If you were to jump into just about any conversation taking place in the search engine optimisation (SEO) scene at the moment, it wouldn’t be too long before mobile-first indexing was mentioned. Marking a significant alteration in how Google search operates, SEO professionals have been left with a series of questions about what this indexing change means for rankings, in real terms.
Let’s take a closer look at what mobile-first indexing is and how it might affect your website’s ranking position.
The difference between ranking and indexing
Search engines perform two main tasks: ranking and indexing. Indexing is the product of search engine indexing bots reading and storing the information contained on a web page. So, as soon as the bot visits and successfully reads each page, the information it finds is automatically stored in its index.
Ranking, on the other hand, is the name search engines use for the process of evaluating the information it has indexed to determine which pages align with its specific search query criteria. It’s important to note that if a site hasn’t already been indexed, it can’t be ranked. In simple terms, the ranking process is a bit like the role of a librarian, locating recommendations based on a precise set of preferences and specific search criteria.
Mobile-first indexing certainly marks a significant shift away from Google’s traditional method of indexing pages, but this does not automatically mean that your website will experience any drastic changes. In simple terms, all Google is doing here is shifting its prioritisation away from desktop webpage content and towards favouring the mobile versions instead.
Remember, indexing purely refers to the process of reading and storage of information. So, the only reason why you might encounter any difficulties with the roll out of mobile-first indexing is if the mobile version of your site contains vastly different content from your desktop site.
The reality is that many websites will not experience any issues at all. This is especially true for those using responsive web design, because the content on both the desktop and mobile versions is likely to match perfectly. Problems begin to arise when content on a web page differs significantly between each version of your site. As mobile pages are more likely to contain less information, the page might well now rank lower, particularly if the missing content contains an important ranking signal.
If you have decided to place shorter-form content on your mobile site, Google’s ranking factors might determine that it’s simply not as valuable as the longer-form content on your desktop site. It this is the case, your rankings might suffer. Importantly however, ensuring that your mobile pages contain enough relevant and valuable information should deliver an organic SEO improvement that will directly benefit your business.
The difference between desktop and mobile rankings
If you are under the impression that once the full roll out of mobile-first indexing is complete, mobile and desktop rankings will be the same, you have unfortunately been misinformed. As indexing and ranking are two different things, Google’s decision to alter one does not mean that it has also decided to change the other. Avoid conflating these two distinct terms to ensure that your digital strategy helps your website to claim the best ranking positions possible for key search terms.