Where Google’s Mobile-First Index Stands Right Now

For years, mobile-first indexing has been a hot topic. Have you kept up with it? For more information on Google’s mobile-first index, keep reading.
Okay, so Google’s announcement of the mobile-first index took place a few years ago.

The majority of websites have switched to Google’s mobile-first index, thus it’s no longer a “hot” SEO topic.

The finest tweet I’ve come across to describe the lack of attention given to this issue is one from John Mueller, Google Search Advocate, from 2021:
In keeping with the idea that mobile-first indexing is a “part of life” (which I totally agree with), it is useful for SEOs to be aware of some of the background and the current situation.

For instance, Google now emphasizes Page Experience, a ranking criterion that heavily incorporates mobile, in addition to the mobile-first index, which was first announced years ago.

Let’s first discuss the origins of the mobile-first index and what we now know before moving on to that subject.

Then, we’ll discuss what Google values in terms of mobile usability, what it means to have a consistent user experience across desktop and mobile, how you can adhere to Google’s mobile-first best practices, and more.

Mobile-First Indexing by Google
There Aren’t Two Indexes, sorry.
According to Google, there isn’t a distinct mobile-first index.

Instead, mobile-first indexing refers to Google’s preference for using the web page’s mobile version for ranking and indexing.

Google clarified in 2018 that with mobile-first indexing, the URL of your site’s mobile-friendly version is crawled.

Google displays the mobile URL to mobile visitors and the desktop URL to desktop users if your website has different mobile and desktop URLs.

The mobile version of the article will be indexed nonetheless.

The Mobile-First Index Will Now Be Used
Google made the announcement that it would begin gradually implementing mobile-first indexing by the end of 2017.

Google said in March 2018 that they were broadening the deployment and gave websites instructions on how to get ready.

Even three years later, not every website has been converted to the mobile index.

Google reported that even though the majority of websites were configured for mobile indexing, there were still those that weren’t in June 2020.

At that time, Google declared that it would postpone the transition to mobile-first indexing until March 2021 rather than September 2020 as originally planned.

Google explained the delay in the rollout by citing a number of site-specific concerns, such as issues with robots’ meta tags, slow loading, blocked assets, core content, and mobile images and videos.

In November 2021, Google finally announced that it had lifted its own self-imposed deadline, citing the fact that some websites were still not yet included in the mobile-first index because they weren’t ready to be switched over.

Google went on to say that the websites’ lack of preparation was brought on by a number of unforeseen difficulties.

Because of these challenges, Google says, “we’ve chosen to keep the timeframe open for the final stages of mobile-first indexing.”

As for the transition to mobile-first indexing, Google added, “We don’t presently have a particular final timetable and want to be mindful about the remaining significant steps in that direction.”

For new websites, mobile-first indexing should be the default.
After July 1, 2019, if your website was published, mobile-first indexing is turned on by default.

Google announced this adjustment in May 2019 and stated that it applied to websites that Google Search had not previously recognized.

The explanation of why Google will make mobile-first indexing the default for new websites were included in the release.

Google claims that they have come to the conclusion that new websites are often prepared for this kind of crawling after years of web crawling with a smartphone Googlebot.

Usability Of Mobile Devices And Mobile-First Indexing Are Not the Same
Mueller clarified in January 2019 that even if your material fails the mobile usability test, it may still be shifted to mobile-first indexing.

The “mobile usability” report from Search Console may have indicated that your site has proper URLs, but that does not imply that the pages were prepared for mobile-first indexing.

According to Mueller, smartphone usability and mobile-first indexing are “totally distinct.” Therefore, even if a page was not determined to be viewable on a mobile device, it might still be allowed for mobile-first indexing.

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Mueller’s explanation can be heard beginning at 41:12 in the video below:
In conclusion, mobile-friendliness and responsive layouts are not prerequisites for mobile indexing.

Pages lacking mobile versions could be indexed because they still function on mobile devices.

The experiences on mobile and desktop should be the same.
In January 2020, Google updated its mobile-first indexing best practices, placing a strong emphasis on maintaining a consistent user experience across mobile and desktop.

A fantastic summary of what Google meant by the same experience was supplied by Matt Southern:

enabling Googlebot to access and display resources and content on desktop and mobile pages.
ensuring that the content on the mobile site is identical to that on the desktop site.
using the identical meta robots tags for the desktop and mobile versions of the website.
utilizing the same headings on both desktop and mobile sites.
ensuring that the structured data on the desktop and mobile pages is identical.
Google cautions that if you deliberately deliver less material on a page’s mobile version than its desktop version, you may see a decline in traffic.

The cause? Google claims that they won’t be able to extract as much information from the website as they formerly could (when the desktop version was used).

Google suggests that the main material be the same on the mobile site and the desktop version. Even on the mobile version, Google advises using the same headings.

Google specifically states in its documentation on mobile indexing that just the material on the mobile site is used in indexing, which serves to emphasize this point even more.

The content on your mobile site should therefore match that on your desktop site, if possible.

During Pubcon Pro Virtual 2020, Mueller reaffirmed this fact and added the following comment:

Best Practices for Google’s Mobile-First Indexing
To ensure that your users have the best experience, Google offers a thorough list of recommended practices for mobile-first indexing.

The majority of the knowledge Google offers as best practices is actually not brand-new.

The list is actually a compilation of many suggestions and pieces of advice that Google has previously offered elsewhere over the years.

Other best practices for ensuring a consistent user experience across mobile and desktop include the following:

ensuring that both the mobile and desktop versions of the error page have the same status.
fragment URLs should be avoided on the mobile site.
ensuring that the mobile pages are equivalent to the desktop versions.
examining the desktop and mobile sites in Search Console.
examining the hreflang links on various mobile URLs.
ensuring that a faster crawl rate won’t affect the mobile site.
ensuring that the robot.txt directives on the desktop and mobile websites are the same.
Google has a whole area dedicated to URL ideas for different pages.

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Check out the “Troubleshooting” part of the best practices guide as well.

It contains frequent mistakes that may prevent your site from being suitable for mobile-first indexing or may result in a reduction in rankings after your site is enabled.

Mueller clarified that in terms of sites employing different mobile URLs and rel-canonical, nothing has changed with mobile-first indexing. Mueller advises maintaining the same annotations.

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