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Google to divide its index by creating a separate mobile index [@SmartInsights Alert]

Author's avatar By Robert Allen 27 Oct, 2016
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We asked top SEO experts about how they see the implications of Google's announcement of a separate mobile index

Gary Illyes, a Google webmaster trends analyst, announced this month in a keynote on Google's search plans at Pubcon, Las Vegas that rather than its current single index for all sites, Google will run two indexes in parallel. One will be for informing mobile search results, the other desktop, but the mobile one will be the primary database and will be updated more regularly.

It's a big, bold move from Google, and there's no doubting it will have a huge affect on SEO, with the possibility of a big divergence between mobile and desktop search results. For marketers the implications will be less instant, as they'll take longer to filter through. But that is no reason for complacency. A change in rankings one day is a change in sales the next, and marketers can't afford to ignore this.

To help marketers understand the ramifications of the Google announcement to their businesses, we asked top SEO experts, as well as our resident digital marketing boffin (and former professor of digital marketing) Dr Dave Chaffey, about how they see the changes affecting SEO and marketers.

Patrick Langridge - Head of SEO - Screaming FrogPatrick Langridge

We’ve been following the announcements and news from Pubcon closely, it’s certainly been a busy couple of days! I don’t think anyone in the industry will be surprised to hear the news of a ‘mobile first’ index coming soon, as Google have been pushing mobile and emphasising its importance for some time now. The news simply goes to reinforce how crucial mobile is to the future of search – unfortunately we certainly see a lot of cases of established businesses without a mobile friendly website. That said, I take all Google announcements with a pinch of salt, especially those made in a keynote to a largely SEO industry audience – note the lack of formal announcement on https://webmasters.googleblog.com/ for instance. Google have a vested interest in pushing mobile, like they do in pushing HTTPS, AMP etc, so I hope the industry isn’t in a sudden panic this morning. If you weren’t already planning from mobile before this news, maybe there is some reason to panic.

Dave Davies - CEO - BeanstalkDave Davies

Why do you think Google have decided to make this change?

As with similar changes out of Google, I assume that this has to do with user data and usage patterns not to mention that there are more people searching on mobile than on desktop at this point. If we think about users on mobile and their needs vs users on desktop it does make sense. When a user is on mobile they are on-the-go and making queries to fulfill instant needs. On the desktop this isn't so much the case. We also have to remember that Google does have finite crawling capabilities. I'm sure they'd give both heightened priority if they could however, they can't and so they have to pick one.

What impact to you think this change will have on marketers, and what should marketers be doing to prepare for it?

While this will be a benefit to publishers and sites focused on up-to-date information for mobile users, overall I don't see a huge change beyond awareness. The goal is always to provide the content a user needs, formatted for the device they are on. This won't change so I think the principle change to marketers is a reminder that it's a mobile-first world and we need to adapt or perish.

Dan Ray - SEO Consultant - RayDigitalDan Ray

Why do you think Google have decided to make this change?

It just makes sense, their primary aim is to provide the most useful content to their users, with more searches coming from mobile than desktop it's logical that they would be served the most relevant content to them.

With the same thinking, desktop users will be served the content that is most relevant to them, Google has obviously decided (and rightly so) that those 2 platforms require different content.

That's assuming that the mobile index won't include non-mobile content (or at least penalise it).

What impact to you think this change will have on marketers, and what should marketers be doing to prepare for it?

Nothing new to be honest, for a couple of years now we have been told to mobile optimise our content. That's a logical trend for the way that people are consuming content online and we always have to bend to the way things are consumed.

From my understanding, the desktop index won't be kept as fresh as the mobile one (which will be the primary index) so it will likely lead us further down a path of producing content for mobile devices.

As always, we will have to adapt to the landscape that's in front of us.

dave-chaffeyDr Dave Chaffey - CEO - Smart Insights

This change by Google could have massive implication for the kind of content featuring in mobile SERPs. Firstly AMPs are going to become even more important. To quote Gary Illyes: 'They're going to be huge'. A different mobile index means Google could start featuring totally different content types in mobile SERPs to desktop, which may mean a huge push towards AMPs delivering content. There are also big implications for image search. Google is now featuring visuals in SERPs a lot more than it was two or three years ago. Will this accelerate this trend? And will desktop and mobile users be served image content differently?

The change also raises the prospect of having to develop separate mobile link building strategies. Google haven't been clear if the mobile index will attach more importance to links coming from pages designed specifically for mobile - like AMPs, but it could be something they're considering, and it would explain why they'd need to take the step of maintaining two separate indexes.

In many ways, the announcement leaves us with more questions than answers, but we should get more clarity on this in coming months. So sit tight, make sure your dev team is implementing AMPs, and keep an eye out for future updates.


Author's avatar

By Robert Allen

Rob Allen is Marketing Manager for Numiko, a digital agency that design and build websites for purpose driven organisations, such as the Science Museum Group, Cancer Research UK, University of London and the Electoral Commission. Rob was blog editor at Smart Insights from 2015-2017. You can follow Rob on LinkedIn.

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