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Mobile first index update... thoughts, predictions, observations

     
5:34 pm on Oct 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Some other webmaster sites are reporting that the Mobile First index update has begun, although only in a minor way at the moment.

My prediction is that big G will firmly cover its arse as far as this update is concerned over the next year or so as they gradually introduce it.

How do you cover your arse with an update like this? Make sure that big brands appear at the top of the SERPS, they are relatively risk free irrespective of the content they provide, G will take a very close at page 2 and 3 of the SERPS and learn from those.

For us non-big-brands. I suspect the next 18 months is gong to be really tough as far as mobile is concerned.
9:40 pm on Oct 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I have a simple question which has probably already been answered somewhere, but I don't remember for sure:

What effect, if any, will the switch to the mobile-first index have on the results that people see on desktop and tablet devices?

I ask this because I don't think mobile traffic is as likely to read my articles, so it doesn't matter as much to me.

Also, I've read that ecommerce businesses get a lower conversion rate with mobile traffic, so some members might be interested in discussing that, if it is true.
11:01 pm on Oct 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I don't think mobile traffic is as likely to read my articles, so it doesn't matter as much to me
It needs to matter, though, because everyone gets the same search results. It isn't determined by the device you're currently using; that's kinda the whole point.

Not that I don't see your position. For my part I honestly can't imagine curling up with a smartphone and lingering over the full text of {obscure 200-page 19th-century travel book}. But logs say unequivocally that that's what people do.
11:13 pm on Oct 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Well I must not understand it at all. Does it mean that google will intentionally gear their search results to typical mobile users, and also show those same results to desktop and tablet users?

Wouldn't it make more sense to have two different algorithms, one for mobile, and a different one for desktop and tablet?
1:02 am on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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What effect, if any, will the switch to the mobile-first index have on the results that people see on desktop and tablet devices?
There will be only one index, the mobile-index. Actually, there is only one index now. The difference is, currently your site is ranked by the desktop quality. After the mobile-first index is fully in effect, that will switch and your site will be ranked by the mobile quality.

Google also says, at first those who do not have a mobile site will not be affected. Google will retain the ranking of your desktop site, so you're OK for a while. However, at some (unknown) point that will significantly change and if your site is not mobile-friendly, it will lose ranking and may be labelled as "not mobile-friendly" or not be shown in the mobile-index at all, nobody really knows yet.

Are you ready for the Mobile-First Index? [webmasterworld.com]

- - -
1:58 am on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Once again there is a migration of device, user(s), and serps. Back in the old days it was res, layout, "tables". Through it all Content was the key, and will probably remain so, but as keyplry points out and lucy24 notes, desktop only will probably take a hit. Meanwhile, a switch to responsive will go a long way toward staying viable. Mobile First, after all, is not the only future hurdle, there's apps also in the wings.

Ultimately your content will become their content and getting it to pay off (for you) will become more difficult as the months roll by. The wild west web is becoming tamed, funneled, even straight-jacketed into a "thing" serps (such as g) will display without pass-through traffic. Already seeing some of this happening.

Do what you can to BRAND yourself above this shift in presentation ... become big enough, important enough, authoritative enough to survive. Not an easy thing to do, but is possible. With product and pockets deep enough to make the hump.

What we might see is a "leaner", more slim, serp result once Mobile First fully engages. We won't know for sure for quite some time (think 18 months) but when it does kick in some will be left behind, some will maintain, some will excel. Preparing now will determine which slot for your hard work ...
2:34 am on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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What effect, if any, will the switch to the mobile-first index have on the results that people see on desktop and tablet devices?

If you're asking this question now, your done. The ship has sailed. Mobilegeddon was in April 2015.

I ask this because I don't think mobile traffic is as likely to read my articles, so it doesn't matter as much to me.

If you are serving a desktop site to a mobile user it is obvious that they wont read your content. Personally I prefer reading on an iPad. If I find an in depth article, I will note the url and then sit on the couch and read it. Provided that the article is legible on the smaller screen.

I've read that ecommerce businesses get a lower conversion rate with mobile traffic,

This appear to be true, and it is not only the case for ecommerce but for Adsense Publishers as well. But so far most sites have adapted desktop content for mobile sized screens. The winners in this shift will be those that will be able to change this. And, it must be said that the stats may be biased as they may not fully attribute the value for all the steps in the conversion funnel. A user may spend time while commuting researching a product, then once at home switch to desktop and make a purchase. Those mobile page views were essential for converting the user, but those are not accounted for.

During the month September only 33% of the users of my site were on desktop. With stats like that you can forget about Google and do what needs to be done for the bulk of your users. All the new content that I have built over the past year or so (if not longer) was created for mobile phones first, desktop was an after thought.

To answer the OPs question, I think that this is mostly behind us and any "transition" will be seamless any changes will largely be perceived as noise.
4:03 am on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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My industry is so much different. Our biggest jump was from 2015 --> 2016. Now it appears to be slowing down.

