If you have a website for your business, you probably know it’s important to your customers that it works well on mobile devices.  You might not know, however, that an upcoming change to Google’s search algorithms (Google’s mobile-first indexing) will make the quality of your site’s mobile version a critical component of how it ranks in online searches.

There were signs that a change was in the offing as early as May 2015, when Google announced that, for the first time, mobile searches had surpassed desktop searches.  The question for web designers was whether Google would increase the importance of those mobile searches in ranking websites.  It wasn’t long before they got their answer:  late last year, Google went public with its plan for Google’s “mobile-first indexing” of websites.  Search Engine Land was among the first to give an indication of what the change would mean for businesses:


“While called an ‘experiment,’ it’s actually the first move in Google’s planned shift to looking primarily at mobile content, rather than desktop, when deciding how to rank results.”

What Is Google’s Mobile-First Indexing?

Mobile-first indexing means that once the new algorithm goes into effect, Google will rank your website based on the mobile rather than the desktop version.  As Search Engine Watch explains:


“The mobile-first index is a change in the way Google is going to index content.  Currently, Google looks at the desktop version of a site and then bases how it will rank the mobile site according to that information. Once this update rolls out, the opposite of that will happen. Google will begin looking at your mobile site and from that, will rank the desktop site.”

According to Gary Illyes, Google’s webmaster trends analyst, the full roll-out of mobile-first won’t happen for several quarters, but web developers and marketers should be preparing for the change now.   

Here are 3 steps you should take to ensure your website won’t lose ground once mobile-first goes into effect:

1.  Make Sure Your Site Has Responsive Design

First, it’s important to understand the difference between “mobile-friendly” sites and those which were built using responsive design.  Mobile-friendly simply means that a site is optimized for smartphones and tablets. 

It doesn’t mean that your site is “responsive.”

A responsive site is one which has been specifically designed to change—or respond—to the device on which it’s displayed.  For example, the desktop version of a website might use a multi-column layout that doesn’t work well on the smaller screen of a mobile device.  If your site is mobile-friendly, it will simply make that multi-column design smaller on mobile devices.  A responsive design, however, will change the multi-column format to a single column on mobile devices, allowing for a better user experience.

That’s why Google’s mobile-first indexing will give priority (and higher rankings) to sites which have responsive design over those which are simply mobile-friendly.  The best move you can make to ensure you maintain your current search rankings is to make sure your site has responsive design.

2.  Make Mobile and Desktop Content the Same

It you won’t have the time to implement responsive design before mobile-first indexing begins, the next best thing you can do it to ensure that your content is the same on the mobile and desktop versions of your website.  A common mistake is to truncate your desktop content to better accommodate the smaller screens of mobile devices.  This can hurt your rankings because less content also typically means having fewer keywords to rank for.  To avoid seeing your rankings drop, make sure that site visitors can find the same information on the desktop and mobile versions of your site.

3.  Check Your Site’s Architecture and Internal Links

To avoid mobile-first penalties, make sure your site’s architecture is sound on both the mobile and desktop versions.  That means navigation on both should be easy and intuitive, and that users can easily locate the information and pages they’re looking for.

You’ll also need to make sure all the internal links on your mobile site are working properly.  Dead or non-functional internal links are a common problem on mobile sites, one which prevents Google from effectively indexing all of your pages.  With mobile-first indexing, non-functioning links on the mobile version of your website will hurt your rankings.


Mobile-first indexing is an important Google algorithm change, but it’s far from being the only one.  Before mobile-first there was Fred, and before that came Penguin, Possum, the AdWords Shake-Up, RankBrain, Panda and Pigeon.  Google is continually changing the way it ranks websites, which means it’s important to work with an experienced marketing agency which can give you the guidance you need.

To learn more about the ways our SEO, social media, web design, web audit and PPC services can help you boost sales and grow your business, contact us today.

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