Mobile First Indexing: What The Heck Is That?

Dec 14, 2016 | Featured, SEO, Web Development, Websites

Recently, our office here in Durham, NC has been abuzz with the new announcement from Google’s regarding the mobile indexing changes. In the realm of SEO and Web Development there has been rampant speculation regarding what this will actually mean for the ecosystem. Many questions have yet to be answered, an unsettling reality for businesses who rely on their websites to help generate revenue. To be honest, we may never have the full scope of what changes were or are made until well after the fact, but let’s first go through what we know is happening.

What Actually Is Indexing?

In a basic sense Indexing is the act of a search engine coming to your website, scanning it for content to learn what your website is about and then using that information to make search rankings. It follows the same 4 steps every time:

Crawling Your Website

This is the act by which Google follows links on all over the internet to identify pages that exist. This is most likely the origination of Google finding your content, website or even social media today. For the more technical people out there, this is also where Google applies disavow or nofollow rules.

Indexing Data

This how Google and other search engines turn your website into a form of data that it can store and use for computing (search algorithm) purposes. Indexing is basically taking a snapshot of your website while doing a lot of cool yet complicated things at the same time. The pure complexity of what goes on in this process is hard to describe in a short blog post. Personally, we at Oak City find this to be one of the most fascinating and dynamic aspects of the internet today.

Retrieval Of Data

Step 1 of 2 when you enter something into a search bar on Google. This is where the actual algorithm computing process starts its work through the Google’s servers. When you enter a search, the first thing that happens is Google populates the ALL the data that may be relevant to your search across the WHOLE internet based on the specific words or keywords you entered.

Populate Rankings

Now we move to step 2 of 2 where ALL that search data is ranked by relevance to what Google thinks you are actually looking for. It applies a wide range of variables to be able to produce accurate data to you including, location, search history and keywords. Oh did we mention that both of these steps happen IN LESS THAN A SECOND?!? We may geek out over the power, complexity and speed of what Google has created, but this is truly revolutionary.

What Is  Mobile First Indexing?

To answer this question we first have to understand what is being done today with desktop indexing. Right now (as far as we know) Google uses one singular algorithm to scan all websites and has a desktop base. This means that all websites are scanned as desktop website and looks for signals in the scan that tells Google…Hey! Our website is mobile friendly too! It then takes these signals and populates DIFFERENT search results to you based on what kind of device you are using to make that search.

Over the past few years we have seen this cause quite a few problems with mobile search as many websites can provide very sub par user experiences to Google for mobile devices. This is the driving force behind all of the changes Google has imposed over the last few years, improving the mobile experience for websites. Google sees the writing on the wall, search and web traffic have grown exponentially on mobile devices compared to desktop, yet we are still stuck in a desktop world for websites. Google has made it their mission to personally push the entire internet in the mobile direction and I wholeheartedly support this trend. The Mobile First Indexing announcement is the next phase of this. Google will now start scanning websites for their MOBILE CAPABILITIES and what kind of experience you provide to the user on mobile devices before all other desktop factors. This. Is. Big.

So What The Heck  Does This Actually Mean?

Well for starters, if you don’t have a mobile friendly website, you are in for a bad time and will see your search rankings take a hit. This not a matter of “If it happens” but “when it happens.” In order to prepare for the “Mobilegeddon 2.0” here are the 3 main ways to have a mobile friendly website.

Responsive Design (Best Option)

You can learn about what responsive design is here if you are unfamiliar. This is the best option for the changes google has been pushing on us. A Responsive Website allows you to have one website that SCALES to whatever size screen it is on. This is quickly becoming the standard in web development and If you do not have a responsive website I would highly recommend thinking about redesigning your website to incorporate this coding practice. Google says they like this best, and we listen when Google talks.

Plugin Generated Mobile Site  (Budget Option)

Many times I ask people if they have a mobile friendly website they respond with “I’m pretty sure I have a plugin that does that!” This is a decent option that I would consider a Band-Aid and not one that will work in the long term for many complicated technical reasons we will get into through future articles.

Separate Mobile Website  (BAD Option)

About 5-6 years ago the internet went through what I call it’s “punk phase,” (don’t lie I know you went through it just like me.) During this transition developers realized they needed to figure out a way to have mobile users be able browse their websites. This option was designed out of a lack of forward thinking but was sufficient for its time. Currently, having a separate mobile website is still pretty common, usually denoted by a m.yourwebsite.com domain. This is bad for SEO because you are technically fragmenting your website into two entities, desktop and mobile in which Google sees it as two distinct websites.

This Is All Great Information! Now What Should I Actually Do?

This is the easiest question to answer yet! Simply, make a responsive design website. This is the best investment I think someone could make for their website or online business today. I don’t like to use the phrase “future-proof” because there’s no telling what may happen, but in my opinion, making a responsive design website is the closest thing to future proof you can do today. The design of a responsive websites is unfortunately, not like normal web design. This is due to the fact that the website has to be designed for ALL SCREENS not just one which takes a level of design that most web designers have yet to master. Not sure where to start? Give us a call and we would be happy to get you started on a brand new responsive design website, we’re pretty good at it.

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