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Where Google’s Mobile-First Index Stands Right Now

For years, mobile-first indexing has been a hot topic. Have you kept up with it? For more information on Google’s mobile-first index, keep reading. Okay, so Google’s announcement of the mobile-first index took place a few years ago.

The majority of websites have switched to Google’s mobile-first index, thus it’s no longer a “hot” SEO topic.

In keeping with the idea that mobile-first indexing is “part of life” (which I agree with), it is useful for SEOs to be aware of some of the background and the current situation.

For instance, Google now emphasizes Page Experience, a ranking criterion that heavily incorporates mobile, in addition to the mobile-first index, which was first announced years ago.

Let’s first discuss the origins of the mobile-first index and what we now know before moving on to that subject. Then, we’ll discuss what Google values in terms of mobile usability, what it means to have a consistent user experience across desktop and mobile, how you can adhere to Google’s mobile-first best practices, and more.

Google’s Mobile-First Indexing

According to Google, there isn’t a distinct mobile-first index. Instead, mobile-first indexing refers to Google’s preference for using the webpage’s mobile version for ranking and indexing.

Google displays the mobile URL to mobile visitors and the desktop URL to desktop users if your website has different mobile and desktop URLs.

Shifting to the Mobile-First Index

Google announced that it will begin gradually implementing mobile-first indexing by the end of 2017. Google said in March 2018 that they were broadening the deployment and gave websites instructions on how to get ready. Even three years later, not every website has been converted to the mobile index. Google said that even though the majority of websites were configured for mobile indexing, there were still those that weren’t in June 2020. At that time, Google declared that it will postpone the transition to mobile-first indexing until March 2021 rather than September 2020 as originally planned.

Google explained the delay in the deployment by citing a variety of site-specific concerns, such as issues with robots Meta tags, slow loading, banned assets, core content, and mobile pictures and videos. In November 2021, Google finally announced that it had lifted its self-imposed deadline, citing the fact that certain websites were still not yet included in the mobile-first index because they weren’t ready to be switched over.

Google went on to claim that the website’s lack of preparation was brought on by several unforeseen difficulties. Because of these challenges, Google says, “we’ve chosen to keep the timeframe open for the final stages of mobile-first indexing.”

As for the transition to mobile-first indexing, Google added, “We don’t presently have a particular end timetable and want to be mindful about the remaining significant steps in that direction.”

Mobile-First Indexing as the Default for New Websites

After July 1, 2019, if your website was published, mobile-first indexing is turned on by default. Google announced this adjustment in May 2019 and stated that it applied to websites that Google Search had not previously recognized.

The explanation of why Google will make mobile-first indexing the default for new websites was included in the release. Google claims that they have concluded that new websites are often prepared for this kind of crawling after years of web crawling with a smartphone Googlebot.

Mobile Usability and Mobile-First Indexing are not Synonyms

Mueller clarified in January 2019 that even if your material fails the mobile usability test, it may still be shifted to mobile-first indexing. The “mobile usability” report from Search Console may have indicated that your site has proper URLs, but it does not imply that the pages were prepared for mobile-first indexing.

According to Mueller, smartphone usability and mobile-first indexing are “totally distinct.” Therefore, even if a page was not determined to be viewable on a mobile device, it might still be allowed for mobile-first indexing.

In conclusion, mobile-friendliness and responsive design are not prerequisites for mobile indexing. Pages lacking mobile versions might be indexed since they still function on mobile devices.

The Mobile & Desktop Experiences Should be the same

In January 2020, Google updated its mobile-first indexing best practices, placing a strong emphasis on maintaining a consistent user experience across mobile and desktop. A fantastic summary of what Google meant by the same experience was supplied by Matt Southern:

  • Enabling Googlebot to access and display resources and content on desktop and mobile pages.
  • Ensuring that the content on the mobile site is identical to that on the desktop site.
  • Using the identical meta robots tags for the desktop and mobile versions of the website.
  • Use the same headers on both the desktop and mobile sites.
  • Ensuring that the structured data on the desktop and mobile pages is identical.

Google cautions that if you deliberately deliver less material on a page’s mobile version than its desktop version, you may see a decline in traffic. The cause? Google claims that they won’t be able to extract as much information from the website as they formerly could (when the desktop version was used).

Google suggests that the main material be the same on the mobile site and the desktop version. Even on the mobile version, Google advises using the same headers.

Google specifically states in its documentation on mobile indexing that just the material on the mobile site is used in indexing, which serves to emphasize this point even more. The content on your mobile site should thus match that on your desktop site, if possible. During Pubcon Pro Virtual 2020, Mueller reaffirmed this fact and added the following comment:

We’re now almost completely indexing the web using a smartphone Googlebot, which matches a lot more what users would see when they search.

But actually, it is the case that we will only index the mobile content in the future.

So when a site is shifted over to mobile-first indexing, we will drop everything that’s only on the desktop site. We will essentially ignore that.

Anything that you want to have indexed, it needs to be on the mobile site.”