Don’t freak out. That’s what Google’s Gary Illyes repeated this week — at least three times — to SEOs and webmasters who might be concerned about the upcoming switch to a mobile-first index.
“The team behind the mobile-first index wants it to launch this year,” Illyes told our SMX West conference on Wednesday. “We’re still experimenting. We don’t have a timeline. It could be a few months or quarters, but it’s definitely not weeks [away]. Don’t freak out, especially if you have a responsive site.”
Illyes first revealed plans to create a separate mobile-first index back in October and said at the time that it was “months away” from becoming reality. Five months later, that’s still the case.
The change is prompted by the fact that, since 2015, more than half of all Google searches are happening on mobile devices. When the change happens, Google will use the mobile version of web content as its primary index and rank results based on that mobile content, even for desktop searchers.
One of the big challenges in making this switch is that the mobile web has fewer signals for Google to use.
“The mobile web has fewer tokens than desktop. Content and links are more scarce,” Illyes said. “Mobile sites don’t have a lot of the metadata that desktop sites have. We’re aiming for a quality-neutral launch. We don’t want users to experience a loss in quality of search results. We need to replace the signals that are missing in the mobile web.”
He also explained that Google is working on a new page speed measurement process that’s specific to mobile sites, because using the desktop page speed measurement isn’t relevant.
He offered a brief to-do list for SEOs to prepare for the mobile-first index:
- Make sure your mobile site has the content you want to rank for.
- Make sure structured data are on your mobile site.
- Make sure rel-annotations are on your mobile site.
Illyes said Google will provide more guidance on the last two points in the future.
His most important advice?
“Don’t freak out. We’re not weeks away from the mobile-first index. We’re most likely months away.”