Google has begun testing its mobile-first index, a so-called “experiment” that aims to prioritize mobile versions of websites over desktop versions for ranking signals. What might this mean for pharma marketers, and what should you do now? Mark Silverman takes a look...
While this change has been expected for some time, November 4 marked the first time Google has been so explicit about the details on their official blog.
As Google discussed:
To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. 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. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.
The reason for this change in direction is simple – Google wants to make sure they are serving the best-quality search results to their users, and searches originating from mobile devices have now eclipsed searches originating from a desktop. Effectively, if you don’t have a functional mobile version of your site, or a plan to get there, you will likely suffer losses in your SEO game sometime in the near future.
Who is at risk?
Once Google changes over to the mobile first index, you will only be able to rank for content that appears on your mobile site. If the content exists on the desktop version of the page but not the corresponding mobile page, the result could be diminished ranking and a loss of traffic.
This is most likely to affect m.dot configurations, where mobile and desktop versions are often completely different sites. Because m.dot pages typically have completely different content than their desktop equivalents, it will be important to consider the impact this could have on desktop rankings.
Another scenario that could present a challenge involves sites that present less content on the mobile version than the desktop version. If the content exists on the desktop version of the page but not the corresponding mobile page, the site could also lose ranking.
There are still quite a few websites without a mobile version, which is fine. Google will still index the desktop version of those pages, but they will do it as the mobile Googlebot instead. Of course, if you do not have a mobile site, you won’t benefit from the mobile-friendly ranking boost that is already in play.
So…how can you prepare?
Of course these changes won’t be going live overnight. Google said it will “continue to carefully experiment over the coming months on a small scale,” and eventually ramp up the change when they are confident they can deliver a great user experience to mobile and desktop users alike. However, a few things should be done to sooner rather than later to start getting the house in order:
- Invest in a responsive or dynamic-serving site with primary content and markup equally available across mobile and desktop.
- Make the necessary changes to your site configuration if your primary content and markup are different across mobile and desktop.
- 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 txt testing tool to verify your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot.
- Add and verify your site’s mobile version in Search Console if only its desktop version has been verified.
Finally, it is important to remember that if you are currently developing a mobile site strategy, don’t rush to launch it before it’s ready. A functional desktop site will still be better than a broken or unfinished mobile version of the site. Got any questions and concerns? Let’s talk about it!