On March 5 Google announced what we all knew had been coming: The Mobile-First index is now the default for the whole web.
Previously, you had to wait for a notification in your Search Console to be sure Google is using your site’s mobile version to index your pages.
Now mobile-first indexing is the default for everyone.
And while this has been coming for ages, the SEO community is still struggling to grasp the consequences.
What does this really mean and why should we care?
What is Mobile-First Index?
Google keeps a record of all URLs it is aware of to promptly match any to a given search query. This record is called “index.”
Mobile-First index means that Google is keeping a record of whatever your page looks like on a mobile device.
Why does this matter?
For years, both Google and usability experts have been telling website owners to adapt their sites for mobile browsing. We’ve been encouraged to build clear and clutter-free experiences for mobile users to be able to navigate our pages on smaller screens.
This advice is perfectly legit as mobile browsing is different from desktop browsing, so we need to build somewhat different user experiences for both.
But this also means that the majority of websites out there now serve “stripped” (for lack of a better word) versions to mobile users now. In many cases, there are fewer links and images on mobile sites allowing people to easier navigate through sites.
With Mobile-First-Index being default for all sites now, this also means that Google doesn’t “see” those missing links or images, or even text any more.
In other words, if you have had a smart interlinking strategy sending search crawlers to other sections of your site, or if you had well-optimized text to help search engines understand what your page is all about, chances are Google chooses to no longer access any of those important SEO elements, if all those elements are stripped from the mobile version of your site.
Why would this happen?
There is a multitude of plugins and themes that help create cleaner mobile experiences by re-arranging and removing excessive HTML elements. Most website owners I’ve seen are not even aware of those mechanisms working behind the scenes and optimizing their pages for mobile browsers.
Hence many website owners don’t even know their sites are serving limited versions of web pages to mobile devices.
In the meantime, Google is very vocal (for once) about making sure the mobile version of your site is as full as possible, or else Google might not be seeing everything you want it to see:
In particular, we recommend making sure that the content shown is the same (including text, images, videos, links), and that meta data (titles and descriptions, robots meta tags) and all structured data is the same.
So are you following this recommendation? Is there a quick way to check?
Here comes the free SEO tool…
Because so many people are struggling with making sure their sites are Mobile-First-Index-friendly, we have come up with a free and easy tool to use:
I recommend running your most important pages through that tool now: The tool gives you the most important information on top so you don’t have to look any further.
Unless you see any difference in the number of links and words right away, there is no need to look any further. Unfortunately, this is not the case in this particular case:
This may mean that your page is missing 19 unique links on your mobile page, and 117-word-worth of potentially important anchor text.
Once you see there are obvious differences, you can scroll the page to see differences and links and in code to identify what is different and how to fix it.
On a side note, if you have a link on any page while desperately trying to decide if Google can see it, you can run the tool to make sure the link exists on a mobile version of a page.
All in all, the tool is quick and easy, and requires no registration, so you can run it any time when diagnosing a page or a drop in rankings.
If you have an idea for an improvement, feature requests or bug reports, please comment!