Google wants to clear up some mobile-first indexing confusion

Mobile-first indexing is currently rolling out across the web and Google is aware that many webmasters are still a little confused about what it means for them. So the search giant has attempted to clear up some of the confusion in a Twitter thread created last week.

You can see the thread for yourself by clicking here or on the embed below, but we’re going to cover all of the key points in this summary and remind you exactly what mobile-first indexing is (something Google doesn’t clarify in the Twitter thread).

What does Google have to say about mobile-first indexing?

There are seven key issues Google seems to think webmasters are having with mobile-first indexing. Here’s what the search giant wants to tell you:

URLs in search

With mobile-first indexing, we index the mobile version. When we recognise separate mobile URLs, we’ll show the mobile URL to mobile users, and the desktop URL to desktop users – the indexed content will be the mobile version in both cases.

Crawled counts

The total number of crawled URLs a day generally won’t change, but the balance will shift from mostly desktop to mostly mobile crawls. During a switch-over to mobile-first indexing we may temporarily crawl more as we re-index everything.

Cached page

Unfortunately, it looks like we’re currently still not showing a cached page for many mobile-first indexed sites. This is a bug, not by design, and should get resolved over time. It’s just the UI, it doesn’t affect crawling, indexing, or ranking.

Speed and mobile-first indexing

The mobile speed update in July is independent of mobile-first indexing. Fast sites are awesome for users, especially on mobile, since devices and connections there tend to be slower than with desktops.

Mobile website UIs

Using ‘hamburger-menus’ and ‘accordions’ on mobile websites is fine.

On requirements

Neither mobile-friendliness nor a mobile-responsive layout are requirements for mobile-first indexing. Pages without mobile versions still work on mobile, and are usable for indexing. That said, it’s about time to move from desktop-only and embrace mobile.

On ranking

The mobile-first index doesn’t change anything for ranking other than that the mobile content is used. While mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor on mobile, being in the mobile-first index is not.

If you still have questions, you can check Google’s documentation on mobile-first indexing by clicking the following links:

You might also want to follow the Twitter thread we’ve been talking about for any updates, or you can put your own questions to Google on the thread.

What exactly is mobile-first indexing?

We feel most of the confusion about mobile-first indexing disappears once you know exactly what it is – especially when the majority of sites are going to be unaffected. So let’s chip in with our own attempt to clear up the mobile-first indexing confusion by explaining what it is.

Until recently, Google has used the content from the desktop version of pages to crawl, index and rank pages for all queries. The problem is, there are a number of websites now that run separate mobile and desktop versions of the same pages and this has caused some issues now that the majority of Google traffic is mobile.

Mobile-first indexing means that when Google detects separate mobile and desktop versions of the same pages it will now use the mobile version by default and then revert to the desktop version for users who are searching on computers.

This means you won’t be directly affected by mobile-first indexing, unless you have separate mobile and desktop pages. This is true for the majority of sites across the web and Google itself recommends using responsive design to deliver single pages across multiple devices – something that won’t be affected by mobile-first indexing because there’s only one version of your content.

There is a chance you’ll see some fluctuation for certain pages if there’s any change to the results around you but it’s unlikely anything drastic will happen.

If you’re running separate mobile and desktop versions of the same page anywhere across your site, then you’ll want to follow Google’s best practices for mobile-first indexing. Above all, check that your links and canonical tags are in order, aim to provide the same content across both versions and make sure you have structured data present on both pages.


If you have any further questions about mobile-first indexing or are having problems with optimising your pages for the switch, just get in touch with our team.

Lee Wilson profile picture
Lee Wilson

Lee has been working in the online arena, leading digital departments since the early 2000s, and oversees all our delivery services at Vertical Leap, having joined back in 2010. Lee joined our company Operations Team in May 2019. Before working at Vertical Leap, Lee completed a degree in Business Management & Communications at Winchester University, headed up the online development and direct marketing department for an international financial services company for ~7 years, and set up/run a limited company providing website design, development and digital marketing solutions. Lee had his first solely authored industry book (Tactical SEO) published in 2016, with 2 further industry books being published in 2019, and can be seen regularly expert contributing to industry websites including State of Digital, Search Engine Journal, The Drum, plus many others. Lee has a passion for management in the digital industry and loves to see the progression of others through personal learning, training and development. Outside the office he looks to help others while challenging himself, having skydived, bungie jumped and abseiled (despite a fear of heights) with many more fundraising and voluntary events completed and on the horizon. As a husband and dad, Lee loves to spend time with his family and friends. His hobbies include exercising, trying new experiences, eating out, playing countless team sports, as well as watching films (Gangster movies in particular – “forget about it”).

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