SEOs are missing the point of Google’s Mobile-First index

Nov 25th, 2016

Try Googling ‘Mobile-First’ right now, and you’ll be met with a bunch of websites which regurgitate exactly the same thing over and over

This is nothing new in the SEO industry, because whenever Google announces a change to the way they do things, the link-baiters almost always try to push some traffic to their websites by writing a blog that includes exactly the same information given by Google and nothing more.

These are speculation-blogs, at best, and totally useless at worst.

With Google’s recent announcement of eventually moving toward a completely ‘Mobile-First’ index, most SEOs seem to have missed the point. The blogs mentioned above say things like:

  • If you have a responsive site, you don’t need to change anything.
  • The best way to optimise your site for speed is to use Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).
  • Ensure content on the desktop version appears on the mobile version.
  • A Search Engine Journal blog went as far as to say that there will be a “…separate index for mobile [that] creates an opportunity for Googlebot to strictly crawl the responsive/mobile version of a web page”.

All of these comments really do miss the point.

But before I tell you why, you need to know:

  1. What Google’s Mobile-First index is
  2. What is really meant by ‘Mobile-First’

What is Google’s Mobile-First index?

For this, all you need do is go to Google’s Webmaster blog. Ignore most other blogs, because again, they are just copying what Google say in this post.

In summary though, Google knows that more mobile devices than desktops and tablets are used to access Google’s search engine, and the results should therefore be based on a user’s experience of a mobile site, rather than a desktop. In this way, Google can ensure, as much as possible, the best search experience for the greatest number of users.

What is really meant by Mobile-First?

Okay, so this may come as a bold statement, but from Google’s perspective, desktops are now a secondary technology, and mobile devices are primary.

With this in mind, a phrase has been coined in the development community, and that phrase is, surprise surprise, ‘Mobile-First’!

Mobile-First means that you will no longer have a mobile-friendly ‘version’ of your site. You will have a desktop and tablet friendly version of your site because:

… your mobile ‘version’ is your site

If you still don’t understand, there’s a page dedicated to the basic concept on W3Schools.


The Mobile-First design concept broken down

  • Responsive web design means resizing, hiding or moving content to ensure it looks good on all screen sizes.
  • The <meta name=”viewport”> tag ensures this by sending the browser instructions on how to control the page’s dimensions and scaling.
  • One of the most important considerations for Mobile-First design is the ‘@media’ query rule, introduced in CSS3, which executes a style change only if a certain condition, such as the width of the page, is true.

This is the really important part, explained perfectly by W3Schools:

Mobile-First means designing for mobile before designing for desktop or any other device (This will make the page display faster on smaller devices). This means that we must make some changes in our CSS. Instead of changing styles when the width gets smaller, we should change the design when the width gets larger.

Where historically a front end developer will have added media query breakpoints to change the style of the page when the screen width of a mobile device is detected, they should now add break points to change the style when either a desktop or tablet device’s screen width is detected.

And that’s it. For a thorough guide to Mobile-First design considerations, check out this blog. By designing a site in this way, you are ensuring the very best experience, both for your users primarily, and now, also for Google, which is exactly the way SEO should work.

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