The roll-out of Google’s new mobile-first index has started, with Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes confirming that ‘a few sites’ have already switched over to the new indexing process. Google is still rigorously testing the new system and there’s no current timeline for the full rollout – but with the process already appearing to be slightly ahead of schedule (it wasn’t expected to begin until 2018), businesses need to ensure they’re fully prepared for mobile-first indexing. Here’s all you need to know.

What is the mobile-first index?

With more than 60% of searches now happening on mobile devices, Google needs its results to reflect the majority of users. The search engine will be crawling the web from a mobile browser view and using this mobile version as their primary search engine index. This places even more emphasis on the importance of having a mobile-friendly website. The old index will still exist but mobile will become the default search index.

But I don’t have a mobile website!

Google has issued guidance saying that if the crawl doesn’t pick up a mobile-friendly website, it will use the desktop version instead. But with Google moving definitively towards mobile searches, it will certainly pay to invest in a mobile-optimised site in the coming year or so, if you haven’t already. Further changes giving priority to mobile sites are almost certainly around the corner.

Will mobile sites get a ranking boost?

It’s hard to say how this switch will affect rankings right now. It’s already common knowledge that content that is not mobile-friendly does not perform as well, but with many mobile sites having fewer links and less content in general, many site owners are worried about how they will be affected if Google is using a mobile-first indexing method.

However, it’s worth noting that both Gary Illyes and Paul Haahr (also from Google) said that they want there to be minimal change in rankings as a result of this change. Whether that will be the final result of this tweak remains to be seen.

Will ranking signals be affected?

Yes – Google will now be ranking both your mobile and desktop sites based on the signals they get from your mobile offering. Everything from your mobile page speed to your mobile site H1 tag and structured data will be used over and above your desktop site.

How will I know which index I’m using?

The simple answer is: you won’t. There’s no real way to tell whether you’re being shown the desktop-first index or the mobile-first index.

When is the full rollout?

It was expected that testing for this switch would begin next year, but with Google admitting that a small number of sites have already switched over, they appear to be slightly ahead of schedule.

Whatever happens, this change won’t happen for everyone overnight. Google will gradually push the mobile-first index to more and more users as they become more confident in the new system. Look out for updates over the next few months here on the Adrac blog.

Need help with your mobile optimisation and preparing for the mobile first index? Get in touch with our mobile SEO experts.