The mobile revolution, like all technological updates, has been a long process. In the beginning, users browsed stripped-down mobile sites or desktop versions on their phones. That niche market grew into a real competitor for desktop, and next year 75 percent of Internet use is expected to take place on smartphones. The transition to a mobile-friendly Internet is all but complete—it’s understood that if you don’t operate a mobile site with a great user experience, you’re short-changing your publication. The next transition is just as important: going from mobile-friendly to mobile-first. Need a clear sign that this is happening? Just look at the newest changes to Google search.
Google search is still one of the most important tools on the Internet. Users requested over 9.5 billion searches from the site on desktops in September, accounting for 63.6 percent of desktop searches in the United States. Now consider that less than 50 percent of all searches come from desktop, and it becomes clear how important Google is to the mobile Internet, and vice versa. That’s why Google is making its search index mobile-first.
When a user searches for sites on a mobile device, the results are based on the desktop version of each website. Some sites have less content on their mobile sites, leading to search results that are irrelevant. It’s important to note that adding the new mobile index doesn’t mean there will be two indexes. Paul Haahr, software engineer for Google, tweeted that we won’t be seeing “a separate index in the sense of index of mobile pages for mobile users and index of desktop pages for desktop users.” This is an important distinction for publishers, signaling that mobile-friendly sites aren’t good enough anymore. To truly provide a great experience to your readers, you must think about mobile before all else.
So what do publishers need to do to make sure they’re prepared as this change starts to roll out over the coming months? If you’ve stayed ahead of the curve and already created a great mobile website that includes the same information as your desktop version, you won’t have to do much. If the primary content and markup is the same on each platform, you will be fine. If your sites are different, Google offers some tools to help you out.
Check the structured data of each site using Google’s structured data testing tool. This will allow you to compare each version of your site, making sure that there aren’t any differences on the mobile version that could hurt your search ranking moving forward. You can also use the robots.txt tester tool to check and see if Google’s web crawlers are looking at the right version of your site.
Google has been consistently adamant about the mobile-first web, and continues releasing new ways to improve it. It announced earlier this year that, starting in 2017, it would penalize mobile sites using annoying interstitial ads, and said recently that they would never build ad blocking into their Chrome browser. Google believes in a mobile-first web that’s not only great for users, but great for publishers as well.