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What will Mobile-first Indexing do to your Desktop Rankings?

Mobile-first indexing is a major shift in the way Google search works and due to this, it has been a hot topic in both web development and SEO this year. So, what will Mobile-first indexing do to your desktop rankings? As one of the top web development companies, we wanted to share our insights and experience to help better understand how this could impact you along with, what if anything should be done to stay competitive.

The difference between Indexing and Ranking

So how do indexing and ranking relate to each other?

Crawling and indexing are the basis of search engine’s like Google finding and organizing information from both websites and publicly available content. Indexing is the process of reading and storing information by an indexing robot, such as GoogleBot.

After the bot visits a page it stores the information in its index, similar to how a library stores books based on the Dewey Decimal System.

Ranking is a process that utilizes the information in the index to determine which web pages provide the proper information or value to a particular search query, factoring in various aspects such as device or location. Ranking does not occur for a site until it has been crawled and indexed.

In a way, ranking is like the help desk at the library, assisting you in finding what you are looking for on the shelves. These two concepts, indexing, and ranking work hand in hand rather than competitively, to produce results.

What is Mobile-first indexing?

Now that we have clarified the difference between ranking and indexing, we can focus on the mobile-first aspect. Mobile-first indexing only applies to the indexing of a website. It is a shift from the prior indexing method, but what that means is that Google is simply indexing content from the mobile version of a website first.

For example, if you are running a mobile site and a desktop site, Google will index your mobile site to obtain the information it will store. If you use a responsive website rather than two versions of a site, nothing will change as both versions of the site are likely to be identical.

An issue only occurs when the information on the mobile version is different than the desktop version. A common example would be missing content or elements on the mobile site due to size or space constraints that are on the desktop version. If that content or those elements include important ranking signals, then any pages affected could suffer a reduction in ranking because the ranking factors are applied to the version stored in the index, which will be mobile-first.

Desktop versus mobile rankings

While some people have said as far as SEO goes, desktop and mobile rankings will be the same once Google finishes their mobile-first rollout, that is not correct. As indexing and ranking are two separate tasks, although related, they each have their own goals.

For example, as of right now if you search on a mobile device that is included as part of the query and resulting ranking factors such as the mobile page speed ranking factor. That ranking factor is not incorporated for the same search made from a desktop device.

Rankings will be different for desktop and mobile if you have both types of sites, simply because there are different ranking factors applied depending on where the search is being initiated.

What should you do?

First and foremost, we recommend reviewing Google’s Best Practices for mobile-first indexing. Google is the big dog on the block and following their recommendations always makes good business sense. They clearly list out the preferred practices based on the type of website you have.

Your website does not need to be responsive or mobile-friendly to be included in the new mobile-first indexing process. Per Google, pages without mobile versions still work on mobile devices and therefore are usable for indexing.

If you do have a separate mobile website, the Best Practices should be your guide to ensure both sites are equivalent in the critical areas which will prevent any rankings loss. Content is the most obvious concern as many mobile sites use less content than a desktop version including text, images, and videos.

However, there are plenty of other areas that need to be compared as well such as structured data, metadata, social metadata, XML and media sitemaps, app indexation, and search console verification.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that mobile is a primary focus for Google because of the increased number of its customers using mobile devices for search needs. If you don’t already have a responsive website, then you should highly consider investing in one, so you won’t have to worry about what mobile-first indexing will do to your desktop rankings. As mobile-first isn’t going away anytime soon, using separate sites is becoming more of an investment in both time and money to keep pace with Google’s mobile evolution.


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