Google Switching Fully to Mobile-First Indexing

Johannes Beus
Johannes Beus
Johannes Beus ist Gründer und Geschäftsführer von SISTRIX.

After a long changeover period, Google has announced that crawling of websites will be switched completely to mobile-first indexing from September 2020. Find out what it means, and what to take into account, in this article.

It’s already the case that in all relevant countries, more search requests are performed via smartphone than on the classic desktop. Google has been taking this into account already for a few years, and is now converting the whole infrastructure to a mobile-first focus. As Google has announced, the crawling will be done by the mobile crawler, in just a few months.

What does Mobile First indexing mean?

Google has the task that after a click on a search result, a searcher will see the content that is promised in the search results. This can only work if the Googlebot, Google’s search engine crawler, has the same view of documents as most users. Since most users are now searching on their smartphones, crawling, and thus indexing, will also be switched to a mobile crawler.

The device category (desktop or smartphone) of the crawler has always had an impact for websites showing different pages depending on the user agent (dynamic serving). However, these differences have only become more pronounced since Google started using JavaScript crawling and visited websites with a “real” browser. It makes a huge difference whether the browser’s virtual screen is as large as a desktop or as small as a smartphone.

Google has now announced that it will end the transition phase from desktop to mobile-first indexing in September 2020 and crawl with only the mobile Googlebot from this point on.

What impact could this change have?

Google will view your website as a smartphone user in the future. If smartphone users do not have the same options there as desktop users currently have, then this content will no longer be visible to Google in the future and will therefore not end up in the Google index.

According to Google, around 70 percent of all websites have already switched to mobile-first indexing because Googlebot has determined that the website already meets all expectations and standards. Conversely, this also means that around 30 percent of all websites are not ready. In absolute terms we are talking about many millions of websites that need to be improved in the next few months.

What should be done now?

The first step is to check Google Search Console to see if your website has automatically been switched to Mobile First Indexing. You can check this by going to Settings in the Google Search Console. Here’s an example that shows that Google thinks that the site has fulfilled all the requirements and has therefore switched the indexing to Mobile-First.

If you don’t have this note in settings then it’s time to work on your website in order to get it fit for the mobile Google crawler. Google has made a best-practices document available. At its core are these two points.

  • Crawling: Googlebot must be able to crawl your mobile website completely; Check Robots.txt & Robots meta tags. Make sure that Google can also load all resources (images, CSS, JavaScript files) and that there is no subsequent loading of important content that only takes place after user interaction.
  • Content: The desktop and mobile version of your website must be the same. Google does not want to send its users to you only to find out that the content visited can be seen on the desktop version, and not on the mobile version.

Additional points such as Structured Data (no surprise, Google), images and videos are important, but not as elementary as the first two points.

The SISTRIX Optimizer can help you with your reconfiguration. It’s built, just like the official Google Crawler, on Google Chrome and therefore delivers the same data.

Responsive Design is the way forward

We’re into 2020 and there are still a lot of websites that display content for desktop and mobile using different URLs. We often see it in the well-known m.domain.tld solution. To put it simply: That is the wrong way. It will inevitably lead to problems, errors and poor performance. Google tries to support such site configurations, but they are far from ideal. It is high time to switch to a responsive design that adapts to the available screen space on the device.

Conclusion

There are just under six months left until Google switches to mobile-first indexing. That may sound like a lot of time, but you have to consider: Those who haven’t managed the changeover in recent years will have their reasons. Now it is high time, and probably a hectic time, for many website operators. Google has good reasons and, like the “gentle pressure” for SSL encryption, is pursuing the right goals for the entire Internet.

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