Mobile-First Indexing – The Final Countdown

Author: Michael Wickham
14th October 2020

The deadline for mobile-first indexing was pushed back once again – to March 2021. Understandably due to the events of this year, it was deemed appropriate to give developers a few extra months to ensure everything is ready for the change. That being said, this migration is four years in the making so will unlikely come as a shock to anybody, with over 70% of sites having already been switched over (according to Google).

To refresh, Google started the process in 2016 following a few years of seeing search behaviour continue to move in favour of mobile (to the point where it became dominant). And although most content was consumed on mobile, indexing was still carried out on desktop sites first. Thus the decision was made to prioritise mobile and index mobile sites before desktop.

Over the past few years, sites have been switched over to mobile-first indexing when Google’s systems recognize the site is ready. If you’re not sure if you’ve made the switch you can check within Search Console under either settings or by using the url inspection tool. You may also notice when the switch happens with an expected increase in Googlebot’s crawling. This could also take some time depending on the size of the domain.

It’s still a little ambiguous as to how often desktop sites will now be indexed. It’s been suggested that desktop will act as a back-up if no mobile site is present, and that additional desktop ranking info (like historical desktop-only backlinks) will still be taken into consideration when it does these sporadic desktop crawls. But this isn’t official as yet!

Obviously, if Google struggles to index your mobile site, or if your mobile site is a shortened version of desktop, this will have an impact on ranking. So here’s our top tips to note should you be one of the 30% of sites still waiting to make the switch:

  • Content. Make sure all the valuable, high quality content (text, video & images) is replicated on mobile and ensure the formats are crawlable.
  • Metadata. Although it can still be optimised for mobile, make sure that the content has the equivalent key information.
  • Social metadata. Opengraph tags, twitter cards and other social metadata should be included on the mobile site.
  • Structured data. Make sure your mobile and desktop sites have the same structured data, and use the correct URLs (make sure that the structured data on mobile versions are updated to the mobile URLs).
  • Sitemaps. Any links to sitemaps should be accessible from the mobile version of the site.
  • Search console verification. Make sure to verify the mobile site version in Google Search Console!