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Google Clarifies Mobile-First Search Ranking Change

Recently, Google announced they are making a significant shift in how they rank websites based on how the site ranks as a mobile website.

READ MORE: Google’s New Mobile-First Indexing May Have eCommerce Implications

While the company has been testing the feature for about a year and a half, the full-scale implementation of the new direction has caused some questions among SEO obsessed digital marketers.

OF course, that also includes many eCommerce businesses that may use responsive themes or mobile specific themes.

A key factor in Google’s new mobile-first indexing is that the content the Google crawler finds on a site. With mobile-first, Google will use the mobile content as the primary source of data to determine relevance in ranking.

Especially on an eCommerce site, a mobile product page may remove some specifications or serve up a reduced description page, which under Google’s new mobile-first strategy could results in lower search rankings as not all data relevant to the product is being crawled.

Previously, Google would use the data it found on the desktop site as the primary “relevant” data, but with mobile-first, that focus shifts to the mobile site.

Other Questions

But Google faced some other questions about mobile-first that prompted the company to clarify these issues on Twitter a few days ago.

“We’ve seen great presentations & posts on mobile-first indexing, it’s awesome to see all the details… here are only a few things we’ve sometimes seen confusion about, so we thought we’d clarify them.”

Google Webmasters

Here are the clarifications in Google’s own words about mobile-first:

  1. URLs in search: With Mobile-first indexing, we index the mobile version. When we recognize separate mobile URLs, we’ll show the mobile URL to mobile users, and the desktop URL to desktop users – the indexed content will be the mobile version in both cases.
  2. Crawled counts: The total number of crawled URLs/day generally won’t change, but the balance will shift from mostly-desktop to mostly-mobile crawls. During a switch-over to mobile-first indexing we may temporarily crawl more as we reindex everything.
  3. Cached page: Unfortunately, it looks like we’re currently still not showing a cached page for many mobile-first indexed sites. This is a bug, not by design, and should get resolved over time. It’s just the UI, it doesn’t affect crawling, indexing, or ranking.
  4. Speed and mobile-first indexing: The mobile speed update in July is independent of mobile-first indexing. Fast sites are awesome for users, especially on mobile, since devices & connections there tend to be slower than with desktops.
  5. Mobile website UIs: Using “hamburger-menus” and “accordions” on mobile websites is fine.
  6. On requirements: Neither mobile-friendliness nor a mobile-responsive layout are requirements for mobile-first indexing. Pages without mobile versions still work on mobile, and are usable for indexing. That said, it’s about time to move from desktop-only and embrace mobile 🙂
  7. On ranking: The mobile-first index doesn’t change anything for ranking other than that the mobile content is used. While mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor on mobile, being in the mobile-first index is not.

For those eCommerce merchants that are a bit more up on technology and do a lot of their own development of their site, most of these information should clarify some of the issues that had been raised.

READ MORE: Smartphone Use Driving More Online Retail

But for those less up on “techno-geek-speak,” the bottom line is that you need to look at your mobile pages and see what your website is showing.

If the content is significantly different, then this new content is what Google will use to determine your search ranking. In that case, you may need to make changes and should go to your developer to ask them to improve your mobile experience.

Secondly, Google is placing more emphasis on speed. That is really a second initiative by Google, but one that eCommerce merchants need to look at. The company maintains a PageSpeed Insights tool here that can be used to check your site’s current speed rating.

Again, depending on your own knowledge of the issues, you can do the fixes yourself or may have to contact your developer to address speed concerns.

Most of the other points mentioned by Google really only address some misunderstandings about this mobile-first policy.

Holiday Season

It may seem a bit ridiculous to start talking about the holiday season already, but these two changes by Google could impact that most vital time of the year for most online retailers.

How your site indexes is not a quick fix, but one that needs to be addressed now so that when shoppers search for holiday products in a few months, they will find your items on Google.

READ MORE: Mastercard Reports Holiday Season eCommerce Gains of 18.1%

Of course, you can overcome some of these issues if your sales rely on social media or email marketing to existing customers. Then your Google ranking results are less important, but don’t you want new customers?

Now is the time to act and make site improvements if they are needed. This gives you or your developer time to improve your site and allows Google to crawl your site and update its search ranking position.

Have you checked your site? Do you have any concerns about this new policy by Google? Head over to our Facebook Discussion Group or use the comments section below.

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