“We’re thinking about how we can make sure we only include in the mobile-first index sites that won’t be hurt by the mobile-first index. The longer time frame can be several years — maybe five years — before we reach an index that is only mobile-first.”
– Gary Illyes, Webmaster trends analyst at Google
Back in November 2016, Google had webmasters the world over breaking into cold sweats over the news that it would begin to test its mobile-first indexing “experiment.”
The news originally broke through the Webmaster Central blog. It detailed that the company sought to examine various mobile versions of Web destinations and rank them over the traditional desktop site, but gave no definitive timeline on when the rollout would begin.
While few were shocked by the announcement — because Google has been pushing hard for a mobile-first revolution for several years now (plus, Google Webmaster trends analyst Gary Illyes did allude to this occurrence in a 2015 tweet) — some did take solace in the idea that this new indexing scheme wouldn’t take hold for quite a while.
In fact, back in June of this year, Illyes stated at the SMX Advanced conference in Seattle that Google was still some time off from launching this alteration. He stated:
“We don’t have a timeline for the launch yet. . . We have some ideas for when this will launch, but it’s probably many quarters away. Our engineers’ timeline was initially end of 2017. Right now, we think more 2018.”
Those who were clinging to the prospect of a 2018 rollout had their hopes dashed by Google Webmaster trends analyst John Mueller in a Google Hangout session where he stated that the search company is in fact testing mobile first results “in the wild,” a.k.a. the live search results.
This comment was later corroborated by Illyes at the SMX East conference in New York City where he stated that the indexing change has rolled out to a “few sites.”
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer as to what a “few sites” means; when Illyes was queried about it, he merely stated that it was relative to the Google index, meaning that a significant number of sites could be ranked in accordance with the mobile-first indexing at this point.
Even though the rollout was not anticipated by webmasters until sometime next year, Illyes did emphasize that there is no cause for pandemonium to ensue because the search giant intends to roll out the mobile-first index very slowly.
Why Has the Rollout Begun?
As of now, the only reason the rollout began as abruptly as it did is because Google has seen positive results in its experiment that has inspired the company to push forth sooner than expected. Though the rollout has technically began, Illyes also stated that there is no certain or predictable timeline for full implementation of the index.
As for the sites that Google has opted to switch over to the mobile-first model, the search engine has established “classifiers” to help delineate the readiness of websites for the index. These classifiers serve to determine how analogous mobile websites are to their desktop counterparts in terms of scheme, links, content and other determining factors.
If these components all match to a level deemed appropriate by Google’s standards, the site is likely to be entered into the index. If, however, the elements fall short of what is considered appropriate for index (depending on its level of deviation) Google is likely to begin reaching out to webmasters through blog publications, Search Console notifications, or direct communication to inform those individuals what specific alterations need to be made before comparability is achieved.
In his SMX East session, Illyes stated that the reason for the limited rollout is so that Google can conduct further testing and refine the structure. As of now, testing seems to be moving in a positive direction and, over time, the index will begin to encompass an increasing number of sites, though at a very slow pace.
It has been stated that Google will continue to communicate with webmasters as the rollout continues. It has also been reported that the company is working on a blog that will help webmasters to understand the process, though there is no word on when that will be published.
While the world anxiously awaits Google’s upcoming explanatory post, here are some things you can do to ready your site for the inevitable mobile-first index.
Preparing to Go Mobile
First thing’s first: Read through Google’s Mobile-First Indexing post. The search giant lays out a firm foundation for its beginning recommendations as the mobile-first future nears. This will help you to establish how much (if anything) you need to do to be prepared.
Secondly, if your site isn’t already mobile responsive, you need to get that handled right now. This will require that you invest some time and money, but this requirement has been top of mind for a long time now. Remember 2015’s Mobilegeddon?
If you don’t have a responsive website but you do have a mobile version of your site, you need to ensure that your primary content can be found on your small-screen destination. When Google officially makes the switch over to mobile-first indexing, it will consider your mobile site as your primary source of content. If you don’t have your fundamental content featured there, you will end up being negatively impacted under the new indexing scheme.
While there is still time left before Google’s mobile-first index is in full effect, that window is closing rapidly. Prepare your site by following through on the above guidelines or you may suffer significant SEO damage when the switch occurs.
Is your site ready for the mobile-first future?