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Mobile-first indexing: the winners and losers


Google knows how much time we all spend on our mobiles, and sees our growing reliance on mobile search to answer life’s questions. As a result, Google implemented mobile-first indexing in 2018.


Since 1st July 2019, mobile-first indexing is the default for all new domains. This means that when a new website is built, Google’s Smartphone bot will be the first to crawl and index the site.


Websites that are mobile-friendly rank higher in search engine results, and get more traffic than those that rank lower. And since 90% of customers don’t look past page 1 results, ranking on page 1 is a huge conversion rate bonus for your business.


Let’s take a look at what changes we’ve seen in search results since mobile-first indexing was implemented in 2018.


Image Source: Danny Sullivan on Twitter


We sure love our mobiles. Did you know that as of late 2018, mobile searches now make up more than 52% of all searches?


Image Source: Statista - Percentage of all global web pages served to mobile phones from 2009 to 2018


Mobile-first indexing means that the mobile version of your website will be considered the main version of your website. That means Google will crawl and index your mobile version content first. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly version of your website, Google will crawl the desktop version and index that instead.


Ideally, both versions of your website would be the same. That is, the same words, images, links and metadata (page titles and meta descriptions), but with responsive differences to the layout to suit the visitor’s device. If they’re viewing on a mobile, they’ll automatically get the mobile version, which may include different menu navigation, lower resolution images and fewer (or no) pop ups. If they’re viewing on the desktop version, they’ll see the whole website in all its glory.


Image Source: Google Webmaster Central Blog: Rolling out the mobile-friendly update (2015)


Since 2017, mobile-friendly websites have enjoyed a boost in rankings over non-mobile-friendly websites, for searches performed on mobiles. This is because Google wants to show mobile users the content that will be easiest to view on a mobile.


And after giving website owners fair warning in 2016, since 2018 Google has been penalising pages that are slow to load by pushing them further down the rankings.


Google knows us, sometimes better than we know ourselves, and it sees us bounce off pages that are slow to load. It feels our frustration at having to wait more than about 2 seconds for a page to load, so it shows us the faster pages first, especially on mobile (Thanks Google!).


The winners of mobile-first indexing


Bricks-and-mortar businesses focusing on local customers


Despite having access to millions of online stores worldwide, people still love to shop local, especially when they need something today or tomorrow. And what better way than mobile to find a local store while planning your day, or when you’re already out and about?


If you haven’t claimed your Google My Business listing and set up local SEO, do it now.


Here’s why:


This means the right combination of mobile rankings + local search could be massive for your conversion rate.


What’s more, the map-based listings appear above the organic search results, so local results are the first listings customers see:



All customers have to do is tap the listing to visit the website, or click straight into maps for directions.


Customers are impatient. They want information right now, at their fingertips. So the key to success on mobile is to give them the information they need in the fewest number of clicks or actions possible.


Voice search


With Siri, Alexa, Google Home and other voice search functions, voice search is booming. In 2017, Search Engine Watch found that voice searches were 3 times more likely to be local-based than text searches. This means that customers looking for local businesses are more likely to whip out their phone and perform a voice search than a text search.


The rise of voice search could be related to the convenience of search while driving. Of course, we’re not allowed to touch our phones while driving, but we can say “OK Google, where is there a hardware store near me?” to get an answer while we’re driving.


The winners of voice search are the webpages focused on long tail keyword phrases and natural-language questions such as:

“Where is the best pizza in Melbourne?” or

“What’s the name of the famous pizza restaurant in Brunswick?”


As opposed to a text search for:

“best pizza Melbourne” or

“pizza restaurant Brunswick”


This is because people who use mobile voice search generally search using natural questions, rather than stilted keywords. And this is great news when you’re writing your website text. Because no customers want to read the words “pizza restaurant Brunswick” over and over (exact-match keyword-stuffing used to work, but is now severely penalised), favouring more natural-sounding phrases and answers to questions.


Winning at voice search is about understanding customer intent. When your website can rank for the phrases your customers are using, usually questions, you can go on to answer their questions will good quality content. And we know how much Google loves detailed, useful content.


The losers of mobile-first indexing


Flash content


Flash content doesn’t work on mobile, so if your website still uses Flash for critical information, you’re in trouble. Mobile visitors won’t be able to see your Flash content, and it’ll show up with errors, which are annoying and make you look bad. Plus, Google penalises hidden content, so that’s bad for mobile-first ranking results too.


On the other hand, mobile-first indexing LOVES animations, video content, images and infographics. So by switching your Flash content to HTML5 graphics, mp4 video, GIFs and so on, your website will be more mobile-friendly and enjoy higher rankings.


External links


This MOZ study found that mobile crawls were not finding as many external links. Most of the lost external links were in side-bars, while links in the main body text remained in the crawl data (they’re the underlined clickable text links like you see in the sentence above).

Losing high-quality external links (incoming or outgoing) on your website may affect its domain authority, that is, how trustworthy your website seems to be.


How to improve your rankings with mobile-first indexing


Make sure your website is mobile friendly


It’s easy to check with Google’s Mobile Friendly Check tool.



The mobile friendly test is looking for:

  • adjustment of the design to suit the device’s screen size
  • page load speed
  • text size and spacing
  • button size and clickability
  • ease of use
  • and many more features indicating mobile usability

You’ll get a rating, and a list of suggestions for improvement.


Include identical or similar content on your mobile and desktop sites.


If your mobile site has less content than your desktop site, your rankings can suffer. The best way to prevent this is to make sure your website is mobile responsive. That way, the same words and images appear on both versions of your site, and your website’s platform chooses which design to show to each visitor based on their device.


Include important links in your main content


If you want Google to follow and crawl external links in your website, put these important links into the main content of your website. Of course, you can duplicate the links in your side-bars and footers if you want to, but be sure to put your main focus on good quality text and image links.


For more DIY information (it gets a bit technical), here’s comprehensive article about mobile-first indexing by SEO-guru Neil Patel.


Need help to improve your rankings and mobile results?


If you’re ready to get a mobile responsive website design to capture mobile customers, or improve your rankings with SEO services, get in touch on 1300 367 009.