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Google Announces Mobile-First Indexing

     
5:20 pm on Nov 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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It's official
[webmasters.googleblog.com...]
To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we're going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.
6:45 pm on Nov 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Well, there you have it. Your site must be mobile-friendly in some shape or form or you're done for in the mobile SERPs.
7:15 pm on Nov 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Well, there you have it. Your site must be mobile-friendly in some shape or form or you're done for in the mobile SERPs.


I don't think so. I think you are in trouble when you have a separate mobile version with less content:

"Today, most people are searching on Google using a mobile device. However, our ranking systems still typically look at the desktop version of a page’s content to evaluate its relevance to the user. This can cause issues when the mobile page has less content than the desktop page because our algorithms are not evaluating the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher. ...................... our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site"

"If you only have a desktop site, we'll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we're using a mobile user agent to view your site."
8:11 pm on Nov 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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A transition period is sure to follow, causing some initial confusion, however the die has been cast. G has revealed their direction and (sadly?) webmasters chasing dollars will follow first, then others will tag along. At some point the number of mobile pages will outpace the desktop and THAT will be when non-mobile sites will start to see drops in performance and revenue.

My only regret is that mobile pages/layouts are so cookie cutter that it will become increasingly difficult for webmasters to craft a unique look and feel for their offerings, and that will be a loss for all...

I say this with experience of having three unique news sites I follow daily all changing to mobile layout for their DESKTOP presentation and all three look so alike and function the same way that I sometimes have to look at the title bar of the browser to see which site I am on. The "limitations" of mobile layouts and that delivery stream will suck the "pretty" out of the web.

Not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but I will miss it as more sties code to the "little" device and give up all that wonderful landscape of pixels and colors.
8:12 pm on Nov 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I think you are in trouble when you have a separate mobile version with less content


Yes, to me

our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site


means your mobile content will determine the overall ranking of your site.

What we don't know is how far away "eventually" is, or whether they will still be so determined when they start major trials.
9:45 pm on Nov 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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The emphasis will now be on mobile display, with desktop making do. I agree that this is a sad point because I still see mobile and desktop systems as toys and tools.

Mack
3:54 am on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Seems there's a foregone conclusion mobile friendly sites have reduced content, not so. Mine has exactly the same content as it's desktop version and I see no negative side to this index.

Simple supply and demand. Google is constantly saying "more people search from mobile devices than desktop" so it's a natural evolution for the mobile index.
10:39 am on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Mine has exactly the same content as it's desktop version


Mine does also, except for image sizes. The original blog post also says:

If you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.


and

If you have a site configuration where the primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes to your site.


which bears out the hope that, as long as your content is the same, there will be "no negative side to this index".

This seems somewhat to fly in the face of the app-focused where-is-the-nearest-restaurant use of the increasingly typical mobile user, who is likely to bounce straight back from a text-based page where the snippet of information they want here and now isn't immediately on screen. Mobiles have yet to develop much of a place as research or learning tools, and although there is some crossover between desktop and mobile function, I don't see complete convergence (or complete shift to mobiles) as an imminent or desirable outcome.

Google's second statement here is, in that scenario, interventionist: a scarcely veiled threat against those who won't help bring convergence about.

It isn't clear whether the new SERPs will also incorporate the bounce-rate of mobile users who don't want to scroll through desktop-oriented text-based content to find the small nugget of information they seek. However, I don't think we can take anything for granted, whether or not we are serving both end-users the same content.
11:19 am on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I absolutely dislike cut down mobile sites: Give me the full experience on my mobile.

As webmasters we should deliver what our users want.

Time will tell how Google's change will really impact sites, so it's important we get a good understanding of these tests to evaluate our own proposition.
2:00 pm on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I absolutely dislike cut down mobile sites: Give me the full experience on my mobile.

Are most mobile users looking for the full experience, or more of a "just the basic facts" type of experience?

How do you merge those two experiences?

How big is too big for a mobile page?

How many K can you load up on a page before it gets to cumbersome for a mobile user?

My pages are image oriented, how many images can you use before the page just slows down too much to be useful?

Beyond images, how much text will a mobile user read?
3:08 pm on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Are most mobile users looking for the full experience, or more of a "just the basic facts" type of experience?

I think it depends on the type of site and how it's likely to be used on a mobile device.

If I'm reading articles at Politico, I don't want a "dumbed-down experience," I want the full articles.

If I'm checking my wife's arrival time on Widget Airlines, I'm happy to see a simple, no-frills page from an airline or flight-status site.

How many K can you load up on a page before it gets to cumbersome for a mobile user?

Again, it depends. Is the person using a small-screen smartphone from several years ago or a phablet? Is the person on a slow cellular connection, a fast cellular connection, or a fast, unmetered Wi-Fi connection?

Beyond images, how much text will a mobile user read?

