When will Google launch the mobile-first index?

Article originally published 4th November 2016. Update as of 14th November 2017: One year on, and the mobile-first index isn’t here yet, although we do know that Google want to make sure the update isn’t too scary for webmasters, and that the update has already rolled out to a select few sites.

Rumours have been circulating for a year now that Google has been experimenting with a mobile index, but just this week, Google has confirmed exactly that; a separate mobile index for search will be happening within months. But why does it matter and what should you do?

Google’s index is its database of all pages found on the web along with every piece of information determined about it, like the readability and mobile-friendliness. Up until now, Google’s only indexed desktop content, having ignored mobile versions except for checking that there is one.

So, what do we know about the mobile index?

  • It is coming within months – which isn’t very specific at all, but it does mean that it’s close enough that businesses should be planning for it.
  • The mobile index will become the primary index, and the desktop index will not be as up-to-date. Perhaps this will be in terms of content being crawled, or even that algorithm updates will be used on mobile first.
  • If your pages are fundamentally designed for mobile, with no desktop-focused version, then the site will still rank fine on desktop for the foreseeable future.

We also predict that:

  • The current mobile-friendly ‘Yes/No’ check will be more refined, and friendlier websites with mobile-relevant content, and specific factors like AMP or app indexation, will be needed to stand out.
  • After the launch of the new index, rankings for desktop and mobile are likely to diverge even more over time as more mobile-specific factors are rolled in over time.
  • Other search engines like Bing may follow suit in the not too distant future. Where Google leads in search, others often follow.

How should you prepare for the mobile index?

Most obviously, if you’re not mobile-friendly yet, that should be the first thing you look at. And if you are, there may still be improvements you can make to the design or content to be better for both users and search engines.

Whether you do or don’t, benchmarking is essential to assess the impact. If you are just tracking results on desktop, or amalgamating your figures from various devices together, you will miss out on spotting opportunities.

If you want to have a chat about any of the above, drop us a line or give us a call.