September 2020 – the month all SEO fans prepared for – was the month that Google’s indexing transition was meant to switch from desktop to mobile-first indexing, as stated in their announcement back in March. Seems like years ago, right?
With 2020 being a difficult year however, Google decided to give a bit more time, changing the scheduled switch to March 2021 instead. So, early next year, the update will have Google’s web crawler, the Googlebot Smartphone becoming a lot busier as it adjusts to the transition.
This basically means Google will predominantly use the mobile version of your content for ranking and indexing rather than the desktop version as being the default for indexing.
Google have been working on mobile-first indexing for a few years now, using their web crawler Googlebot Smartphone. From their analysis so far, Google says most sites shown in search results are ready for mobile-first indexing with 70% of those shown in search results having already shifted over. But Google figures it’s time to bring this shift to all websites.
So, why the change?
It should come as no surprise that most of us are glued to our phones. We use them for so many things; shopping online, social media, Googling, listening to music… There’s very little that we can’t do on our phones nowadays.
Google has stated that the majority of users now access Google Search with a mobile device and so as the web evolves, Google does too. Moving forward, their smartphone agent will be the primary web crawler – the Googlebot Smartphone.
‘Googlebot’ is the general name given to Google’s web crawlers, and there are two types; a desktop crawler and a mobile crawler. We’ll let you figure out which one is for which device user, but your website will be crawled by both.
As of March 2021, this new mobile-first transition means that most of the Googlebot crawl requests on your site will be made using the mobile crawler.
What makes a site ready for mobile-first indexing?
Because so many of us are using our phones when we’re out and about, Google is now looking to prioritise high quality user experiences for mobile versions of websites. Basically, if your desktop site is doing well for Google indexing, make sure to replicate that for mobile – make it as mobile-friendly as possible.
Not sure if yours is up to scratch? Not to worry, here’s how to make your site mobile-friendly:
- Make sure that Googlebot can access and render your mobile page content and resources
- Use the same meta robots tags on the desktop and mobile site as well as making sure content is the same on both i.e. use the same clear and meaningful headings on the mobile site as you do on the desktop site
- Some resources have different URLs on the mobile site from those on the desktop site, so make sure you’re letting Google crawl all your resources
- Make sure that your structured data is present on both versions of the site
- Review your ad placements to avoid harming your mobile page ranking. For example, ads at the top of the page can take up too much room on a mobile device, creating a bad user experience
- Maintain high-quality imagery (don’t use images that are too small or have low resolution on mobile) and use a supported format for images
- Make sure that your mobile site has the same alt text for images as the desktop site
- Make sure your website on mobile is responsive
Google note: “We suggest not using separate mobile URLs (often called “m-dot”) because of issues and confusion we’ve seen over the years, both from search engines and users.”
For some extra help before the update launches, check out Google’s in-depth guide on mobile-first indexing best practices. And to learn more about user experience and how Google’s Core Web Vitals will play a part in ranking in 2021, head on over to our blog.
Through listening and adapting to users and webmasters, Google is keen to make the switch to mobile first for crawling and indexing. If you didn’t already closely monitor and evaluate your mobile site, now would be the time to review how mobile-friendly it is.
Need a little SEO oomph? Not sure if you’re mobile-first-ready? See how we can help.
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