Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Watch Out: Google’s Coming Rankings Killer!

Google’s testing a change that may destroy some site rankings

Google is creating a separate mobile index.Google has announced that they’re testing a big change in the index of websites they use for ranking search results. It may not affect most sites, but if your site is built a certain way it can really hurt your Google rankings.

The change is in recognition of the fact that more searches are now done on phones than from desktop/laptop computers.

The Google Index

Google’s index is a complicated copy of the content of every web page, which Google uses to tell what the page is all about so it knows what keyword searches the page is suitable for. Since desktop and mobile versions of websites may differ, Google has been using the desktop version of a website in it’s index.

However, for many websites, the mobile version may be quite different from the desktop version. The mobile version may actually be like a separate website with less or different content from the desktop version to accommodate the limits of a small cell phone screen.

What’s being tested is relying primarily on the mobile index

If a website has different versions for desktop and mobile, that constant may be quite different. Content that’s well optimized for a critical keyword on the desktop may not be well optimized for that keyword in the mobile version.

By default, Google has up until now relied primarily on the desktop version of a web site in its index. If a website has a desktop version and a mobile version, Google uses the desktop index to decide what searches to display a given web page for. Only if  a website exists solely in a mobile format does Google use the mobile version in its index.

Google wrote recently:

Google's G logo

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. 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. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

While it’s only under testing at the moment, we can reasonable expect this is the direction Google will be moving in going forward.

Will this hurt your rankings?

Maybe.

If your site is configured to have a separate mobile version with even slightly different content, you may be at risk. If your site is “responsive” then you’re probably safe.

Is your site “responsive”?

A responsive website is one that changes in appearance in response to the device that’s looking at it. Certain elements on a page may shift around to accommodate a different screen. So that site will look different on a tablet, a phone, and a laptop or desktop. But all the content remains the same.

Typically you can check this by changing the width of your browser window on your desktop. Make the window narrower and narrower until it’s roughly the shape of a phone screen. Does stuff change and move around?

If it does, you’re responsive. And you’re probably safe from this change.

If you’re not responsive …

You may need to check the mobile version of your site. Is it essentially identical in content to your desktop site? If so, you’re probably fine.

If it’s different,make sure it’s optimized as effectively for your important keywords as the desktop version. Otherwise you’re likely to suffer a drop in your rankings.

My recommendation:

If your site isn’t currently responsive, you should be planning to make it so. And don’t put it off until your 2018 budget year, but plan for it now.

Failing that, check out Google’s recommended actions here.

Your thoughts and observations are requested – please comment below.

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