Google’s Mobile-First Indexing and how it affects SEO

SEO best practices are constantly changing, along with most trends in digital marketing. That’s because the criteria Google uses to rank websites is constantly changing as well. Google updates its methods frequently to account for changes in user behavior and the emergence of new technologies. If you work in digital marketing or SEO, that means you need to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry. You have to stay up to date with Google’s most recent changes so that you can keep your site favorably ranked and make sure your brand remains competitive.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “mobile-first indexing” before, but do you know what it really means? If you don’t, you’ve come to the right place to learn. Mobile-first indexing is the newest way that Google ranks websites. It differs significantly from their previous model, so you might have to make some adjustments in turn if you want your SEO and web design work to stay effective.

The best way to understand mobile-first indexing is to take a look at what came before it: desktop-first indexing. Before we can do that though, you have to understand a concept called crawling. Crawling is what happens when Google gathers information from your site. It does this so that it can determine how to rank your site relative to others that might come up when a user searches for given keywords.

Now that you have a basic understanding of crawling, here’s how desktop-first indexing worked:

  • Google crawled the desktop version of your website first.
  • It used the information it gathered to determine the rankings for both your desktop site and your mobile site (or the mobile version of your desktop site, depending on which one you had).
  • It then factored in the content on your mobile site, and used that to “boost” your existing rankings.

Pretty simple, right? Well, mobile-first indexing is just as simple. It’s just different. With mobile-first indexing, the process looks more like this:

  • Google crawls your mobile site.
  • It uses the information it gathers to determine the rankings for both your mobile site and any desktop version that exists.
  • It only uses your desktop site to determine your rankings if no mobile version of your site exists at all.


The takeaway here is that your mobile site must now be considered the primary version of your website. As such, you need to make sure it has  all the crawlable content that your desktop site has (if not more). The challenge is to arrange all that information in such a way that it will not adversely affect user experience, since that’s what Google’s rankings are ultimately based on. Make sure that your mobile site is optimized by following these tips:

  1. Increase load speed by using smaller images, removing unnecessary characters from source codes, browser caching and eliminating redirects wherever possible.
  2. Keep CSS, JavaScript, and images on your mobile site. Old mobile sites used to block these, but current smartphones should have no problem displaying them, and they are valuable types of “crawlable” content.
  3. Improve your mobile design by steering clear of popups and flash animated icons, and try to design your page with touchscreen devices in mind.
  4. Shorten titles and descriptions so that they will appear in whole on mobile devices.
  5. Use geotags to optimize your site for local users. Include the city and state where your business is located – in headings, meta descriptions, and content.

Lastly, make sure that you are using google analytics to gather information on how successful your mobile site is. To make sure you can also gather data from users using your mobile app, implement Google Analytics using the appropriate SDK.

Pay close attention to the information above, and you should find that you have no problems helping your mobile site stay up to date with Google’s most recent indexing strategy. Keep this guide close by at all times during your adjustments, and good luck!

NickAuthor bio: Nick Rojas (@NickARojas) combines 20 years of experience working with and consulting for small to medium business and a passion for journalism to help readers grow. He writes about technology, marketing, and social media for the aspiring entrepreneur. When Nick is not sharing his expertise, he can be found spending time at the beach with his dog Presto.