Google has been experimenting with the idea of switching to a mobile index for over a year or so. On November 4th, Google officially announced their intention to shift to a mobile-first index. Depending on your firm’s design and implementation, this update may have a significant impact on your site’s visibility within search results.
Importantly, as part of their announcement, Google noted:
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.
Put simply, Google is switching to using mobile versions of pages to build their index. Therefore, if your firm’s site contains content and markup that varies depending upon whether users arrive via a mobile device or desktop, this update could impact how well your pages are positioned in Google search results.
If you’ve been a regular reader here at Law Technology Today, hopefully you took Samantha Meinke’s advice from June of last year to go responsive. But even if you have gone responsive, you ought to confirm that your pages’ primary content and markup are equivalent across mobile and desktop. Some responsive designs that employ media queries create device-dependent content and markup.
Generally speaking, most search-optimized responsive designs probably won’t have to do anything to maintain visibility in Google’s mobile-first index. On the other hand, sites that still use separate mobile versions ought to compare these versions with their desktop counterparts. Perhaps the most potentially problematic mobile configurations are those that use different URLs for serving mobile content (i.e. m.yourdomain.com vs www.yourdomain.com). These configurations aren’t problematic per se, they just tend to lend themselves to being error-prone.
If you are concerned about whether your site may be impacted by the mobile-first index, here are a few steps you can take to prepare for the switch.
First, compare your pages’ desktop and mobile versions. You can do this in Chrome by accessing DevTools and toggling devices (Ctrl + Shift + M). You should also compare different versions of pages with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Finally, add both versions to Search Console to confirm proper crawling and indexing.
If someone else manages your firm’s site, make sure that they’re aware of this update and are taking steps to prepare for the switch. While Google hasn’t provided a specific date for the switch to a mobile-first index, it has been suggested that it will likely take place within months.
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