The Ultimate Guide to Google Mobile First Indexing

Guide Google Mobile first index; everything you need to know and how to prepare for this latest algorithm change by Google.

2018 is finally here and SEOs the world over are holding their breathing, in anticipation of a massive algorithm change by Google. An update that would see mobile indexing take top priority over the desktop indexing.

Unlike other updates which are done silently; Google announced sometime in November 2016 they are testing mobile-first indexing that would see mobile websites become their go-to content provider when ranking sites on the web.

It’s unsurprising though with the aggressive growth of mobile traffic over the years. A data released by StatCounter pegs traffic from mobile devices to 57 percent of the total web traffic; with the mobile search expected to reach 221 million by 2020.

In simple terms, over half of web surfers visit websites on their mobile devices.

So, Google is staying true to its promise of organizing the world’s information and serving them in a manner that’s convenient for users.

It’s a win for mobile users; however, this has left SEOs and website admins scrabbling to secure their websites from the negative impacts of the impending changes.

Before, diving into the details of this guide to Google mobile indexing and actions you can take to prepare for the coming Mobilegeddon v2.0, let’s start off with the basics.

What exactly is Google Mobile First Indexing?

A flowchart of the Google Mobile_first index_SamSteve

Well, according to Google, mobile-first indexing means updating their ranking systems to evaluate the relevance of a page to a user using the mobile version of the page instead of the desktop version.

The search engine currently indexes and gives more relevancy to the desktop version of web pages, which raises some user experience issues since an increasing number of web traffic are from mobile devices.

The Mobile-first indexing is Google’s way of encouraging webmasters to focus more on creating or optimizing their website for the mobile experience.

Would Google maintain two indexes; one for mobile the other for the desktop?

No, it would be a single index of sites and apps.

Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results

How would Google Mobile-First Index impact businesses?

The Mobile-first indexing is going to be a global rollout with far-reaching impacts for businesses. So, what should webmasters expect as the mobile-first index roll out approaches?

For the most part, the effects will be minimal initially. Site owners should expect to see little or no changes in their rankings since the rollout will be gradual and on a case by case basis.

According to Google, websites will be switched over to the mobile indexing only when they’re ready. They went further to clarify that, in situations where a site has just a desktop version, it would be indexed.

To understand how the Google mobile first indexing will impact your site: think of it like what we have now; where the desktop version of a website is its primary version while the mobile version plays a complementary role. However, with the roles flipped – that is the mobile version becomes the central site and desktop complementary.

How to prepare for the Google mobile-first indexing

As a smart webmaster, you know the best line of action is to get ready even before the switch to a mobile-first ranking system.

There’re several things you can implement to make your site mobile optimized and ready for the update. They include:

  • A responsive website or a well-optimized mobile website.
  • Quality and mobile-optimized contents.

According to Neil Patel, these two elements – quality content and optimized mobile site – are the cornerstone of any mobile-first indexing preparation process.

Other things to keep an eye on are:

  • Your site speed
  • Remove No-index tag
  • N1 redirects
  • Links and Backlinks
  • High quality and relevant images

Let’s go over each of them:

A responsive website

I didn’t know this until I read it up on Neil Patel’s site; aim to make your site mobile-optimized and not just mobile friendly.

In the word of Neil, ” They’re don’t mean the same thing” – that is mobile friendly and mobile optimized websites respectively.

Funny enough, most webmaster (yours inclusive) mistake mobile- friendliness to mean the same as mobile-optimized.

Well, according to Patel;

Mobile friendly means the site can be viewed on a mobile. This doesn’t say anything about the quality of the site, the user experience, and a bunch of other things that makes a site truly mobile.

And a well-optimized mobile site is designed right from the word go to be responsive. The site architecture, layout, and features are tailored to fit perfectly with any screen size and resolution and also renders correctly.

It’s not an after-thought.

For businesses that have a mobile version of their  site already; here some recommendations from Doantam Phan, product manager at Google to help you prepare for the switch:

  • If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.

