The Purpose Behind the Mobile First Index Testing

July 07, 2017

If you follow the SearchRPM blog you probably already know that Google is currently taking steps to make a huge adjustment in their algorithm. Last year the world’s leading search engine announced plans to move to mobile first indexing, meaning that the mobile version of a website would be given priority in Google’s index over the desktop version of the website.

Google decided to make the change in response to the huge uptick in mobile device use, which now exceeds search via desktop.  As one can imagine, the change in indexing is a huge undertaking. Google is known for testing such changes out before making them official, but some webmasters are beginning to wonder what’s taking so long with the mobile first internal testing.

This question was posed during one of the latest Google Webmaster Central hangout sessions. Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller was asked to give listeners an update on how the testing is going and when webmasters can expect to see changes to the algorithm. Here’s what John had to say.

The Primary Goal of Mobile First Index Testing: Minimize Impact

In the past, algorithm changes have had huge repercussions for countless websites. Sometimes that was the purpose of the algorithm updates – to devalue websites that were using black hat SEO tricks to game the system. However, that’s not the goal of mobile first indexing.

Google is making the switch strictly to try and improve the search results that get delivered to users. Since more users are searching with mobile devices, Google has decided the mobile version of a website now holds more importance than desktop.

It’s unclear exactly how long Google has been testing mobile first indexing, but the process was underway late last year. Originally, webmasters were told the change to mobile first would become official probably sometime in Q1 2017. Now that we’ve reached that benchmark with no word of the rollout, webmasters are starting to wonder what’s going on.

John explained that Google’s primary goal is to make the rollout, “something that site owners don’t have to worry about.” The Google team is taking its time to thoroughly test the algorithm change in an effort to minimize the impact. They’re testing a variety of factors specifically to gauge the impact on average websites, and what Google can do to minimize the effects. Ideally, Google would like for all “normal” websites to experience virtually no change from the algorithm update.

But John admitted there are some aspects that Google engineers are still trying to figure out on the existing web. The tests are also identifying elements that site owners maybe should change to provide the best user experience. This has opened another can of worms as Google tries to figure out ways to help site owners understand what should be updated and how to go about doing it in a reasonable time. Google is also looking at tools they can create to help site owners test their sites in addition to the mobile friendly test that currently exists.

Google’s concern is warranted. Mobile first indexing is a change that will affect every website, not just those that aren’t following best practices. 

John assured webmasters that Google wouldn’t simply flip a switch and change the indexing from one day to the next. He was also able to verify that the desktop version of websites are going to be ranked off of mobile search signals, and mobile Googlebot will be doing most of the crawling. 

It looks like testing could continue for months as Google tries to iron out all of the kinks that could impact quality sites. In the mean time, site owners are encouraged to prepare for the changes ahead. At SearchRPM we’re helping our clients by making sure mobile and desktop websites have a sound technical framework, mobile-friendly design, high quality content and follow all of the SEO essentials. 

Want to get your websites ready for the Google algorithm changes? Call SearchRPM to receive your FREE SEO Report!

By Michael Ramirez
SearchRPM Founder
Michael Ramirez

Michael Ramirez is the Founder of SearchRPM, an Austin, TX based search marketing company that’s well-versed in Search Engine Optimization best practices. You can follow Michael Ramirez on Twitter @openmic0323 or on Google+ to see what he’s up to next.