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Google’s First Steps Towards a Mobile First Indexing

By Harvey Turner

We live in a mobile-first world. From the moment we hit the alarm button in the morning to the minute we reset it before bed, we are connected. For most people, it means that a smartphone is never far away. It goes to work, out for lunch with friends, and onto the dance floor. Now, with the increasing popularity of waterproof devices, it even makes it into the shower.

So, it is no surprise that Google – the biggest internet search company in the world – is making plans to become fully mobile. In November 2016, it published a blog announcing its intention to launch a mobile first index. It was followed just a few days later by a temporary algorithm update, which many SEO experts believe was preparation for the transition.

With the proportion of global mobile searches now surpassing desktop searches, the future of Google points in only one direction. The problem is that it can be tough for marketers to adapt to major changes like this, even when given plenty of warning. There is usually a rocky period of two to three years in which many businesses see their rankings drop. It means that the question on the lips of internet companies right now is, what can we do to make this transition easier? How is the switch to a mobile first index going to affect SEO and what actions should you take right now?

Understanding Mobile First

If you are not sure what the mobile first index is, don’t worry; the concept is very simple. Currently, Google uses a complex series of algorithms to ‘review’ web content. The purpose of this is to assess the quality of websites and make sure that they are discoverable by the intended audience. It is this assessment which produces a search ranking and determines how far down on the results page content appears.

The difference between this and a mobile index is that the latter will review content from the perspective of a mobile user. While it may not seem like a big deal, it has significant consequences, particularly for businesses which haven’t optimized their content for mobile devices. If not optimized, the display might look different, and certain links may stop working.

Protecting Your Rankings

Problems like these are a bigger concern for companies without mobile friendly websites because Google can only index what it sees. It means that, until optimization occurs, this content will be reviewed by a new algorithm that isn’t designed to serve it. It will work, but it is not ideal because the technology has moved on. For this reason, it is a good idea to start thinking about building a mobile-friendly version of your website now. As is customary, Google will keep its original index for a while, so that marketers do not get blindsided by a sudden change. In truth, the actual changeover will not be very noticeable. You should, however, keep an eye on your analytics data over the next six to twelve months.

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