  • If you have a site configuration where the primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes to your site.

    • Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version.Sites can verify the equivalence of their structured markup across desktop and mobile by typing the URLs of both versions into the Structured Data Testing Tool and comparing the output.When adding structured data to a mobile site, avoid adding large amounts of markup that isn’t relevant to the specific information content of each document.

    • Use the robots.txt testing tool to verify that your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot.

    • Sites do not have to make changes to their canonical links; we’ll continue to use these links as guides to serve the appropriate results to a user searching on desktop or mobile.


Use the Google mobile usability tool in the Search console to determine whether your site is mobile friendly. When you run the test, you should get feedback like this below:

Guide Google mobile first index mobile friendly test samsteve
Google search console mobile-friendly test for

Quality and mobile-optimized content

Nothing can take the place of relevant, valuable and high-quality contents; you just have to publish contents that web surfers find valuable to stand any chance of long-term success with your SEO efforts.

A quality mobile friendly content has several moving parts which must be pieced together for it to perform well on SERPs. A mobile-optimized content has the following sections taken care of:

  • Optimized Titles: Search engines display between 55 – 60 characters of a content title; hence ensure your titles are within this range to avoid SE shortening them thereby hurting your ranking. Use 60 characters title max.
  • Description: They’re those short copy displayed by search engines on SERPs that tell users what the content is about. You have between 140 to 160 characters to make a case why a user should click on your link. Make it count.
  • Optimize your contents with keywords: Google still uses keywords to rank sites. So, add the phrases you intend ranking for in strategic places like in the title, description, and sprinkle within the content. Use tools like this Moz site explore to uncover phrases to target.
  • Images sizes: Utilize image to break up the monotony of text. However, care should be taken to ensure that the images are well optimized by compressing using this tool to shrink the image size and adding relevant keywords in the file title and also alt text.

Other important factors to consider when optimizing your site for the mobile-first world include:

Site speed

Mobile site users expect websites they visit to load with under 3 seconds; when this expectation is not met, they hit the back button. It’s even more crucial for an e-commerce site since slow load pages have been shown to impact adversely on sales numbers.

Also, since 2014 Google has include page speed as part of its ranking factors. So, you can’t just ignore speeding up your website as much as you can.

Google’s PageSpeed Insight and GTmetrix are fantastic tools you can leverage to analyze how fast your mobile site is. Your site speed is ranked out of 100, and you’d get an error-report including how to fix them in case there’s an issue.

Implement the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Page) on your site. The open source technology is designed to improve the performance of websites. Though, still in its infancy, the technology seeks to load contents from sites instantly. Here’s an article to learn more about how to integrate the technology into your website.

Be mindful of interstitial popups

Interstitial popups ruin user experience, and Google punishes pages that use it. If you haven’t heard of interstitial popups – it’s an ad popup or anything intrusive that stops people easily reading the content of a page.

The thing is, Google penalizes pages that display intrusive contents that disrupt the seamless flow of user experience from the mobile search query results to the sites.

So, as you prepare for the mobile-first world, ensure your pages are free from these intrusive popups. Or, if you must use them, then read this article to stay safe.

Don’t ignore linking and backlinking

Don’t think links have lost their weight (haha ..see what I did there?)- at least for now, links account for 30 percent of the signals for ranking sites.

It’s that important! And shouldn’t be ignored either.

Your link building strategy should focus on getting backlinks from trusted, authority websites. Also, take time to analyze other websites linking to your site – some sites are spammy – disavow those, since they might be hurting your site.

Use the SEMRUSH tool to dig up backlinks to your site.

In conclusion

There’re a bunch of other actions you can take to get your site primed and mobile-ready for the mobile-first indexing rollout, like:

  • Diversify traffic sources
  • Add a schema markup
  • Including Alt text on images, using relevant quality images and using a keyword-rich name for your files.

Having a well-optimized mobile website is no longer a matter of strategic importance but one of survival. To succeed in today’s search battle, you need a site that’s ready for the imminent Google Mobile-first index rollout.

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