Mobile-first Google Indexing

What does “mobile-first” mean and how does it impact your website?

optimising website designIn today’s blog we are taking a closer look at perhaps one of the least well understood aspects of how Google search works, albeit one of the most important. The topic concerned is “mobile-first indexing” a technical phrase used to describe how Google assesses the content of a website before choosing how to rank or position it in the search results.

At this stage, it is important to note that indexing is actually separate to ranking in that indexing refers to part of the process whereby Google collects information from websites, whereas ranking is the process it uses to evaluate that content and decide its worth relative to other websites. So in very basic terms to illustrate, Google sends out “bots” to crawl website content and then returns this to its servers where complex algorithms evaluate and rank it. The conclusion of the process is the Google search results which many of us use daily.

What is mobile-first indexing?

Historically, Google used the desk-top version of a website to index. This was simply because mobile sites were in their infancy and the vast majority of people accessed websites via desk-top PCs rather than via mobile devices such as browsers on ‘phones. More recently, and with the advent of responsive web design techniques, more and more people have switched their web browsing habits to portable devices, so-much-so that the large majority of people now surf via their ‘phones or tablets.

Consequently it makes absolute sense to use the mobile version of a website’s content to determine ranking results. There are of course other reasons why Google wants to promote the mobile web, including optimal opportunities to serve ad content, and we’ve discussed this elsewhere in our blog.

What does it mean for your dental practice website?

If you have a fairly recent responsively designed, mobile-friendly website, then the impact on you should be relatively minor. Google will crawl through your content, assess its suitability and very likely rank you under the mobile-first umbrella. Of course, just having a nominally mobile-friendly website doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good one and all too frequently we see big mistakes which will compromise your final ranking results – take a look at this earlier blog here to see what I mean.

However, if you have an older style desk-top website with a separate mobile version, things start to get a little bit trickier. Here you will start to lose out as Google could index the mobile version of your site. Where this has more minimalist content as was standard in the early days of mobile design, your overall rankings could well drop away. So as a minimum you should evaluate this and potentially boost the content of your mobile site version to match the desk-top site. Google has more information here and it does depend on how your website(s) is configured.

Where you only have an old-fashioned desk-top website, then it actually doesn’t matter from a mobile-first indexing context; the information is the same. However you certainly will be suffering the downsides of not being mobile-friendly and it’s long overdue that you need to do something about that i.e. a new responsive website design!

Summarising

To wrap up, mobile-first indexing is the new Google standard for retrieving the content of your website when evaluating it for ranking purposes. This has been going on for a while now but became standard for all new sites as of July 1st 2019. If you have a well-designed mobile-friendly website, you don’t need to worry too much, although you should still check to make sure your site is truly mobile-friendly (unfortunately many aren’t). Where you have an old-style, separate mobile-website where your content differs from the desk-top site, then you need to take action as above.

If you are still languishing with an old, non mobile-friendly desk-top only website, your content will still be indexed but you will be suffering from potential ranking penalties. For sure your users will be suffering too!

If you need more advice or perhaps an audit of your dental practice website to ensure it complies with all of the current standards, please get in touch with the Dental Media web team on 01332 672548. We’ll provide a full assessment and clear advice on anything that may be falling short.