Businesses, brands, and organizations all across the world invest an enormous amount of time and energy into trying to increase their organic search rankings. This has become more complex over the years, with so many factors being taken into consideration and fluctuations in the algorithm that keeps everyone on their toes.

Google’s Search Console can help everyone stay up to date with why they’re getting the rankings they’re receiving, allowing them to check their indexing status and showing them opportunities to improve it.

Now, for the first time, Google is adding mobile-first indexing to the Search Console, which will allow you to see if and when Google has switched your site to mobile-first indexing. Let’s take a look at exactly what this means for you and how you can use these new tools to your advantage.

What Is Mobile-First Indexing?

Mobile-first indexing means that Google is predominantly using the mobile version of your site when they’re indexing and ranking it. This means that they’re crawling your site with smartphone bots first; your desktop site will still be crawled eventually, but it won’t be crawled first or prioritized. They do this because such a large percentage of Google traffic is coming from mobile devices, with almost 70% of web traffic coming from mobile devices as of 2018.

As of July 1st, 2019, mobile-first indexing is enabled for all new websites on default. This includes all websites that are either brand new online, or those that were previously unknown to Google search. Older, existing sites will continue to be evaluated on best practices, and site owners will be notified through the Search Console once they’re seen as “ready” for mobile-first. The notifications look something like this:

search console mobile first index warning

Here’s what this means for you, based on the type of site that you have:

  • Desktop only sites: There is no change because you only have one version of the site.
  • Canonical AMP: No change; both versions are the same.
  • Responsive web design: No change, because the mobile is the same as the desktop, just responsive.
  • Separate URLs for mobile and desktop: Google will prioritize the mobile URL.
  • Dynamic serving (which serves different content to different devices, with users seeing only one URL): Google will prioritize the mobile content.
  • Sites with both AMP and non-AMP versions: Google will prefer the mobile version of the non-AMP URL for indexing.

How to Monitor Status In Google’s Search Console

There’s nothing that you need to do in order to be switched over to mobile-first indexing; Google is taking care of that for you, hence the notifications that are showing up on people’s accounts.

If you somehow missed the notification or can’t remember if you’ve gotten one or not, you can quickly find out if Google is opting for mobile-first indexing on your site by heading to your left-hand navigation bar and choosing “Index” and then “Coverage.” When you view the graph at hand to look for errors and impressions, you’ll see a “last updated” date, along with a primary crawler listed. If the crawler is listed as “Smartphone,” you’re in the mobile-first era.

screenshot of search console errors

You could also go to “Settings” and then look for “Indexing crawler” under the “About section.” You’ll see the type of crawler listed, along with the date of conversion.

search console ownership verification

So What Now?

Mobile-first indexing won’t affect some websites, especially if they were a little ahead of the curve and using canonical AMP or responsive site designs. They just need to continue following general best practices.

If, however, you have a site confirmation that has a significant difference in primary content and site markup across your mobile and desktop versions, this might be something that you’ll want to change. Plenty of sites, after all, have relied on what I like to call “skeleton” version of their site, putting only the bare minimum information on mobile to get people in touch; this is no longer enough.

If you aren’t sure if your structured markup is the same across your desktop and mobile site versions and you have two different URLs, use the Structured Data Testing Tool to compare them and make sure they’re similar. Ideally, it’s best to avoid adding too much-structured data markup to mobile sites, especially if it isn’t directly relevant to the content at hand.

google structured data testing tool

Remember that sites don’t have to make changes to canonical links, because Google still sees these as guides to send users to the right place on desktop or Google. It’s just about making the two sites more equivalent.
It’s also going to be good to follow general mobile-first best practices, which will help you improve your SEO ranking. These include the following:

  • Verify the mobile version of your site in Google’s Search Console if you have a separate URL and you haven’t done so already.
  • Ensure that your site speed is good on both mobile and desktop; it’s not uncommon for large image files or videos to slow things down on mobile, and site loading speeds can play a part in your SERP ranking.
  • Have your mobile and desktop sites contain the same information; again, this will prevent anyone from missing key information– including Google.
  • Use metadata and structured data when appropriate to give Google’s crawler’s the information that it needs to establish context. This will help you in the SERPs.

Final Thoughts

The ability to see accurate, up-to-date information regarding how Google is ranking and indexing your site is a great asset. The shift to mobile-first indexing has made sense over the past two years as search traffic is staggeringly coming from mobile devices, so even if Google wasn’t prioritizing mobile, it would have been a good idea for brands and websites to be doing so on their own anyways. Keep an eye out for mobile best practices, and consider using one of the new progressive site structures, like responsive site designs or canonical AMP sites, as they’ll likely save you work as more changes come down the road.

Need some help making sure that your site is ready for mobile-first indexing and all the SEO changes that may come with it? We can help. Get in touch here to learn more.

Ana Gotter