November 16 2016

In 2010, somewhat ahead of its time, Google took a stance of “mobile-first” design, meaning creating online experiences for mobile before desktop. Since then, Google has reinforced this mobile first approach as mobile searches have surpassed desktop searches. In 2015, having a mobile-friendly website became a ranking signal pushing many website owners to responsive designs for a better user experience. Since 2010, Google has been setting the stage for their most recent announcement – plans to release a separate mobile index, which will become the primary search index.

Google specifically says,

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.”

Google has already begun experimenting with adjustments to their index and plans to continue over the coming months on a small scale to work out all of the details. With any important shift like this, there are a lot of questions on what steps website owners should be taking next.

What if I have a responsive website?

mobile friendly websites

Sites that are responsive should have minimal issues with this change as they should be presenting all their content to Googlebot in mobile views. As always, you’ll want to test any changes you make to your website to ensure it’s a good experience on a mobile device – can your potential customers easily find the information they need, and how to get in touch with you?

What if I have a separate mobile website?

Separate mobile websites used to be a go-to, cost-effective solution for gaining a mobile-friendly presence. They can come in a few forms. Some are on a subdomain (example: while some utilize a subfolder (example: Whether on a subdomain or mobile subfolder, both mobile website versions are often slimmed down versions of a desktop website. In a landscape where mobile content will be what’s primarily used to rank content, this could pose some issues. If you have a mobile website, you have a few options:

    1. Consider moving to a responsive website, so that your website will respond nicely to any device that a user is on. With a responsive website, you’ll be sending the right signals to search engines no matter the index. And an added benefit is that you will only have the upkeep of one website.
    2. If your budget doesn’t allow for a responsive update right away, a short-term solution can be adding all pages and content on your desktop website to your mobile website so that they are consistent.

What if I don’t have a mobile option at all?

With this update, every website owner should be considering a responsive website if they don’t have one. Within months, it may be completely necessary to compete in certain verticals.

Mobile share across different verticals varies greatly according to a chart Hitwise published earlier this year.

Share of online searches initiated on mobile device, by industry (Source: Hitwise)

Share of online searches initiated on mobile device, by industry

TopSpot has a unique client base that typically is not included in these verticals. A somewhat random cross section of our accounts showed our mobile traffic percentage ranging from 10% – 70% that averages near 21%.

Share of online searches initiated on a mobile device, by industry with TopSpot average

online searches initiated on a mobile device

Mobile use for industrial and manufacturing is behind other industries, but with a switch to a mobile first index, it is important to send the right signals to Google to maintain and improve the quality of your traffic and conversions. With an outlook of 47% of the workforce being millennials in 2020, mobile first isn’t just a logical shift for Google, but also many businesses. According to comScore data, one in five millennials don’t use desktop anymore.

Google is still very short on details but what we can discern is that there will be a separate index for mobile sometime soon. The mobile index will be the preferred/primary index as there are more searches now on mobile devices than desktop. The desktop index will be refreshed less frequently as Google will be allocating resources more to the mobile index since that is where their users are.

Generally, Google has been sensitive to launching anything that might shake up the search landscape near or in the holiday season so we feel comfortable in expecting this update to happen after the holidays. Whenever the mobile index rolls out completely, mobile-first should be part of every business’ marketing strategy moving forward.

Still have questions about Google’s Mobile-First Index or are you interested in learning more about mobile optimization for your website?

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