As we look at search plans and strategies for 2019, it was interesting to see how the December update released by search giant Google discussed the status of the company’s mobile-first indexing scheme.
The company announced that more than half of all pages shown in its search engine’s results pages on a global scale now appear after the content has been indexed by Google’s mobile-first indexing scheme. This means it is much more likely that the pages a user visits as a result of a Google search will have been based on how the search engine crawled and indexed the content on the mobile version of the site as opposed to the desktop version, which is what used to be the default.
Mobile-first indexing is the term used to define how Google crawls and indexes all sites. As the name would suggest, it is now crawling the mobile version of each page first instead of looking at the site’s desktop version. Google is now crawling and indexing websites based on how it looks and performs on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, instead of the desktop computer.
Over the years, more and more emphasis has been placed on the importance of websites being optimised to work on mobile devices. Google itself made a prediction in 2014 that the number of searches conducted on mobile devices would overtake the number completed on desktops by mid-2015. This prediction indeed came true and in May 2015, it was confirmed that this was now the case.
This proved to be just the start. As more people began to own smartphones and the internet became more accessible in all areas, people increasingly started to use the internet on their phones, signalling the shift to mobile search. This further led Google to start putting more importance on websites being mobile-friendly, and the search engine made this a ranking factor.
This steady evolution now sees Google updating its algorithms to cement the lead taken by mobile search and now it is indexing websites based on their mobile functionality.
Google will notify a website’s webmaster when their site has moved to the new mobile-first indexing via Google Search Console. Furthermore, it will label a site as last crawled by its smartphone user agent in the platform’s inspection tool, sending another signal that the site has been moved over.
With this new change, Google has said that users should pay careful attention to the structured data and the alt-text for images within mobile pages.
If a website has different pages for desktop and mobile in terms of structured data and content, then this could have a detrimental effect on the site’s rankings. Google has moved the majority of sites that have uniform pages for both mobile and desktop to mobile-first indexing. With more than half of the search results now being indexed through mobile-first, it won’t be long until all other pages are moved over too.