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Google’s Much-Anticipated Mobile-First Index – When is it Coming, and What Does it Mean for Your Business?

There’s been considerable speculation recently among digital marketers around the timing of Google’s much-anticipated mobile-first index. While we normally wouldn’t bore you with the minutia of digital algorithms, indexing, crawling and other “techy” search engine optimization (SEO) details, this will be a very big deal for businesses and individuals when it ultimately launches and could compel many to make major changes to their digital platforms. Therefore, it’s worth it for your business to put it on your radar now, understand how it might impact your current website, and plan ahead as necessary.

Before we get too far down the path, let’s define what a mobile-first index is. Then, we’ll share the latest updates regarding timing, and leave you with some helpful takeaways.

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

Currently, Google maintains only one index, which is based on the desktop Google site. When a user searches Google, either on a desktop computer or a mobile device, part of Google’s algorithm examines the desktop index, finds relevant results and then ranks them. Only after that process plays out does Google’s ranker review all mobile signals collected by its mobile crawler. Based on that data, Google then adjusts rankings accordingly.

This process may have worked adequately at the inception of the mobile revolution, but it’s causing issues as more and more users access digital content through mobile devices. While Google follows web links to gather mobile-friendly signals, it isn’t creating a new index based on those signals. As a result, a user may see something in a headline or meta description, click on the link, then get redirected to the site’s mobile home page. At that point, the content they hoped to see may or may not be available on the more (which probably spawns an app store or newsletter popup) and then realizes the content they saw in the search snippet isn’t available on the mobile website.

Integration of a mobile-first index is designed in part to remedy this poor user experience.

What Should My Business Do?

Google’s webmaster trends analyst Gary Illyes said in June that Google is “probably many quarters away” from launching its mobile-first index, so nothing will change right away. In fact, Illyes went on to say, “We don’t have a timeline for the launch yet. Our engineers’ timeline was initially end of 2017. Right now, we think more 2018.”

In the meantime, it’s wise to examine your digital platform from a mobile perspective:

  • Take inventory of what you have. Do you have only a desktop website? A desktop site and a mobile site? A responsive site? Do you run a native mobile app or apps? Understanding what your current digital infrastructure is will enable you to make informed decisions about your digital platform moving forward.
  • If your current site is responsive (i.e., if it adapts to any screen size—and no pinching or horizontal scrolling is required), then you’re in good shape overall when the mobile-first index is ultimately launched. You may want to consult with your digital marketing specialist to adjust the platform as desired, but the content on a desktop site is basically the same as on a responsive site, so experts agree that responsive sites are generally well positioned for this change.

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In his remarks, Illyes stressed that Google’s eventual switch to a mobile-first index won’t mean that desktop content will no longer be ranked. “Mobile-first means mobile first,” he said.

Finally, whatever approach you take with regard to the eventual mobile-first index, make sure it aligns with your broad business / organizational goals.

Do you have questions about your business’ digital marketing strategy – or are you looking to deploy a digital program that can drive qualified leads and ultimately boost revenue? Contact Bob Goricki, Director of Digital Marketing, at 440-449-6800 or email Bob.

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