Google Will Soon Make Mobile-First Indexing the Default For New Domains
By Iris Hearn
Back in December, Google proudly announced that over 50% of websites in search results had moved to mobile-first indexing.
First, a quick recap for those who don’t know: Mobile-first indexing refers to Google’s shift to using a website’s mobile content for indexing and ranking over its desktop content. This initiative was first announced in 2016 to accommodate Google’s “primarily mobile” users and provide them with a better search experience.
This week, Google announced a change to its indexing protocols – staring July 1st, 2019, mobile-first indexing will be the default for all new web domains previously unknown to Google.
So, if you’re planning on launching a website after you flip your calendar to July, it’s important to know that it will be crawled, ranked, and indexed by Google’s smartphone Googlebot by default.
What New Site Owners Should Know About Mobile-First
Whether you’re planning on launching your first website this summer or are a site-ownership veteran, there are a few things to keep in mind with this shift.
First, because mobile-first will be the default for new domains, there will be no notification sent to site owners that their website is ready for mobile-first. Thus, there is no need to watch when your site was last crawled and indexed to see if Google is getting ready to turn on mobile-first for your website.
Mobile-first being enabled by default means that the mobile version of your site will be used to index pages, understand any structured data, and show snippets from your website in search results.
So, site owners should double check all mobile site elements (text, video, images, links, structured data, etc.) before launching – because if these changes aren’t represented on mobile, you could be missing out on ranking opportunities in Search.
Additionally, Google recommends that any new websites opt for a responsive website design, meaning that the website detects a user’s screen size and adjusts the layout accordingly. This format negates many of the ranking and indexing issues that could be worrisome in the move to mobile-first.
However, if your soon-to-be-launched site doesn’t utilize responsive design, you don’t have to uproot the entire project.
While Google strongly recommends responsive design, its system will still support dynamic serving and separate URLs for mobile websites. However, moving to responsive design in the near future is sure to prove prudent, considering these changes.
The good news is that if your website is being built by a reputable, up-to-date developer or agency, you probably don’t have too much to worry about. Google’s analysis of its smartphone Googlebot crawls has indicated that the majority of new websites are generally ready for this method of crawling.
Mobile-Friendly ≠ Mobile-First
Another important thing for site owners to keep in mind is that just because your website is utilizing mobile-first does not mean that your website has a user-friendly experience on mobile.
So, while new site owners won’t have to look at crawl data in the URL Inspection Tool to check for updates on mobile-first readiness, don’t forget to check other mobile-centric tools.
For example, the Mobile Usability Report is still a valuable tool that can tell you about issues with your site’s user experience on mobile such as cut-off text, crowded links, or incompatible plugins.
These are elements that may not affect search ranking directly, but if mobile users are experiencing issues, your drop-off rate, time on page, and pages viewed per session may decline, resulting in losing rank.
Thus, it is vital to continually monitor your site to ensure you’re up to date on these key issues.
For more information on mobile-first vs. mobile usability, you can check out a previous article I wrote on the topic here.
Moving Into a Mobile-First World
As a whole, internet users prefer using smartphones for quick searches and research over heading to a computer.
In response, Google is changing its algorithm to prioritize the quality of sites in the format most are searching in.
So, whether you’re planning to launch your site this summer or have had your domain for some time, staying on top of the latest updates is key to staying competitive and ahead of the curve.
If you’d like more information on getting your site ready for mobile-first — or just enhancing your current performance — you can check out this article by IMPACT’s Daniel Escardo where he does a deep-dive on all things mobile-first.
Additionally, Google has released tons of resources to keep site owners on top of changes and ready for the rollout, which you can access on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog or on its documented list of mobile-first best practices.
Wondering where to begin?