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Starting in March, Google search rankings will index websites based on their appearance and performance on mobile devices.
What is Google’s Mobile First Initiative?
Mobile First is a multiyear series of ranking algorithm changes to shift focus from desktop computers to mobile devices. For the past 5 years the volume of search on mobile devices has exceeded desktop traffic, so this move does make sense. The final transition is called Mobile First Indexing, which will be completed in March 2021. This will complete the transition from desktop to mobile algorithms.
Desktop Algorithm > Desktop Algorithm & Mobile Algorithm > Mobile Algorithm (March 2021)
At the highest level, Google’s intent is 2-fold:
This is a departure from past algorithm changes, which primarily focused on improving user experience. Mobile First indexing is more about efficiency and reduced complexity for Google’s operations.
Scope of Mobile First
Website design technology and code change significantly about every 2 years, with much of it driven by screen size and resolution of devices as well as Google’s agenda.
Since April 21, 2015, when Google introduced “Mobile Friendly” tests into its algorithm,1 dedicated mobile websites have proven the best for user experience and conversion.2 They were concise, easier to navigate, quicker, and more readily provided information a person searching on a mobile device desired.
Google’s Mobile First initiative is massive. It is a total reversal from the original preference for dedicated mobile sites. Website designers and SEO agencies will need to ensure their sites do not fall into irrelevance by meeting Google’s mobile expectations.
According to Google, by March 2021 its algorithm will only consider content on the mobile website for ranking. It will ignore any content that only shows up on the desktop version of a website.2 However, content is still king, so the more unique content on a website the better. Gone are the days of being more concise or customizing content for a better mobile experience. Now you need to show everything on mobile.
What This Could Mean for You
If you have a fully responsive website with no customization for mobile visitors, then you will probably be fine. If there has been customization on your website, you may need to remove media calls that exclude content on mobile versus desktop and confirm the website still formats correctly.
If you have a dedicated mobile website, you probably will need to rebuild the entire website as soon as possible. If you have a desktop-only website, then it will be completely dropped from Google’s index.3 So if you care about being found in a Google search, you will need to build a new website as early as possible.
If you do not know the details of your mobile website, ask your website designer or SEO agency. Hopefully they have already contacted you about making sure your site is ready for Google’s search update. Any high quality website designer should be well-prepared for this change, just as they should have been prepared for the launch of the original Google mobile algorithm and then made the adjustment to responsive sites in recent years. Time is of the essence if changes need to be made, especially if you need to move away from a dedicated mobile or desktop only website.