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Google’s “Coming Soon” Mobile-First Index, & the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Perspective

Published: March 13, 2017

Author: David Portney

Google has been pushing webmasters to make their sites mobile-friendly for a very long time. One might imagine that Big G is doing this out of the goodness of their heart, kindly helping webmasters, developers, and engineering teams to be sure they’re up on current trends with respect to user behavior shifting strongly to mobile devices.
On the other hand, one might also imagine that Google is not so altruistic, and that perhaps their continual pushing for mobile-friendly websites is to protect their bottom line (because if people search Google on a mobile phone, click on a site in search results which in turn frustrates people because it takes a long time to load, people tend to blame Google, not the website: “Darn you, Google, why did you send me into this time-wasting, frustrating nightmare of a website!?”). Naturally, Google doesn’t want to upset users because that means fewer people clicking on ads, their main revenue source.
The most-recent big announcement from Google on the mobile front is the announcement of a “mobile-first index” (think of Google’s index as being like a library – a giant library of web pages), which happened November 4, 2016. At this time details are scant, and Google has said they’ll provide more details later, but the gist is that Google is changing their index of webpages from desktop pages to mobile pages.

What do we know about the new index?

Again, there are many unknowns at this time and we expect Google to provide clarity, but the inside word is that Google will likely not be able to roll this out by the end of Q1 2017.
Should webmasters be concerned about how the mobile-first index will affect their SEO efforts and current rankings in Google Search results? That depends on your site configuration, and also depends on what details Google releases in the future to provide clarity about the “mobile-first index”. But there are two things we know for sure right now.
The first is that Google has long recommended responsive web design for mobile websites:

The second is that in Google’s official announcement of the coming mobile-first index is this statement: “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.”

From the SEO perspective, one of the huge benefits of using responsive design is that the URL of desktop pages is the same as the URL of the mobile page and this is one of the main reasons that Google recommends responsive design (it’s easier for Google to understand the site and pages, reduces complications and potential issues with other types of mobile website configurations, and consolidates all signals like PageRank (sometimes called “Link Authority”) to a single canonical URL for each pages on the site).


It remains to be seen what details Google will provide with respect to the upcoming shift to a mobile-first index. From the SEO perspective, I’d advise people to remain calm. And if you’re already using responsive design, you’re probably not going to be affected by this change, according to what Google has said so far. (Remember, Google has been recommending responsive design for a long time, and that’s not likely to change with the rollout of the mobile-first index.)
If your mobile site presents significantly less content than your desktop site, you might want to rethink your stripped-down mobile website. If right now you only have a desktop site and do not have a mobile version (yes, your desktop site will display on a mobile device, but likely presenting a poor user experience), you should strongly consider going mobile, but don’t do a rush job; consider your options carefully, think about your users, then move forward having made an informed decision.

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