Google has announced that it has begun testing mobile-first indexing, using mobile content instead of desktop, to decide how to rank sites within search results.
This is the first step in the search engine’s experiments with the mobile-first index, with an eventual plan to shift towards looking principally at mobile versions of a site over desktop versions for ranking signals.
The number of Google searches made on mobile devices on a daily basis is much higher than searches made on desktops. However, current ranking systems still look at the desktop version of a site to determine its relevance to users.
Therefore, it makes sense to look at the mobile version of a site instead to determine its rankings.
Google will primarily index mobile content whether searchers are on a desktop or mobile, falling back on the desktop version if no mobile version is present.
If you don’t have a mobile version of your site, then this isn’t a problem. Google will look to the desktop version to evaluate and rank your site, even if a mobile user agent is used to view the site.
Similarly, if your website is responsive (i.e. dynamically changes content depending on screen size) then there is nothing to worry about.
In their post on the Webmaster Central Blog, Google outlined some advice on how to prepare for the mobile-first index:
Responsive websites where content is the same on desktop and mobile require no changes to be made for the mobile-first index.
If primary content of your site is different across mobile and desktop, the following changes should be considered.
Serve structured markup for both desktop and mobile versions.
When adding structured markup to a mobile site, large amounts of irrelevant markup to the information content should be avoided.
Check your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot by using the robots.txt testing tool.
Canonical links on sites don’t need to be changed. These will still be used as a guide to serve appropriate results to users on mobile and desktop.
If you have only verified the desktop version of your site in Search Console, make sure to add and verify the mobile version as well.
If you only have a desktop site, it’ll still continue to be indexed.
This is just the start of the testing, with the view to move towards a mobile-first index at a future date. Google have stated that they will continue to experiment on a small scale over the coming months, stepping up the testing when they’re happy they have a great user experience.