2014
75.38% Desktop
13.66% Mobile
10.96% Tablet

2015
74.02% Desktop
16.51% Mobile
9.47% Tablet

2016
68.61% Desktop
24.52% Mobile
6.87% Tablet

2017
65.78% Desktop
27.81% Mobile
6.41% Tablet
4:06 am on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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On average my visitor metric is:
35% Desktop
45% Mobile
20% Tablet

The paradox was, until I supported mobile, I didn't see much mobile traffic. Once I redesigned to responsive, my traffic increased more than 50%, most of which was mobile... so it took being mobile to see how much mobile traffic I was missing.
8:22 am on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Since going responsive April 2015, We get loads of mobile traffic. As a ecom, it converts at approximately 0%.

As Nick says, it's the hidden sales funnel you need to consider. Plenty of customers browse idly on mobile, and order at home/work. Consider overt strategies to optimise this funnel (hint: you can make it explicit).
8:58 am on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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As a ecom, it converts at approximately 0%
Sorry to hear that. Many factors involved. Some products may do well converting on mobile, others may not.

I track desktop vs mobile and mobile sales have been improving consistently over the last 2 years. I studied how the big sites designed their mobile product pages and stole a couple ideas from them.

I also nurture relationships in mobile arenas to bring in mobile traffic by keeping a strong presence and participation on Social Media.

Just having a mobile-friendly site is not enough IMO. You have to go out and bring in the customers. It takes time and effort, but that's the only way I've come up with to stay relevant.
9:22 am on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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0% was slightly facetious, but it is significantly lower than desktop.

We're happy with our mobile traffic, and indeed how we convert it. It's just not direct from mobile. And yes, Amazon has some great implementation ideas for getting mobile users to covert- both immediately and delayed gratification.
10:58 am on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The paradox was, until I supported mobile, I didn't see much mobile traffic. Once I redesigned to responsive, my traffic increased more than 50%, most of which was mobile... so it took being mobile to see how much mobile traffic I was missing.


We have had a responsive website since late 2015. Maybe that is why we saw our biggest jump during that period.
12:16 pm on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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So if I understand what everyone is saying, sites like mine, which are already responsive and mobile-friendly, could see increases not just in mobile traffic, but also in desktop and tablet traffic. And these increases would be taken from sites that aren't mobile-friendly. Or am I overlooking something?
12:53 pm on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@aristotle
Pretty much, yeah.

As keyplyr summarised, there is currently one index, and there will remain one index.

The current index is built from the documents served to desktops, and the new index will be built from documents served to mobile-like devices.

For further clarity: if you serve desktop-orientated docs to mobile-like devices, then that document will be properly indexed. It will probably score less than currently, simply because the modern algo scores a rendered page, and the desktop page may render badly on a mobile device. It will not be a "penalty" nor, conversely, an artificial "mobile bonus".

In addition to the basic index, Personalisation will be layered on top to build a SERP. Personalisation will take account of the user device, and will modify the displayed results accordingly. This is where mobile pages will get a boost for mobile, and ugly whitespace mobile-only pages are likely to be slightly suppressed for desktop. But the options available for this Personalisation will still be selected from the available mobile-first index.
2:06 pm on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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A user may spend time while commuting researching a product, then once at home switch to desktop and make a purchase.

Such behavior should benefit e-commerce vendors who can save pages that logged-in customers have been viewing and re-serve them across devices.

Vendors who lack that ability (or who cater primarily to casual first-time visitors) aren't going to be so lucky.
3:48 pm on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Such behavior should benefit e-commerce vendors who can save pages that logged-in customers have been viewing and re-serve them across devices.
And here's me being coy about spelling it out!
4:53 pm on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The current index is built from the documents served to desktops, and the new index will be built from documents served to mobile-like devices.
(emphasis mine) That's an awfully good way of putting it. It exasperates me to no end when they say “mobile site”, because unless you out-and-out deny access to mobile UAs, everyone has a “mobile site”. The question is how it renders.
8:27 pm on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Agreed, there is only one index a the moment and its based on how your site is viewed as a desktop site. When mobile SERPS come into effect, it seems it already is for a few sites, there will still only be one index but it will be based on how your site is viewed as a mobile site.

None of us has even the slightest inkling on how this will affect our ranking in the SERPS. How can we know, it's never happened before.

And, initially, I don't think G knows either. They will change their criteria in favour of mobile sites but how that works out in practice, they have no idea.

That's why, in my original post, I say that they will initially favour big brands on page 1 even more than they do at the moment, its the safest thing to do in a state of flux. On subsequent pages, I guess they will observe the effect of their algo changes and adjust accordingly. But if you are not a big brand and you appear on page one at the moment, be prepared for a shock over the next 18 months.
9:34 pm on Oct 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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None of us has even the slightest inkling on how this will affect our ranking in the SERPS. How can we know, it's never happened before.

