In November 2016 Google announced they were rolling out a major change in the way they index websites. It affects all website listings in their search engine results pages (SERPs), and has significant implications to how your website will be ranked in the future.

The Google Index

Google crawls (visits) all websites using something called a bot. It’s like a background visitor that periodically turns up at your website to read what it says. It reads all website pages, follows links, and stores detailed information about what it finds. Google builds up an index of all websites and then uses this information to present the most relevant results to people when they search in Google.

It’s now the Google Mobile-First Index

In the past Google crawled your site as a desktop user. Now, however, they will crawl your site as a mobile user. It’s a significant difference. It changes how Google will view and rank your website from now on.

Why are Google doing this?

Today, most people search on Google using a mobile device – a mobile phone or tablet. It used to be that searches from desktop pcs were dominant, but pretty much since the launch of the iPhone in 2007 this has been steadily eroded year on year until now, where 3 out of every 5 (60%) searches occur on a mobile device.

The stats show that both out and about, and at home, mobile is the favoured method by which people are searching in Google. Google are changing their index systems to reflect this.

The dominance of mobile

It’s taken the UK a bit longer than other parts of the world to see mobile catch-up and overtake desktop pcs. This is partly due, I think, because desktop use was so well established in homes and offices.

Reviewing the visitor stats across all my clients’ websites, desktop still represented over 50% of visitors to those websites up to 2015. In 2017 that’s changed. Mobile has overtaken it. The number of visitors from mobile devices for these same sites is now at 60% to 65%. Mobile dominance is here to stay.

Why this matters

Whether you’re searching on a mobile, tablet or pc, it’s highly likely that Google will, in the future, rank your website based upon how well it performs from a mobile viewpoint. Google is currently testing the impact of the mobile-first index, prior to a widespread release through 2017.

If your website doesn’t perform well on mobile, your rankings will sink on both mobile and desktop. If it’s not mobile-friendly it will be penalised with lower rankings. The mobile-first index will affect your ranking everywhere – even if your customers are searching on a desktop.

And don’t think you’re immune just because your existing website enjoys page 1 rankings even though it’s using a fixed-width layout and a non-responsive design. Your competitors who have mobile-friendly, responsive websites will steal your ground.

If your website is not mobile-friendly you might have to make serious changes to your site to have a chance of it ranking well.

It’s time to act

Unless users can access your website irrespective of device or bandwidth speed then your site is failing.

Failing not just in an: ‘Oh, it doesn’t look so nice on a mobile, it’s a bit difficult to read and use, and it takes a while to load’ way.

It’s failing because Google will send less visitors to your site.

It’s failing because the majority of visitors to your website are using mobile devices. They’re having to do battle with your website just to read what it says, and to navigate their way around.

The result? They’ll get frustrated, give up, and leave.

And they won’t come back.

Don’t lose customers and sales that could be yours.

Get the basics right with a mobile-first, responsive website that’s accessible, usable, relevant, and fast. Your visitors will reward you with their custom. Google will reward you with better rankings.

Creating a mobile-first website experience for your customers is more important now than ever before.

It’s time to act.