Google had introduced mobile-first indexing long back. Mobile-first indexing refers to the predominant use of the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. The index primarily used the historic desktop version of a page’s content while evaluating the relevance of a page to the user’s query. Since Google search is used by the majority of users with a mobile device these days, Googlebot primarily crawls and indexes pages with the smartphone agents going forward. Regardless of any websites being new to the web or previously unknown to Google Search, mobile-first indexing by default is enabled for all new websites. Google monitors and evaluates pages based on the best practices for older or existing websites. Most sites shown in search results are good for mobile-first indexing with 70% of those shown on Google search results that have already shifted over.

No Separate Index for Mobile

This is one of the most widely known features out of all the things listed about mobile-first indexing. However, it is widely known to those in the search community but remains to be a confusing concept to those who are not in this industry. Although, Google has stated that there is not separate mobile-first indexing which means it primarily uses the mobile version of the webpage for ranking and indexing purposes. With mobile-first indexing, the URL of the mobile-friendly version of your site is indexed and if your website has separate mobile and desktop URLs then the mobile URL will be displayed to the mobile users, and the desktop URL will be displayed to desktop users. However, the indexed content will be the mobile version regardless.

Choosing to Opt-out of Mobile-First Indexing

The end of 2017 marked Google slowly beginning to roll out mobile-first indexing and by March 2018, they were already expanding the rollout and instructed websites to prepare accordingly. You can’t opt-out from mobile-first indexing which is quite similar to not being able to force your website to be moved to mobile-first indexing. Based on the parity of text, links, images, and videos and structured data including other metadata, the search engine goliath decides the readiness of any website for mobile-first indexing. However, website owners must be careful while using a lot of JavaScript which may prevent a website from being moved to mobile-first indexing. Using an app interstitial to replace your site’s homepage can be problematic for some website owners. As soon as the Google determines the site is ready for mobile-first indexing, webmasters are notified in Search Console. However, the process can be time-consuming and if the site owner wants to switch to mobile Googlebot, then there’s no way to opt-in or out.

Mobile-First Indexing as Default to New Websites

All the websites published after July 1, 2019, are, by default mobile-first indexing enabled. Google explained the nature of change applied to websites that were previously unknown to Google Search in May 2019. Google concluded that new websites are typically ready for the type of crawling. Google did not notify webmasters in Search Console for the websites published before July 1, 2019, if their site was ready for mobile-first indexing.

Providing Same Experience on Mobile & Desktop Websites

January 2020 saw Google adding mobile-first indexing for the best practices with a big emphasis on providing an identical experience on mobile and desktop. Here is a list of what Google meant by the identical experience.

  • Ensures Googlebot has access and can render mobile and desktop page content and resources.
  • Uses the same meta robots tags on the mobile and desktop site.
  • Makes sure the mobile and desktop sites have the same structured data.
  • Uses the same headings on the mobile site as well as the desktop site.
  • Makes sure the mobile sites contain the same content as the desktop website.

Google has also warned about drop its traffic on the mobile version as some site owners purposefully serve less content on the mobile version of a page than the desktop version. This is usually because the users won’t be able to get as much information from the page as before when the desktop version was used. In order to avoid this, Google recommends the primary content on the mobile site to be the same as the desktop site and using the same headings on the mobile version.

Mobile Usability & Mobile-First Indexing

Your website can be added to mobile-first indexing if the text on your website can be displayed on a mobile device. Moreover, if your content does not pass the mobile usability test, it can still be moved to mobile-first indexing. The Search Console’s ‘mobile usability’ report showing your site has valid URLs will not necessarily mean those pages are ready for mobile-first indexing. Mobile usability is a completely separate topic from mobile-first indexing. Even if the web pages are not considered usable on a mobile device, they can still be enabled for mobile-first indexing. Therefore, the use of Google’s mobile usability test or the mobility usability report in Search Console is not recommended as a signal that your website is ready for mobile-first indexing. A site may or may not be used from a mobile platform’s point of view but can still contain all of the content that we need for mobile-first indexing. In short, Mobile usability is not the same as mobile-first indexing. Mobile-friendliness and mobile-responsive layouts are not mandatory for mobile-first indexing since pages without mobile versions will still work on mobile devices, that are eligible for indexing.

Get the Latest from Google on Mobile-First Indexing

Google provides a list of the best practices for mobile-first indexing for your websites to make sure that your users have the best experience. Google share most of the information as lists in a compilation of various recommendations and advice that it has provided elsewhere over the years. In addition, here’s a list of recommendations and best practices regarding creating the same experience on mobile and desktop.

  • Provide high-quality images on the mobile site.
  • To use a supported format for images and videos.
  • To make sure Google crawls up to your resources.
  • To make sure Google can see lazy-loaded content.
  • To use the same alt text on the mobile and desktop site.
  • To make sure your ads don’t cause a bad mobile user experience.
  • Using the same metadata on the mobile as well as on the desktop site.
  • To make sure your videos are easy to find and view on the mobile site.
  • Avoid video and image URLs that change with each refresh on the mobile site.

Google has dedicated an entire section of the best practices document that focuses on suggestions and recommendations in Google’s best practices for mobile-first indexing documents and separate URLs.

  • To make sure the error page status is the same on the mobile and desktop sites.
  • Avoid fragment URLs on the mobile site.
  • To make sure the desktop pages have equivalent mobile pages.
  • To verify both the mobile as well as desktop sites in Search Console.
  • Checking hreflang links on separate mobile URLs.
  • To make sure the mobile site can handle an increased crawl rate.
  • Making sure that robot.txt directives are the same on the mobile and desktop sites.

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