Google is scheduled to complete its switch to the Mobile First index this March, ending more than four years of transition. No desktop content will be indexed on Google from that date, with only content viewable on a mobile device eligible for inclusion in the search results.

The move to a mobile-first approach to indexing was first initiated in November 2016, shortly after Google said that searches made on mobile devices had exceeded the volume of desktop searches for the first time. In March last year, Google said that it had already moved around 70% of domains to the mobile-first index – a task it planned to complete by September before being forced to extend the deadline to Q1 of 2021 due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite coming at a challenging period for many businesses who are still feeling the full force of coronavirus disruptions, the looming March deadline shouldn’t result in mass casualties given the lengthy notice period for the switch.

What it does mean is that site owners need to now check that their content is visible on a mobile device and have an SEO strategy in place which reflects this change.

Any content which exists on the desktop site only will be dropped in March says Google’s John Mueller, “So when a site is shifted over to mobile first indexing, we will drop everything that’s only on the desktop site. We will essentially ignore that…anything that you want to have indexed, it needs to be on the mobile site.”

How to check if your site is already being indexed using mobile-first

The vast majority of sites have already been moved to mobile-first indexing. To check if that’s the case for your site, just go to the Settings tab of your Google Search Console Account. You will see ‘Googlebot smartphone’ as the named crawler if your site has been switched to mobile-first.

Known problems with m-dot sites

Google has already identified a few bugs which could impact your search results. The main issue appears to be around m-dot sites using hreflang with Google saying it can only direct desktop users to the m-dot version of the site, not desktop.

Mueller says, “The only solution there is essentially to make sure that you redirect your users from the m-dot version to the desktop version when they use a desktop browser.”

The SEO impact

  • One of the key SEO actions you can take is to ensure that your mobile site hosts the same content as the desktop version. With the desktop content set to disappear from the SERPs, an audit can help to ensure that you don’t lose visibility unnecessarily due to mobile content gaps.

Google has a warning here for those with less content, advising “If it’s your intention that the mobile page should have less content than the desktop page, you can expect some traffic loss when your site is enabled mobile-first indexing, since Google can’t get as much information from your page as before.”

  • Make sure your mobile site is using structured data with mobile URLs
  • Visual content should also be reviewed as part of this process. Use high quality images but keep an eye on file size as page load time for mobile is also a key consideration. Video file type should be in a mobile supported format and Google says that it shouldn’t be placed too far down the page, causing the mobile user to scroll too much.

To find out more about best practise SEO for mobile-first indexing, contact the Adrac team today.

Author Rebecca

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