Breaking News! Google is going mobile first

Tags: Blog Published:

Over the last few years, whenever it’s been my turn to write the agency’s obligatory monthly blog post, I’ve almost always ended up writing about ‘mobile’.

Generic Mobile DevicesI hope this isn’t anything more than coincidence, and because when you and I aren’t at work reading stuff like this, we’re at home; relaxing, researching and deliberating which model of vacuum cleaner to spend our hard-earned cash on, our device-du-jour is probably our phone.

Previous blogs I’ve written have talked about how over 50% of internet use is from people using their mobile device. Yawn. We all know that now, right?

Because of this, Google has been designing it’s software and apps to be ‘mobile first’ - i.e they’re designed for mobile users first and foremost - for some time.

But the upcoming change I’m referring to here is regarding Google’s search algorithm. Currently Google will index your ‘desktop’ site, and use this information to rank it in search results, even if the user is on a mobile. Now that more people search Google on their phones, the consensus is that they are not giving accurate results, because some sites show different content to users, depending on the device they are using.

Have you ever been on a website using a desktop device, then gone back to it using a mobile, and not been able to find the content you were looking for?

It has been fashionable, until now, to have a quite verbose desktop website, which has lots of great content on it about your products, and your organisation. This helps you get lots of traffic. When you detect a mobile user, you redirect them to an ultra-minimalist version of the site: content is reduced, icons are used in place of words, and lots of other stripping-back is done.

This can give users a faster, slicker experience.

But in the case of many sites, and I’m going to use eBay as an example (because I recently wanted to use my phone to stop it reminding me to buy things I no longer needed) it then means that users can’t access certain features or content, and the user has to:

  1. Find a desktop device, power it up, go back to the website, and start over again


  2. Carry on using their mobile, scroll down to the footer, find the link that says “view desktop site”, go to the desktop site (which is annoying as it’s not optimised for their phone, so they have to pinch/zoom/pan, etc.) to do what they set out to.

This is a REALLY bad user experience.

The new change by Google takes this a step further. You’d have thought that Google would index mobile sites to serve these results to mobile searchers, while indexing desktop sites and serving that content in results for desktop users. Not so, apparently. Instead of having two separate indexes for desktop and mobile, the word from Google is that it will only have one index; the mobile one.

In layman’s terms, this means that if you have separate desktop and mobile sites, Google will soon be totally ignoring all the content on your desktop site, and only pay attention to what’s on your mobile site (even for users on a desktop). Yes, you read that correctly!  

So this change by Google will force owners of websites to put more focus into their mobile sites, and consider their desktop content as secondary.

Most of our clients have responsive sites (where the desktop and mobile content are the same), so broadly speaking these guys have nothing to worry about.

However there are some significant ramifications for anyone reading this who has separate desktop and mobile sites, or who is developing a separate mobile site at the moment.

We’re happy to talk to you about this if you are concerned about your website and want some help making sense of the best strategy for you. If you’re reasonably technical and would like to do some further reading on what this change means for you, this blog post is an excellent place to start: