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Mobile-first indexing – how does it impact desktop rankings?

Mobile-first indexing – how does it impact desktop rankings?

Website owners across the UK will most likely have received a message from Google Search Console within the last few weeks like the below, informing them that mobile-first indexing has been enabled for their site.

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But what does this actually mean and what difference will it make to the way your website ranks in organic search results on desktop computers?

The process of search engine indexing is the finding, reading and storing of a web page by a search engine’s robot. This information is then stored by the search engine in their index.

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But what does this actually mean and what difference will it make to the way your website ranks in organic search results on desktop computers?

The process of search engine indexing is the finding, reading and storing of a web page by a search engine’s robot. This information is then stored by the search engine in their index.

The process of that search engine determining where to rank a web page in response to a user search is a separate process (although not possible if the site is not yet indexed) and is down to the search engine’s specific criteria and algorithm.

With traditional desktop indexing, the Google would index the full site version of a web page and use that version of the information it knows about the page when it comes to serving it as a search result. Mobile-first indexing changes this to the mobile version of a webpage being the preferred source of this information for Google. For websites where the mobile and full site content are the same, or the site is fully responsive, there are unlikely to be any noticeable changes at all; to rankings or the way that search results for the site appear to users.

What if your mobile site & full site versions are not the same?

Some websites, if they are not responsive, have different content on the desktop website to the mobile version; usually for reasons related to space and size. The mobile versions will often have less content so that the pages load more quickly for those using mobile data and are easier to view or read on a smaller screen. In a search landscape where content can be a significant ranking factor, having less content on the version of a page that Google indexes could be detrimental to rankings.

What can be done to prevent desktop rankings dropping due to mobile-first indexing?

The main reason that desktop search results could change due to mobile-first indexing is due to the mobile version of the site being less search engine-friendly than the desktop version. The simple answer is to prioritise optimising the mobile site so that Google finds it as useful and relevant to specific search queries, or better, than the desktop version. If switching the whole website to a responsive design is not possible in the short term, there are some steps you can take to ensure that your mobile site is as rich in content as possible, without having a negative impact on mobile user experience.

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