The Kindle app on the Google Play store shows 620,000+ downloads.
4:24 pm on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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If I'm checking my wife's arrival time on Widget Airlines


You are probably not going to be using Google to find it.
5:32 pm on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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You are probably not going to be using Google to find it.

A lot of people will, but that's beside the point. I was responding to the question, "Are most mobile users looking for the full experience, or more of a 'just the basic facts' type of experience?"

Mobile devices and the entire mobile experience have come a long way since the days of feature phones or even the earliest smartphones. Today, phones are mainstream devices for a lot of people, and the assumption that everyone using a smartphone has the attention span of a fruit fly is old-fashioned at best. Just because people want quick answers some of the time doesn't mean every Web page should be designed for people who want quick answers. Sometimes, the same person might have different needs, depending on context. For example:

- The person who's researching a vacation in Widgetberg is likely to take a more thoughtful, in-depth approach to finding a suitable hotel than the driver who's approaching Widgetberg on Interstate 80 at 9 p.m. and looking for a place to spend the night.

- The person who's reading the Bible or a biography of Winston Churchill is likely to have a longer attention span than the person who's trying to find the exact wording of a well-known Bible verse or Churchill quote.

In cases where users aren't hampered by slow connections, data caps, or roaming fees, user intent may be more important than whether the viewing device is on a desk, on a lap, or in a hand.
5:50 pm on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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When I get on a public transport (think bus) I feel like I've walked into a church. Everyone's head is down, hands together in supplication ... and then I notice all the dang phones and devices in use. So, attention span is not the problem. Heck, these folks walk in Front of buses, off piers, into walls! That's dedicated attention to the device.

What is causing the rush to reduce (mobile friendly) is the data plan, tiered pricing, infrastructure speeds, etc. In the USA there are no "unlimited" plans despite advertising of same. Every major provider has been caught capping or throttling traffic .... so mobile friendly these days actually means trimmed down content, no frills or eye candy, to make sure the "transaction" is fast, lean, and clean.

G has a plan for that called AMPhtml ... but more than anything "responsive" is the catchall for everything else. G knows that nothing will get done unless there are either penalties (which would generate bad publicity) or rewards (which plays to the greed of many)*

Offering rewards of better ranking in the mobile serp (or now the major serp) will win more friends and fewer enemies.

*Greed is a form of human nature, not necessarily a bad thing.
7:04 pm on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages


What defines a "mobile version"? G have skipped round the definition.

Is that important? To me it is. My responsive sites have three different formats controlled by css. The first is aimed at desktop, the second at tablets and the third at mobiles. Which one of those will G consider to be the "mobile version". Clearly not the desktop one but I have no idea about the other two.

None of them serves up exactly the same content. The one I consider to be for mobiles omits much of the navigation. The tablet version omits only a small part of the navigation.

This proposed change is clearly going to take time to become effective and refined. It will take more than a year or two if the algo is tuned to take into account which rules should be applied to different types of site. The ride is about to become even more rocky over the next two years. Good luck to all of you.

And remember, if your sites get pummeled to pieces as a result of this extended algo change - it's not personal, it's just going to be a natural consequence of evolution.
8:34 pm on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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What defines a "mobile version"? G have skipped round the definition
I think Google has been clear that smartphones are "mobile" when it comes to "mobile friendly" so that's the criteria I see going forward with the index.
8:41 pm on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I think Google has been clear that smart phones are "mobile" when it comes to "mobile friendly" so that's the criteria I see going forward with the index.


Possibly. But they never define what a mobile or smart phone is in their view.

For example, they could nail down the screen width rather than using imprecise words such as mobile or smart phone. Those words are totally subjective. 500px wide or some such definition is rather more precise.

My css works on the basis of screen width. It doesn't work on the basis of words such as desktop, mobile, smartphone, phablet or tablet.
9:04 pm on Nov 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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they never define what a mobile or smart phone is in their view.
If you're asking Google to define exact screen size & resolution specifically as smartphones, that's not going to happen since there are many sized handsets, but they are all smartphones.
3:14 pm on Nov 6, 2016 (gmt 0)

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The mobile friendly testing tool by Goog uses 411x731px. On the other hand I have a site where pages were crawled by GoogleBot and JavaScript was parsed(and currently shows in serp) at 1024x1024px.
3:23 pm on Nov 6, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Possibly. But they never define what a mobile or smart phone is in their view.

The sample devices in Chrome's Developer Tools are good starting points for determining what kinds of devices are "mobile" in Google's eyes.

Also, since last May, the Googlebot smartphone crawler's "user agent" string has specifically mentioned the Nexus 5X:

[support.google.com...]

Obviously, smartphones vary, just as desktop displays vary, so it makes more sense to focus on broad principles than on a specific viewport size.
6:38 am on Nov 7, 2016 (gmt 0)

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When I get on a public transport (think bus) I feel like I've walked into a church. Everyone's head is down, hands together in supplication ... and then I notice all the dang phones and devices in use. So, attention span is not the problem. Heck, these folks walk in Front of buses, off piers, into walls! That's dedicated attention to the device.


