What is it exactly? First of all, an index refers to the collection of pages or documents that the search engine has found through crawling through the web (usually through links). These are then used to formulate and display search results for various search queries on the internet. Traditionally Google has done this crawling from a desktop’s point of view, but now they are working towards only crawling from a mobile browser view. This is referred to as Google’s mobile search index.
The mobile search index has changed, and continues to change, how Google ranks our websites. It’s important for us to know and understand what these changes are and what they mean for our websites.
The WHY: changes are reflective of the needs of the user.
As internet user habits change, Google’s algorithm changes too. A majority of users today actually rely on mobile devices for most of their online activities. Google is looking to the future as they make changes to their search index, taking into account not only the desktop version of websites but the mobile version too. They want to encourage the web to become more mobile friendly, rewarding sites that offer mobile compatibility.
The WHO, WHAT, WHERE: What has changed/is changing?
In the past, before mobile internet was popular, Google based its algorithm and indexing solely on the desktop content. Later, Google added changes to their algorithm in an update often referred to as “Mobilegeddon.” Simply put, this made it so that when searches were made on mobile devices, “mobile-friendly” sites in the results list rank higher than sites that are not mobile friendly. A simple definition of mobile-friendly is this: any webpage that views “correctly” on a mobile device. This means limited or no zooming in or side scrolling, the ability to load all content on the page, etc. This also means software that doesn’t render well on common mobile devices is avoided and links are placed far enough apart so the correct link can be easily tapped. Despite these changes, desktop content was still the one being indexed, but now it wasn’t only used for showing listings of just desktop users but mobile users as well.
Now we have mobile-first indexing, which is what Google says they are working towards now. This change is flipping what indexing has been like in the past. Instead of crawling a site from the desktop view in order to rank both the desktop and mobile sites, they will now be crawling the mobile view to signal how both mobile and desktop sites are doing. This means your mobile site and its speed, title, H1s, structured data and other tags and content are more important than ever.
It’s important to note that because of Google’s mobile-first indexing, content on a mobile site should be very much the same as the content on the desktop view. Google suggests that we take the responsive approach to our websites, meaning that the information is formatted in a way that it looks good both on desktop and on mobile devices, and is the same on both. Before, the only content that Google paid much attention to was the content on your desktop. Now they are moving towards paying the most attention to the content on your mobile site. This being said, Google is still aiming to build a great experience on the web for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices. Google is just noticing that most users are using mobile devices so they are approaching their next moves with this in mind. Google believes that the future is mobile, based on current trends, so we must pay attention and understand the changes to keep up.