Google's Mobile-First Index: The Why and When

Google’s Mobile-First Index: The Why and When

In our last blog post, we took a look at the Mobile-First Index, the looming shift in Google’s focus from indexing desktop content to that of mobile instead. If you haven’t read it yet, you should start there; it gives an introduction to what mobile-first means and how Google is planning to apply this philosophy to its search engine rankings.

In the second part of this series, we’ll focus on why Google is pushing for mobile-first design, as well as when you should expect the change in their ranking system to occur.

Why Google is Making the Change

So what’s the point of all this emphasis on mobile devices? Why would Google use its huge influence over web developers to push the focus from desktop to mobile? Simply put, more people are accessing the web through their phones than ever before. This has been a trend ever since the inception of the first iPhone, so it shouldn’t be surprising that mobile use has finally surpassed desktop use as a means of accessing the internet.

In a study released by Stone Temple Consulting in 2017, researchers examined 77 billion different website visits. What they found was that nearly 56% of all traffic came from mobile devices, leaving well behind the 44% of traffic from desktop users. This suggests that for any given site, more visitors are accessing the content on their phones than on a desktop computer. And it doesn’t look like this trend will slow anytime soon.

In this light, it actually isn’t too surprising that Google would make such a bold move. If mobile users make up the largest percentage of website visitors, it makes sense to focus on this demographic when designing websites. We all know how frustrating it is to be browsing the web on a phone and encounter a site that doesn’t take mobile users into consideration. Google has been penalizing these sites for years, and now the transition to thinking of the mobile web experience as the default seems like the next logical step in this progression.

When The Change Will Happen

Now for the answer to the question you’ve no doubt had since beginning this series. When should you expect the Mobile-First index to take effect? The answer isn’t as simple as we’d hope. On this matter, Google executives have stated that they’re making the change once they feel the new indexing system produces “quality neutral” results. This means that they’re not flipping the switch until the Mobile-First index creates search results that are as good as or better than the current system.

This too makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Larger sites with the most credible content are often the ones that tend to be slowest to catch up to major changes in web standards. Smaller, more agile sites on the other hand can easily adapt to changes like the Mobile-First Index, giving them an advantage over their larger, more established counterparts. It’s easy to see how, at least at first, the Mobile-First index could create a search result filled with nothing but small, less established sites with dubious credibility. Best design practices don’t always signify the best web content.

A Tentative Timeline

While they may not have given us an exact timeline for this change, Google has indicated that it’ll likely take place sometime in 2018. This may be a far cry from the original 2017 dates they had hinted at early on, but it’s an indication that we should be ready for Mobile-First sooner rather than later. This is especially true considering the discussion that they may roll out the new index in batches rather than all at once.

Is your website ready for the Mobile-First Index? What should you be doing, or have already done, to prepare? We’ll be discussing all of this in part 3.

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