What is Mobile-First Indexing and How Does it Affect SEO


SEO is a competitive field, so you need to make sure you’re staying up to date with industry trends and best practices. One term you definitely need to know about is mobile-first indexing — and the sooner you learn what it means, the better. Mobile-first indexing represents a near-total 180 on the way Google (and soon, other search engines) crawls and indexes websites. If you want to make sure your site will still enjoy strong rankings and the traffic that comes with them, you’ll have to check it to make sure it’s playing by these new rules.

The good news is that mobile-first indexing is pretty easy to understand once you get down to it. Just don’t mistake its simplicity for unimportance — because it’s really, really important. Without any further ado, here’s a basic breakdown of what makes mobile-first indexing so revolutionary. Buckle up.

Mobile-First Indexing Explained 

When Google indexed your website in the past, it crawled your desktop version first and used what it found to create your rankings. That made the most sense at the time — after all, most people were accessing the internet from desktop computers. That all changed in 2016, when mobile use surpassed desktop use worldwide for the first time. Google realized that as more people started accessing the internet from smartphones and tablets, ranking sites based on their desktop versions was only going to become less useful to users.

That’s where mobile-first indexing comes into the equation. Under mobile-first indexing, Google crawls your mobile site and uses the data it finds to create the ranking for all the different versions. The only case in which it factors in the data from your desktop site at all is if no mobile version of your site exists.


So to recap, here’s the old way Google did things:

  1. Crawl the desktop site
  2. Use the information to rank all versions of your site
  3. Factor in data from the mobile site as a kind of “bonus”


… and here’s the new way Google works:

  1. Crawl the mobile site
  2. Use the information to rank all versions of your site
  3. Consider the desktop version only if you don’t have a mobile site at all


Why it Matters for Your SEO Work 

At this point, you might be wondering how the new changes affect your work as an SEO professional. After all, aren’t most of the things Google crawls for more closely related to the way a page is designed?

Yes and no. Designers certainly need to make sure their sites are optimized for mobile use (removing large, slow-loading files and mobile unfriendly codecs like Flash), but SEO writers have to be careful, too. The name of the game is brevity now: make sure you’re including the same value (and keywords) in your content, but shorten paragraphs and sentences to make it more succinct. After all, it all has to fit on a much smaller screen.

Mobile devices are becoming much more advanced, so mobile sites are likely to face fewer technical restrictions in the future — but screen size is something that won’t change much because the nature of a mobile device is that it’s small enough to fit in your pocket. As such, your work as an SEO writer is pretty much cut out for you: make sure all your content can be easily read on a mobile device without sacrificing the information that makes it useful in the first place — keyword strings, location tags, metadata and engaging content.

Mobile-first indexing is catching on with other search engines too, so expect it to be the standard method for ranking sites before long. Use what you’ve learned here to adjust your SEO practices for success, and enjoy the new traffic from your hordes of mobile visitors!


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