage of its abundance and ubiquity. Businesses should monitor traffic flows on mobile and desktop sites, and they should periodically review analytics related to them.

A third platform, the mobile app, is also a good way to monitor customer behavior and determine whether your customers are more interactive on mobile or desktop. Apps provide significant insight about your customers and allow you to collect more data than many browsers. You can also use the app to direct them to the mobile site and vice versa, whereas the desktop site is less conducive to recommending the app with all its data collection abilities.

It is not necessary to have a mobile site, but it will likely help your rankings. It is essential to follow the guidelines of a good mobile site. Google even suggests no mobile site is better than a bad mobile site. Think about it this way: if you put your worst foot forward and Google prioritizes it over your good foot, then customers and potential customers will have opinions of you based on the worst foot.

About the Author:

Melissa Parker is an engineer with a passion for spreading knowledge. After graduating from Cornell University, she moved to San Francisco to work on a startup agency. During the weekends, she offers support and advice to young start-ups and gives SEO and social media classes to high school students, for free.