Everyone is talking about Mobile-first indexing and how it will change how sites appear in search results.
To make sense of what is happening, let’s look at the basics of search indexing and ranking and what it means in the context of mobile-first indexing.
Indexing and Ranking – Same or Different?
Search engines perform two tasks – indexing and ranking.
Think of indexing as placing books in an enormous library. So, a search engine indexing robot (read GoogleBot) visits and reads a page and stores that information in its index.
Once this is done, the search engine ‘evaluates’ the information that has been indexed and determines which web pages match the criteria according to the search query and other factors (such as device). Going back to our library analogy, ranking is like the librarian who recommends you titles based on your search criteria.
Will Mobile-first Indexing alter Ranking?
Based on what has been discussed above, Mobile-first indexing refers to the indexing function of the search engine and NOT ranking.
So, mobile-first does not necessarily mean much would change for many websites. All it means is that Google is now preferring to index the mobile version first.
If you are using responsive web design, you have nothing to worry because the content on mobile and desktop versions is most likely the same. However, if the mobile version of your web pages doesn’t match the desktop version, you may face issues.
Let’s take an example to illustrate what it means for websites.
Let’s say a business had kept the mobile content shorter than the desktop version to save mobile visitors the trouble of scrolling through lots of content. Now, mobile-first indexing has shifted the indexing to the mobile version, indexing the shorter-form content. For all search results, Google is now basing its decisions on the content in the index and that is the shorter-form mobile version! Google’s ranking factors are now applied to the shorter-form version which may not be as valuable in Google’s estimation, pulling your ranking down.
What does affect Google’s organic rankings is whether the query is made on a mobile device or desktop. That is partly due to Google ranking factors and penalties for mobile results, such as the intrusive interstitial penalty and page speed ranking. This wouldn’t likely change with mobile-first indexing since these factors or penalties affect ranking, not indexing.
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