We can make educated guesses. I know, for example, that (according to Google Search Console) our main site's average rankings for mobile are higher than for desktop. So it seems likely to me that a "mobile first" approach would work to our benefit. assuming that the switch from "desktop first" to "mobile first" has a measurable impact.
12:29 am on Oct 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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according to Google Search Console

Ooh, thanks for that, EG. I hadn't noticed that GSC now has a Compare option under Search Analytics.

Fascinating. Overall, rankings are just a little higher for mobile than for desktop--but for some pages, there's a vast difference. And I mean “vast” on the order of: where mobile has #x, desktop comes out as page x (#10x). Far less often the other way around. That's for pages, not queries.

:: wandering off to see if I can make head or tail of this ::
1:21 am on Oct 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The GSC device comparison doesn't reflect the quality of your mobile to desktop sites, only the search metric.
2:50 am on Oct 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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New thread perhaps - 'how to discern console data for comparable mobile match' but...

Tablet 10.4%
Mobile 41.9%
Desktop 55.5%

Having downloaded, I was able to ascertain one metric. I have twice as many top ten results in mobile than I do desktop. So if you are all presuming a switch to mobile only results, that must put me in good stead.

Edit: Or could just mean twice as many people search on mobile than desk?

However, finding three comparable terms

A Mobile 7.2 Desk 3.7
B Mobile 7 Desk 5
C Mobile 6 Desk 4

It would appear I have a better chance of gaining more visibility with a switch to mobile only - if I'm understanding switch correctly. Though with the latter stat, A, B, C there still appears to be something stopping mobile display on same terms showing higher on mobile than on desktop - for some terms.

But again, perhaps location plays more on search and other variables on mobile. So trying to get higher by making site more mobile, may be a dead end. It could be the title, the displayed text, and so on. Food for thought. I will definitely be downloading as much data so can figure something out. Interesting.

As much as it is interesting, my site still has huge visibility problems so won't let G get in the way of correcting that, as I know they won't.
5:50 am on Oct 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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any new update from google side?
2:38 pm on Oct 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Interesting about Google Search Console and comparing mobile index vs desktop. Didn't realize I could do this... looking around now ... I am surprised to see for queries and pages that my mobile average rank is around 5 or 6 while desktop is in the mid teens. I had thought my desktop was much closer to mobile as whenever I check keywords they rank pretty similar. I assume maybe the desktop pages have more keywords that rank lower for the page that I may not be checking?

Of course ranking higher in mobile is not a one to one comparison. I find the mobile serps so busy with the smaller screen real estate and google stuffing ads, featured snippets, people also search for, install this app links, and related searches.
3:39 pm on Oct 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I think that the desktop numbers might be biased. I think that mobile users are much less likely to venture deep into the serps, that is they will rarely if ever see 30th result or more (or it could be the result of rarely venturing past #10). Whereas, on desktop it may be rare for users to click through to page 3 or 4 but it will still be orders of magnitude more likely than on mobile. So if users are never getting deep in to the serps then there will be no impressions with low rankings. And as a result for mobile you will see "A" a better position, "B" a better CTR, and "C" fewer impressions. "But" you say "I have more mobile impressions", yes that is true but that is because you really have more mobile impressions. Essentially what I am saying is that the desktop impressions are "overstated". And thus the numbers are not comparable.

To confirm this theory, Google made update to Search Analytics in July:
July 14 - onward
An incremental improvement in Google's logging system now provides better accounting for results in lower positions. This change might cause increase in impressions, but also a decrease in average positions. This change only affects Search Console reporting, not your actual performance on Google Search.

source: [support.google.com...]
3:59 pm on Oct 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@NickMMS what you say makes sense. I agree with you and had thought of that before which mobile visitors are way less likely checking out page 2 in the serps.
4:09 pm on Oct 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Idle query.

Do you have to actually view page 2 to get the impression metric? Or does your presence on page 2 get recorded irrespective of if the page gets viewed?
7:32 pm on Oct 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I just want to say most of my traffic is mobile and you don't get as much money per RPM for mobile traffic. So it may effect earnings negatively for those that have mainly desktop traffic.
8:41 pm on Oct 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Do you have to actually view page 2 to get the impression metric?
I should think you have to. After all, there are rankings all the way down to--in theory--1000, but have you ever in your life seen a three-digit number in GSC?

Edit: By golly, three-digit numbers do exist. If I sort by position, lowest-to-highest, Desktop results top-out at upper 100s, including one with an average position of 131.4 based on a truly staggering number of impressions. What on earth were they all looking for? And that's for Pages. If I look instead at Queries, the record is over 400. How did these people get past Google's “stop and prove you’re not a robot” intercept?

The real stunner is that if instead I look at Mobile (the compare option doesn't work well for this type of exploration) the records are even higher--so even people with smartphones are clicking through page after page after page.

Unexpectedly, the smallest range of positions is for Tablet. Granted, I realize it’s annoying to try to convince Google on the iPad that I really do want a second page of results.

Unanswerable query: Who are all these people who will slog through page after page after page of results? What are they looking for? Will they even know it when they find it?
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