With the rapid increase of mobile searches (now exceeding desktop), Google will switch from desktop indexing to mobile first indexing. Googlebot will crawl and index the mobile version of your site, which will also be used for the desktop search results.

What Should I Be Concerned About?

Organizations and brands operating a non-responsive, distinct mobile experience could see the largest impact (i.e. standalone or adaptive). Commonly, non-responsive websites have targeted a subset of content that cater to specific mobile tasks/needs. A great example of this is the travel sector, where some brands often streamline their mobile experience to simplify the booking process.

Aside from ensuring content you want indexed is accessible from your mobile site, you may also need to update your sites markup if there are significant differences between the desktop and mobile version.  This can involve updating your structured data to ensure it appears on both mobile and desktop.  According to Google, you do not need to update canonical links.  

How Will Hidden Mobile Content Be Handled?

Google has previously indexed but devalued any content that is not immediately accessible to users:

"Make your site's important content visible by default. Google is able to crawl HTML content hidden inside navigational elements such as tabs or expanding sections, however we consider this content less accessible to users, and believe that you should make your most important information visible in the default page view."

Let’s use Amazon to help illustrate this scenario: 

Amazon currently hides the majority of the product description on mobile.  A user can click to see the complete description.  The experience makes sense, as not everyone would be interested in reading the full description on their mobile device; however, it’s not without it’s Search referral challenge.   

Mobile Indexing Amazon

In the above example is an ‘Advanced Bidet Seat’.  Note the amount of description that appears in the mobile and desktop version.  Let’s pretend for a moment I searched for ‘automatic deodorizer bidet’ in Google (yup that’s a feature) and clicked on this Amazon Product link.  A user may scan the page and leave as it seemed to not have the ‘automatic deodorizing’ feature.  Now Amazon has structured it’s ‘hidden’ content logically so it’s easy to find the relevant detail/feature the user searched for, so an argument could be made that the expandable content should not be devalued at all. 

As Google continues to work through the finer details and strike the right balance, here’s how we suspect this scenario will work out.  Google will continue the devaluation of hidden content, due to experience implications, however it will be augmented.  This may manifest itself in the following changes:

  1. Content that is blocked from mobile view but appears on desktop, will only rank for desktop queries.*
  2. Content hidden behind tabs, accordions, expandable boxes will continue to be devalued, but mobile content will be devalued less depending on experience indicators.  Experience indicators would be semantically logical tab/accordion names. In this case, content behind tabs/accordions may rank slightly higher on mobile as opposed to desktop.**
* This assumes the desktop content is accessible in the html on the mobile version (though it may be blocked for mobile visitors).

**Believe for a page to rank for content hidden behind tabs, the in-view content must still serve query intent.

What If I Do Not Have A Mobile-Friendly Website?

Google will continue to crawl and index your website per normal.  That said, you should know that mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor.  If search traffic plays a factor in achieving any organizational objective(s), you should strongly consider investing in a mobile/responsive site.

When Does Mobile First Index Roll Out?

Google has begun testing this new index, however it is still a few months from a full roll out.  Suspect a roll out to occur towards the back end of 2017.

Summary

Google expects that their Mobile First Indexing should result in minimal changes in rankings, this however does not mean you should ignore it.  If you are operating a site that serves different content and markup between your mobile and desktop site, you should conduct an audit and develop a plan to address as soon as possible.

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