November 28, 2016
Google is no stranger to trying out new things for the benefit of its visitors. This time it is going to choose mobile searches over desktop searches, effectively saying that mobile is the new priority.
Since 2010, mobile users have been increasing at a rapid rate, overshadowing desktop users. The algorithms that Google uses to determine which pages are the most relevant for any given keyword has not changed, meaning that the robots have continued to focus on the content shown to desktop users, even if the mobile users see less content, or even all together different content.
This has meant that some websites had very different user experiences for their desktop and mobile users respectively, leading to a lower quality of search results when using Google to find information on the given topic.
On Nov. 4, Google announced a shift in how it will rank and place search results based on a mobile-first experiment. By tweaking its systems to check in more detail for the different version of any given website, compared to desktop and mobile content, Google is hoping to provide even better search results for mobile users.
How this will be done is relatively simple; instead of Google using the content that desktop users see when visiting a website, and ranking the pages on that, it will switch to crawling mobile results, and use that content to rank sites instead.
What this means for webmasters out there has yet to be shown in full effect; Google will adjust and change certain metrics over the coming few months and, as with anything related to their search queries, nothing is set in stone, and everything is subject to change at the tech titan’s whim.
Currently, this is what website owners and bloggers should be aware of:
If your desktop and mobile content differs, you might gain or lose rankings accordingly.
Google will not have two indexes, one for desktop and one for mobile — this means Google is going mobile first. (In other words, desktop users have been demoted.)
If both desktop and mobile content are the same, there should be no visible changes based on your site alone, but you might still see changes based on the competitor movement in the search engine ranking placements.
Pages with low quality content on mobile devices stand a large chance of being deranked, and Google states in cases like this it should be better to discontinue the mobile versions until they can rival the desktop versions. (Build up your mobile pages to be as good if not better than your desktop pages before pushing them live.)
Some onlookers had hoped Google would announce they would add a second index that focused on mobile pages only but, currently, Google will keep a single index and rank both desktop and mobile sites in that same dataset, meaning it won’t distinguish too much between the two, in terms of ranking signals.
When a Twitter user asked Gary Illyes, a senior developer at Google in charge of this implementation, when we could expect to see this live on a big scale, he replied:
So it might not be until the New Year, that we will see this huge change going live, but Google is currently testing on a small scale, probably with a controlled set of websites and mobile pages, to test everything properly. After all, this is probably going to be one of the single largest changes the search giant has made to its algorithms in a long time.
Mark Pedersen has been developing for the web since 2001, always with a penchant for open-source technologies such as PHP. Since 2010 he has been working full time with app development, these days being employed at Nodes, a leading European app agency. He also regularly contributes to WordPress and other open-source projects.
To learn more about Google’s mobile first plan, click here for an article by Tina Courtney.
Mark Pedersen has been developing for the Web since 2001, always with a penchant for open-source technologies such as PHP. Since 2010, he has been working full-time with app development, these days being employed at Nodes, a leading European app agency. He also regularly contributes to WordPress and other open-source projects.