Google’s Mobile-First Indexing Change Delayed to March 2021: Understanding Website and SEO Impacts

Google has announced that they will be delaying the roll out of the Mobile-first search index to all websites from September 2020 to March 2021. In March 2021, Google plans to change their entire search index to mobile-first indexing.

Google began rolling out Mobile-first indexing to some websites that were ready on March 26, 2018. They have now transitioned most sites to mobile-first indexing and made it a default for all new sites. All remaining websites have some extra time to prepare and will now be switched over in March 2021.

Since the majority of online searches are now made on mobile devices, the Mobile-first search index is focused on mobile users. The Mobile-first index ensures that a searcher on a mobile device gets directed to the mobile version of a website for a relevant search query. This ensures consistency and a good user experience.

A lot of people are confused about Mobile-first indexing. In this article, I will explain the Mobile-first search index and some frequently asked questions about it.

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

Mobile-first indexing is Google’s crawling and indexing of websites using a smartphone Googlebot. With Mobile-first indexing, Google’s systems will crawl, index and rank the Mobile version of a website to add to their search index. The mobile version of a website will be considered the primary version of the website.

According to Google, most websites that they currently crawl have already been moved to mobile-first indexing. They will switch over to mobile-first indexing for all websites in March 2021.

The Mobile-first search index is a big change in the way Google indexes websites for their search index. Their previous search index was desktop-focused. They used to crawl, index and rank the desktop version of a website. The desktop version used to be considered the primary version of the website and the mobile version used to be the alternate version.

With the change to Mobile-first indexing, Google will still have a single search index for both the Mobile and desktop search results. There is not going to be a separate Mobile-first search index.

Why Is Google Changing to a Mobile-First Index?

Google has been adopting a Mobile-first strategy to address the tremendous growth in Mobile.

Here are some statistics on mobile device usage from Google:

  • In 2015, Google announced that the majority of online searches in the USA are made on mobile devices.
  • 4 in 10 users search online on smartphones only.
  • 94% of us browse the web each day. Of which, 71% of us browse the web using our smartphones.
  • 77% of mobile searches will occur at home or at work where desktop computers are also available.
  • 82% of smartphone users search online to find local businesses.

A Mobile-first search index ensures that mobile users have a seamless user experience when searching online on mobile devices.

When we make a search query on a mobile device and are directed to a mobile-friendly website from the search results, we can browse the website without issues. we will not have to pinch, zoom or scroll to read content. This provides a positive user experience to mobile users.

How Will I Know if My Website Has Been Added to The Mobile-First Search Index?

In Google Search Console, there are many ways to check if your site has been added to the Mobile-first search index.
The current status is shown on the Settings page as well as under the URL inspection tool.

Check Mobile-First Indexing Status Under Settings in Google Search Console

  1. Login to Google Search Console
  2. Go to Settings at the bottom of the left menu
  3. Look Under “About” where it will show the Indexing crawler and when or if your site was indexed by the Googlebot Smartphone crawler.

mobile first index search console settings

Check Mobile-First Indexing Status Under the URL Inspection Tool in Google Search Console

  1. Login to Google Search Console
  2. Click on URL Inspection in the left menu
  3. Enter the URL you want to check – like the home page URL
    It brings up information about the URL
  4. Expand the “Coverage” section
    Under “Crawl”, check the “Crawled as” section. This will tell you if your website was indexed by the Googlebot smartphone
  5.  
    mobile first index url inspection
     

    Google also sends site owners notifications that looks like the image below:

    mobile first indexing notification

    How Can I Get My Website Prepared for the Mobile-First Index?

    Google is changing over to a mobile-first index and adding all sites to the mobile-first index in March 2021. Only the content on the mobile version of your website will be used for indexing and ranking in the Google search index.

    There are several things you can do to ensure that your website is ready for the Mobile-First search index.

    If you have a responsive website, you are prepared for the mobile-first index. However, if you have separate desktop and mobile sites, there are several items you need to check to be prepared.

    Here are some tips from Google to ensure that the Googlebot crawler can see and index the full content of your site:

    1. Make sure your website has responsive web design. Google recommends responsive web design. Websites with responsive design have the same content on both the desktop and mobile-versions of the website and they change size based on the user’s device. Responsive websites are prepared for Mobile-first indexing.

     
    If you have separate mobile and desktop sites, there are several things you need to check,

    1. Use the same robots meta tag on the mobile site and the desktop site so that Google can index your site.
    2. Lazy-loading is common on mobile for loading images and videos. Avoid lazy-loading primary content with user interactions like clicking because Googlebot will be unable to see this content.
    3. Make sure Google can crawl your mobile website URLs and you are not blocking any URLs with your robots.txt file. Make sure you are not blocking any image URLs as well or they will not be visible on Google images.
    4. Make sure your primary content (text, links, images, videos) is the same on both the mobile site as well as the desktop site. Only the content on the mobile site will be used for indexing and ranking in Google search. If your mobile site has less content than the desktop version, you may lose some traffic and see SEO ranking impacts.
    5. Make sure your headings are the same on your mobile site as on your desktop site.
    6. Ensure that the metatags- titles and meta descriptions- are the same across both your mobile and desktop sites.
    7. Use the same structured data across both versions of your site.
    8. Use high-quality images on your mobile site, but not very large images that may take too long to load. Also, images that are too small or have a low resolution will not be included in Google images.
    9. Use the same alt-tags on the images on your mobile site and desktop site.
    10. Use the same image URLs on the desktop and mobile sites to avoid any loss of traffic.
    11. Images and videos should be positioned in good locations on the mobile web pages to provide a good user experience and prevent any SEO issues.

     
    For more information check this document on Mobile-first indexing from Google:
    Mobile-First Indexing Best Practices

    Conclusion

    A mobile-first strategy is essential today for digital marketing. The majority of online users are searching the web on mobile devices and that number is only increasing.

    Google is changing their search index to a Mobile-First search index in March 2021. This is one more indication of how important Mobile has become. By crawling, indexing and ranking the mobile version of a website as the primary version, Google is ensuring that there is consistency in the search information presented to the mobile user. This makes for a better user experience and a happier user.

    For a business website, it is essential to have a mobile friendly website with responsive design. A mobile-friendly website will help your business to reach the growing number of mobile users, many of whom search only on their smartphones. Mobile-friendly websites also have higher traffic, conversions and leads.

    Having a mobile-friendly website is also very important for search engine optimization (SEO) to improve search rankings. Since “Mobilegeddon” in 2015, mobile-friendly websites have had higher search rankings on Google in competitive search engine listings.

    If your website is not mobile-friendly, it is time to upgrade to a mobile-friendly website. Contact a web developer to upgrade your website to a mobile-friendly and responsive design. You can also contact us at Gold Mango Design to upgrade your website.

    Article First Published: September 13, 2018, Updated: July 22, 2020

    References

    1. Google Webmaster Central Blog, March 26 2018
    2. Google Best Practices for Mobile-First Indexing
    3. Think with Google, How People Use Their Devices: What Marketers Need to Know, September 2016

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