Google creating a separate mobile search index

Google to split its search index

Google to split its search index

Further reinforcing Google’s focus on ‘mobile first’ is the news that Google plans to roll out a separate mobile search index. And, most tellingly, is the fact that this will become their primary index. A separate desktop index will be maintained, but will not be as up-to-date as the mobile index.

This clearly shows how focused Google is on mobile.

At this point, Google has not revealed any details, other than to let us know this will be happening, and relatively soon (“within months”). What impact this will have on rankings is speculation at this point, but it seems likely to us it will have an effect on mobile rankings.

Currently, the ranking of a website in mobile search results is largely based on the relevancy signals Google determines from the desktop version of the site. So, if a site currently ranks highly in desktop search results it’s likely to have the same or similar position in mobile results — subject, of course, to it being mobile friendly.

With a separate mobile index this is likely to change and, presumably, Google will switch to analysing data from the mobile version of a site to determine its ranking in mobile search results. That could well mean a divergence in rankings for a website in Google’s desktop and mobile search results.

In other words, just because your site ranks well in desktop results won’t necessarily mean it will rank as well in mobile results.

Speculation on my part, but if this is the case then I think that separate standalone mobile website are more likely to be impacted by this. That’s because, unlike responsive sites, stand-alone mobile sites often have much less content than their desktop version. Because responsive sites share a single code base, the mobile, tablet and desktop versions of a site usually have content parity (although many responsive sites hide or remove content for smaller screens in order to deal with screen real estate constraints).

AMP Accelerated Mobile Pages

On a related note and, as we’ve previously advised, recently Google started to incorporate AMP (accelerated mobile pages) into the main mobile search results. Google has now rolled out a new tool to test and validate AMP pages.

The tool is available within your Google Search Console account, as well as here.  The tool tests the validity of AMP markup and structured data in real time using Googlebot.  If issues are found, you can click to see details plus see a live preview of how your page may appear in Google’s search results.

AMP is now one-year-old and getting fast adoption. Apparently, there are now 600 million AMP pages on 70,000 websites. If you want to know more about AMP check out the video here on the official AMP Project website.

Why should you care?

This is yet further evidence that to succeed (at least with Google) marketers and web developers need to follow Google’s lead and adopt a mobile-first focus.

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About the Author Mark Sceats

Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).

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