Google to Launch Mobile Only Index, Maintain Secondary Desktop Index

During his keynote yesterday at Pubcon, Google’s Gary Illyes announced that Google is in the process of developing a separate, mobile only index that will serve as its primary index in the near future.

Illyes did not give a definitive launch of this new index, stating that it would go live “within a few months” with official details to be released by Google in a blog post.

Whenever this new mobile index goes live, however, it will be a huge shift for Google after they previously maintained a single index for desktop and mobile results.  Organic listings varied by device type, of course, but the source of the results was the same.  The proposed mobile index will serve as the primary and “fresher” index with the desktop being secondary and potentially “stale” in comparison.

Details on this are pretty scarce right now and Google has yet to confirm anything other than Illyes’s statements at PubCon.  Does this mean that desktop searches will potentially see “old” results?  Will organizations need to take any steps to ensure their content is indexed and up to date in both?

Google’s Done this Before.  Kind of.

This will not be the first time Google has maintained two separate indexes.  Those who have been in the industry for a while still remember the old “Supplemental” index.  For those unfamiliar, the Supplemental Index was basically a holding cell for content Google wasn’t quite sure what to do with.  Things like duplicate content, dodgy content, thin content, etc. all ended up there until the content proved essential to users.  Subsequent Google algorithms like Panda, however, made the supplemental index irrelevant and Google decided to sunset it in favor of a single index.

Google’s Push for the Mobile Web

No one should be surprised that Google is placing even further emphasis on mobile results.  Not only did Gary Illyes hint at this over a year ago at SMX East, but almost everything the search giant has done over the course of the past two years has been with mobile in mind.

  • In early 2015, Google “encouraged” the web to become mobile friendly with a rankings boost for mobile friendly pages, playfully termed Mobilegeddon.
  • In late 2015, Google introduced Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initially for news publishers with AMP content appearing in News results and news blocks on mobile searches.
  • In early 2016, Google rolled out a second mobile friendly update further giving mobile friendly content a rankings boost on mobile content.
  • Later in 2016, Google began surfacing AMP content in the main SERPs for mobile searches as well.

What Does This All Mean?

Right now, no one outside of Google knows for certain what this will mean for businesses and SEO practitioners.  Odds are that if a website maintains a fully responsive website in which the mobile and desktop content are virtually identical, they may not have anything to worry about.

In some cases though, mobile websites are stripped down with elements like structured data removed for the sake of speed and performance.  Such sites will likely want to at least begin thinking about adding such elements back in – especially if they are considering any major site changes in the near future.

Most SEO agencies, Catalyst included, have moved towards a mobile first approach to SEO already given that mobile searches finally surpassed desktop searches in 2015.  Google has been stressing the importance of delivering a strong mobile user experience for years and this latest news only further stresses the importance.

A mobile first SEO approach ensures that both desktop and mobile users have a positive user experience and are able to access all of the content they are looking for when visiting your website.

Google’s recent push of their AMP initiative suggested its prevalence would only expand, but how it plays into this new mobile index will be very interesting to watch in the future.  AMP pages are basically stripped down versions of the full blown HTML pages with information from the full page being extracted by Google.  How, if at all, that interaction changes will certainly be an interesting development to keep an eye on. Considering the AMP initiative launched after Illyes hinted at the mobile only index and have seen their presence grow, it’s very likely the push for AMP compliance will expand.

Aside from being mobile friendly, being local friendly will also likely take on even further importance.  As of 2014, 56% of on-the-go searches had local intent.  The move to a mobile specific index will only stress the importance of having a robust local search strategy moving forward.

We will have much more on this as more details are released and more insights are able to be gleaned.

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