Google Launches Mobile-First Index Experiment: Here Is Everything We Know About It.

Nov 7, 2016 - 9:03 am 68 by

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As most of you already know, Google announced Friday afternoon that they are going live with their test of their "mobile-first" index. I covered the breaking news on Search Engine Land and waited here, as I normally do to get the industry reaction and oh boy, we have a ton more to share with you about this mobile first index.

First, we knew this was coming but I am surprised they announced it so soon being that they said recently they have a lot to figure out with this. But I guess they want to let people know, they are now testing it on a subset of users/index to work out more of the kinks.

What is a mobile-first index?

First thing, is what is changing with this mobile-first index? In short, Google will crawl and index the mobile version of your site as its primary source for content and ranking signals for your site. Before, Google did this on the desktop site, which we discussed many many times.

Google said they "primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results."

Will Google maintain two different indexes? Desktop and mobile?

Google wrote in their blog post, "our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps." But it is not 100% clear because the previous Google communication made it sound like there would be two indexes for this.

Paul Haahr from Google, a senior senior person there on indexing, said no - they will have one index only. He said this on Twitter. He said a separate index won't happen:

Adding, it might be interpreted as a separate index but it is not:

He did say for the testing period, maybe but he is unsure:

Adding that it is clear from their communication that it is one single index:

So just like there is one desktop index, it will be one mobile index going forward:

When is the mobile-first index launching?

Well, it is live for some subset of users now but it is limited. It will gradually be pushed out to more and more searchers as Google wants to test it on more and more users. Eventually, it will replace the desktop index fully and Google will move on from this experiment and on to others.

Google wrote in their blog post "we'll continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale and we'll ramp up this change when we're confident that we have a great user experience."

But Gary Illyes said again, after the announcement that they are still months away from launching it:

What type of impact will this cause to webmasters?

Googlers are pretty much saying they don't expect this to have much of an impact at all. In fact, they said even if you do not have a mobile site, they will use the desktop version. Google wrote on their blog post, "if you only have a desktop site, we'll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we're using a mobile user agent to view your site."

Gary Illyes from Google said he expects very little impact, he said "we're aiming for close to quality-neutral launch; ideally there wouldn't be too much delta".

Paul Haahr from Google said you really shouldn't see anything at this point during the test:

Ultimately, Google doesn't expect or want this to be a 'geddon' of any type:

What if I have less content on mobile than desktop?

If you have less content on your mobile version than on your desktop version - Google will probably see the less content mobile version. Google said they are indexing the mobile version first.

Here are some tweets from Gary on this:

If that means your mobile version should get hit by Panda, then so be it Gary adds:

Gary again saying, the content on your mobile version is more important now:

But if your mobile version has no content, Google likely will look at the desktop version:

Even more so, Google seems to be changing on hidden content on mobile so that Google will give full weight to content within tabs, accordions, drop downs and so on.

Mobile-first index is a global, worldwide rollout

Gary said this is not like when Panda launched which was just in English US first, this will be a global roll out.

What about links missing on mobile vs desktop?

My gut tells me Google will treat content as they do links with mobile versus desktop. So if you are missing links on your mobile version that you have on desktop, Google will probably not count them. But I think Google is at the stage where they are testing this and they want to reserve the answer on this until later.

Gary said, they need to see:

Google won't publish an FAQ on this

Google won't be publishing an FAQ on the mobile-first index just yet. They are still too early in the game and want to figure out which direction they go.

What about pagespeed and specific factors?

Previous, well, now, Google looks at the pagespeed and ranking signals of your desktop pages. So a fast desktop page with a canonical slow mobile page, will pick up the desktop factor and be graded as being fast and not slow.

This will flip, I think. So if you have a slow desktop page but your mobile page is super fast, Google will use the mobile version of your pagespeed. At least, it looks like all/most those signals will now be based on your mobile page versus your desktop page.

When someone asked Gary if that would cause the same problem that we have now in reverse, Gary said no. He thinks most of the web will be mobile soon anyway:

Mobile ranking factors still the same

So the core mobile friendly ranking signals are to be the same. Nothing is changing their. This is independent of that.

Google's official technical recommendations

This is a copy paste from their blog post but needs to be here:

  • If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.
  • If you have a site configuration where the primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes to your site.
    • Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version.

      Sites can verify the equivalence of their structured markup across desktop and mobile by typing the URLs of both versions into the Structured Data Testing Tool and comparing the output.

      When adding structured data to a mobile site, avoid adding large amounts of markup that isn’t relevant to the specific information content of each document.
    • Use the robots.txt testing tool to verify that your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot.
    • Sites do not have to make changes to their canonical links; we’ll continue to use these links as guides to serve the appropriate results to a user searching on desktop or mobile.
  • If you are a site owner who has only verified their desktop site in Search Console, please add and verify your mobile version.
  • If you only have a desktop site, we'll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we're using a mobile user agent to view your site.

    If you are building a mobile version of your site, keep in mind that a functional desktop-oriented site can be better than a broken or incomplete mobile version of the site. It's better for you to build up your mobile site and launch it when ready.  

Find more information on this?

With all of this information above, there is still more and more information coming out on this daily. I will, like always, keep you on top of those changes or announcements.

You should read the Google blog, Jenny Halasz wrote up a good piece on this as did Jennifer Slegg's piece. So check all of that out as well.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld and Twitter.


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