Google has started evaluating a handful of sites on their readiness for mobile-first indexing based on several criteria, the company announced in a blog post this week. Sites will be transitioned to mobile-first indexing when ready and the process is being closely monitored by the search team.
The move to mobile-first indexing was previously announced by Google but this is the first indication that the process has actually started. In the blog post, Google, which commands 94% of the U.S. mobile search market, said it will increasingly rely on the mobile version of a website's content when indexing and ranking search results. Mobile-first indexing marks a shift away from the current practice of using computer programs to crawl, index and rank websites by first looking at the desktop version.
Google didn’t provide a timeline for the shift to mobile-first indexing, saying it continues to be cautious with the rollout. The company plans to implement the change in stages without setting a hard deadline on completing the transition.
Mobile-first indexing is intended to make sure that mobile users — who have accounted for the majority of searches for a couple of years — get a more accurate picture of a website whose mobile version differs from desktop content. By only using the desktop version to index a website, Google’s search software doesn't evaluate the actual pages served to the mobile user. The transition is necessary for Google to provide the best user experience for mobile users, which is becoming more crucial as search options grow across voice, image recognition and other platforms, threatening Google's dominant role in search.
The news is a reminder that marketers need to be prepared for mobile-first indexing to make sure their website content shows up accurately in search results. The company first announced plans for mobile-first indexing a year ago, and has discussed the transition at events like the Pubcon search and social media marketing conference, per eWeek. Webmasters will see significantly increased crawling by the Smartphone Googlebot, while snippets in the results and content on Google cache pages will be from the mobile version of the pages.
The company provided some tips to prepare for the change to mobile-first indexing. The first step is to ensure that mobile versions of a web page have the same content as the desktop version. That means all text, videos and images in the desktop version need to be available on the mobile site for Google’s crawling software to scan and index.
Web-page metadata, which aren’t visible to people using a web browser but have information like page descriptions and key-word tags, should be available on the mobile site and match the desktop version. Google also recommends that the servers hosting the site have enough capacity to handle a potentially increased crawl rate. This doesn't affect sites that use responsive web design and dynamic serving, only sites where the mobile version is on a separate host, such as m.example.com.