What is mobile-first indexing?
Mobile-first indexing means that it is the mobile version of your website that Google indexes and displays in Google search results, rather than the desktop version (also for desktop searches). This makes sense as the majority of people use their smartphone when searching on Google.
Content that only exists on the desktop version of your website will be completely excluded by Google. At the Pubcon Pro conference in mid-October 2020, John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, said:
"We're now almost completely indexing the web using a smartphone Googlebot [...]. And one of the things that we noticed that people are still often confused about is with regards to, like if I only have something on desktop, surely Google will still see that and it will also take into account the mobile content. But actually, it is the case that we will only index the mobile content in the future. So when a site is shifted over to mobile-first indexing, we will drop everything that's only on the desktop site."
Not sure if your website is ready for mobile-first indexing? Or have you experienced changes in your visibility on Google? Now is the time to prick up your ears! The transition to mobile-first indexing can significantly affect your visibility on Google - positively and negatively, depending on whether your website is ready for the change.
When will mobile-first indexing come into force?
The original plan from Google was to move 100 % to mobile-first indexing on 1 September 2020, but there's good news for those who haven't yet optimised their website for this change; the date is postponed until the end of March 2021 - reportedly due to corona.
But that doesn't mean you can sit back in your good office chair! At least not if you want to avoid losing a lot of visibility on Google - because it's about the last chance if you want to keep up.
So let's take a quick look at what you need to know overall.
Check: have you already moved to Google's mobile-first indexing?
Right now, Google mobile-first indexing is actually already enabled for many sites. This applies to no less than 70 % of all websites. For good measure, you should start by checking whether your website has already been switched to mobile-first indexing by Google.
You do this by opening Google Search Console, press "Settings" in the left menu and look under "About". Here you can see whether Google indexes your website using smartphone (mobile-first indexing) or computer (desktop indexing):
As you can see in the image above, Googlebot switched its indexing of our website to smartphone already in August 2018. If you're not one of those who's been moved over yet, your status will look like this:
Do you have a responsive web design?
The importance of responsive web design goes without saying; the design is responsive. That is, the layout adapts to the screen size, whether you're visiting the website from a computer, a tablet or a mobile device - just like you can see the difference between a tablet and mobile layout in the image below:
A responsive design is an optimal solution for mobile-first indexing - provided you display the exact same content (text and images) on the mobile version as on the desktop version. You must not hide content on the mobile version of your website, even if it might be tempting.
With a responsive website, you will notice a much smaller difference in the transition to mobile-first indexing (if it is mobile-optimised) than websites that have a separate website for their mobile views, like m.ditwebsite.dk. There can be a wide range of technical issues associated with separate mobile domains like m.ditwebsite.dk.
You can use Google's mobile friendliness test to check if your website is mobile-friendly.
Do a speed check of your mobile website
Something else that Google is very focused on is speed. That's why it's a good idea to do a speed check of your mobile website at the same time and optimise the speed if necessary.
Note! The loading time of your website from a computer can easily be top-notch without it being top-notch from a mobile phone.
The way to check the speed of your website is, for example, to open Google PageSpeed Insights (free), enter your website, press "Analyse" and select the mobile device tab:
As you can see in the image above, it is possible to customise the analysis to see the speed from a mobile perspective (see the button on the blue background at the top left). Your speed should be in the orange area and if possible in the green area.
Optimize the graphical elements of your website
Even if your website is responsive, it doesn't mean that all the elements are in place. The difference in screen size and layout from desktop to mobile can affect the usability, readability and conversion rate of your website.
So pay particular attention to whether buttons, images and text need to be resized or repositioned on the mobile version. Make sure that text is legible, buttons are big enough for even thick fingers to reach and pop-ups don't take up the whole screen - the latter can be very distracting for visitors and pop-ups that completely hide the actual content are certainly not liked by Google.
As a rule of thumb should your bread text be minimum size 16 px on mobile devices - it improves the readability of the content, and Google will probably reward you for that too.
See our mobile friendliness checklist.