Very true. Um, we talk about the worship of Mammon - perhaps we need a god/demon or smartphones.....

This does have a lot of implications: if people are looking at their smartphones instead of out of the window, it reduces the value of outdoor display advertising and increases the value of smartphone app and web advertising.
5:34 pm on Nov 7, 2016 (gmt 0)

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This does have a lot of implications: if people are looking at their smartphones instead of out of the window, it reduces the value of outdoor display advertising and increases the value of smartphone app and web advertising.

Sure, if you're advertising to bus riders and car passengers. If you're advertising to car drivers, billboards still work--at least when traffic is moving. At intersections with red lights, or when drivers are sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, drivers' eyes probably wander to their smartphones.

Maybe the next big revolution in outdoor advertising will be billboards that transmit ads to passing smartphones. And why not bus benches that send spam texts to passing smartphone users? ("Hey, buddy, are you looking to buy a house or bury Grandma?")
7:00 pm on Nov 7, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@engine
I absolutely dislike cut down mobile sites: Give me the full experience on my mobile.

As webmasters we should deliver what our users want.


Well... our cut down mobile site converted better than a site that was designed ground up to be responsive and mobile-friendly (though I think overly heavy, which could be hurting mobile).
8:37 pm on Nov 7, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Getting back to the original topic, I wonder if one reason for Google's taking a "mobile first" indexing approach might be a practical one:

Mobile pages are often less cluttered and more focused than desktop pages are, so wouldn't a "mobile first" approach speed up crawling and make interpretation of page content more accurate?
10:18 pm on Nov 7, 2016 (gmt 0)

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You know what all that mumble jumble says to me?
That Google can dish out personalisation but can't take it.

Apparently, one render index is all that the behemoth can manage. It's not like desktop has withered and is about to vanish. And given that desktop ads still pay (and so must charge) a premium or vice versa mobile ads are significantly discounted this decision looks to be purely technical. Two indices are too much for them to handle.

Frankly, if I were an advertiser and I knew that my premium desktop ads were being skewed in some 'new improved' results I'd be more than a bit p.o.ed. On the other hand I see yet another selling point advantage on the horizon for my direct sell ad space...

Those sites that are simply responsive aka various blocks simply shifted under each other things should be pretty much business as usual.

Those that have separate mobile/desktop sites may see a definite drop as usually the backlink profile for (usually newer) mobile site will be less robust. The mobile site may now have to have a prominent 'click here for desktop', quite the role reversal.

Those that took best practice to a logical conclusion and simplified or optimised the nav and/or the content for mobile aka designed for mobile first and then used progressive enhancement to add appropriate value based on screen size, etc. may be in the worst position. A good hard look at content differences and search traffic behaviour may be an immediate requirement.

And then there are those few such as myself who have or are in the process of going way out there and serving on context, very much on personalisation, very much indeed as Google search themselves... we may be looking at a bloodbath.

Personally, I'm not about to change my direction; it is a significant competitive advantage (except possibly soon with Google) and in my view the future. I currently block ~45% of my pages from search indexing, if Google traffic dries up it can go to 100% - for Google, I'll still have ~18% from other SEs. Yes, it would, as things stand now, be the loss of ~22% of traffic, however, it would also be the loss of the lowest converting traffic of any referring web platform.

The next 6-months look to be quite interesting. I'll have to get in extra popcorn.
1:30 am on Nov 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Those that have separate mobile/desktop sites may see a definite drop as usually the backlink profile for (usually newer) mobile site will be less robust.

Google's announcement said that "our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps." There's no reason to believe that an inbound link to example dot com won't benefit m dot example dot com (or vice versa).
2:01 am on Nov 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Hopefully the new index will purge all those archaic dinosaurs that haven't updated content in years and likely not to be mobile-friendly. Really frustrating to search for info and find the top several sites have outdated, irrelevant content. This should fix that for mobile, where I tend to do most searches.
9:46 am on Nov 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Nothing strange, as mobile market is growing rapidly
9:59 am on Nov 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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The impact of this goes far beyond "will my site still rank" - for me, that is the least interesting aspect of this policy change. And indeed, Google has pretty much said any site that has in some way accommodated mobile will be fine, on it's own merits.

I am really much more interested in how the link ecosystem is going to be disrupted when this is rolled out- including inheritable offsite factors.

Irrespective of you personally delivering the same substantive content (whether or not implied meaning is modified through layout changes), plenty of people in your "link neighbourhood" will have modified or expunged link structures. This will affect you, and you do not have control over it.

Additionally, many, many websites have modified nav on mobile. Which means your own semantic relationships will be affected, though obviously you retain control here.
10:07 am on Nov 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I am really much more interested in how the link ecosystem is going to be disrupted when this is rolled out- including inheritable offsite factors.
To my understanding, that isn't changing.
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