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Google's mobile-first indexing - what does it mean for me?

Google announced in March of 2018 that they would start migrating sites for mobile-first indexing. By now, presumably this process has been complete and mobile-first indexing is the standard for Google's crawlers. You most likely have received an email from Google that mobile-first indexing has been enabled for your site. What does this mean?

Historically, Googlebot (Google's web crawler) has visited sites as if it were a desktop user, that is, a user with a relatively large screen with a mouse and a keyboard. With mobile-first indexing, Googlebot is now visiting sites first as a "mobile user" - small screen, no pointing device, touch screen, etc.) So to determine what your pages have to offer, it will first look at those pages as a smartphone, and then as a desktop device.

Does this mean there are now separate indexes, one for mobile devices and one for desktops and laptops? No. Google will still use a single index but whatever a mobile user sees is considered the primary content of your site.

So what does this mean to a Yahoo store merchant like you? At this time, Yahoo store websites fall into three categories when it comes to mobile-readiness:

1) Not mobile-ready: these are sites that only have desktop version with no specific attention given to mobile users. For these sites, there will be no change in how Google sees the site: it will index the desktop version (the only version) as before.
A side note here: if your site is not mobile-ready by now, you should really consider changing that. Mobile usage has been skyrocketing in the past few years and you can look at your own site's Google Analytics to see the trend. When shoppers visit a site on their phone and that site loads a minuscule version of their desktop site (which is what happens with non mobile-ready sites), in most cases they will hit that back arrow as fast as they landed on your page. After all, who wants to keep pinch-zooming and swiping in all directions to try to figure out what it is that you are offering? And while your site will not get penalized if it's not mobile-ready, all things being equal, if your site and another comes up for the same search term, the mobile ready will be first. Contact us if your site is still not mobile-ready and want to find out what your options are.

2) Responsive: if your site is responsive, that is, you don't have a separate mobile version, and instead your desktop version automatically adapts to smaller and smaller viewports (such as a smart phone), then there is no change here either: Google will continue seeing your site as is.

3) Adaptive Mobile: you have an adaptive mobile site if you have "Mobile Storefront" enabled in your Store Manager. With this setup, mobile phones (and Googlebot) get an entirely different version of your site, although with the same URL. Here you want to start to pay attention: since Google now considers this as your main content, you have to be very clear on what it is that's being served up to both Google and to your mobile visitors. Essentially, Google wants your mobile content to be the same as your desktop content, including but not limited to your meta tags, captions, images, navigation, etc. When "Mobile Storefront" was introduced to Yahoo store merchants a couple of years ago or so, many merchants used it as a "stop gap" tool, to quickly offer a mobile solution without giving much thought to it. If this is you, chances are you may have forgotten about your poor old mobile storefront, still concentrating most of your efforts on your desktop site. If your mobile storefront's content is vastly different than your desktop, then you should have that changed and have it changed fast! Yahoo adaptive mobile templates are written in the same RTML language that your desktop templates are, therefore, they rely on the exact same underlying data (your catalog), so it is quite possible to set them up so that the same content is served on mobile and desktop. Contact us if you are unsure of how your templates are set up.


4) Dedicated Mobile: these are sites whose mobile presence is serviced by a third-party provider. These sites have a separate URL from their desktop site (usually something like m.mywebsite.com) and the content is completely independent of the desktop version. With Google's new indexing scheme this is the version that Google will consider the "main" version of your site. If you have such a site, contact your provider to find out exactly how it is updated and review your mobile site to make sure it delivers optimal results to both your mobile users and to Googlebot. This might also be a good time to re-evaluate why you need a third-party mobile site in the first place and either switch over to the Yahoo-provided mobile storefront (which will have to be customized) or take the leap and convert your site to be responsive. If you are interested in either of these two options, we are happy to help you. Contact us.

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