On November 4, 2016 Google announced it officially - they will index the mobile-friendly version of a page first to build their database, with desktop-friendly pages afterwards. It's a major change and one that reflects the impact mobile devices have made in the marketplace.
However, the shift toward mobile is far from a new trend. The announcement only shows us Luke Wroblewski's 2011 vision of a Mobile First world predicted accurately the takeover of mobile devices.
What This Announcement Means for Your Business
This means the mobile-friendly version of your website will control the ranking of each page on your website. If you have pages that aren't mobile-friendly, they won't rank as well as a mobile alternative! However, "if you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site," Google says, "you shouldn't have to change anything." That's good news for businesses who moved away from having a website with separate site configurations for mobile versus desktop users. Not as good for those who've been managing two versions.
If you're one of those business who has separate site configurations, they do have the potential to hurt your search traffic if you don't make the appropriate changes to your structured markup. Google has tools, like their new mobile friendly testing page, to help you navigate the change; yet it's best to recognize these tools suppress present pain. They aren't a long-term cure.
- Google's Structured Data Testing Tool allows you to compare the output generated by your mobile versus desktop web pages.
- Google's robots.txt testing tool lets you verify that Googlebot can access your mobile website version.
- Google's Fetch and Render tool allows you to specify mobile:smartphone as the user-agent. What you see in the preview after fetching and rendering executes is likely exactly what Google indexes. You have to sign into the Google Search Console to use it.
Unfortunately, there is no tool to help you with adding all the necessary rel="canonical" and rel="alternate" elements" to ensure Google reads your mobile site as effectively as you want it to. So ultimately, delaying the swap to a responsive website design or dynamic service site for the future is no longer an option. Keeping separate site configurations on Google's good side will remain an ongoing cost-with an error factor built in. Any time a page must be handled twice, costs and error risks increase.
Why Google's Making This Change
Research shows adoption of mobile technology is growing even among those over 65. Even in 2011, Brad Frost told us "77% of the world's population" owned "mobile devices" and "85% of the phones sold" that year came "equipped with [a] browser." In 2013, mobile devices become the preferred online shopping venue for 55% of consumers. By December 2014, smartphones and tablets delivered 60% of the digital media consumed.
Google has always been driven by one goal - provide a constantly improved user experience. Mobile-hostile sites load slowly and are difficult to navigate. Now that desktop devices have receded as the preferred search device, keeping its search engine as the resource most people use depends on keeping people happy on both platforms. Google can do this even if it places mobile first and desktop second. So it's a logical move.
This Means Ignoring Mobile Will Hurt Your Business!
The unavoidable reality is this: mobile has taken over larger platforms permanently. No business is too large or too small to avoid the impact. If you aren't mobile-friendly, your website traffic loss potential is at least 50%. Why? There are several reasons:
- Mobile-friendly was a ranking factor for mobile phones already. Now, the mobile rank transfers to desktop search results. If getting to page 1 was difficult before, imagine how desktop-only websites will perform in a mobile-preferred algorithm.
- Videos available on your desktop site, but not on your mobile site, are going to miss Google's index. Imagine a customer searching for a video on how to use your product. Do you want them to find it on their smartphone or tablet? Of course you do. It could be the deciding factor in a purchase decision!
Getting found through mobile search has become more important in 2017 than ever before. If you want to ensure you won't lose half of your search opportunities, we invite you to download our free guide: Creating a Mobile-Friendly Website below. This guide will help you assess whether you're leveraging mobile in Google's search engine.