Google mobile-only is here to stay

A 6-years story in the making

John Mueller, Google's Webmaster Trends Analyst, recently stated that from March 2021 the desktop version of a website will be removed from Google indexing. That time has come, although it's hard to say how much of the effects it will bring with it will be visible as early as this week.

The history of this decision dates back to 2015, with an initial mobile friendly orientation, made to distinguish search results made from mobile from those made from desktop.

Then with the mobile first boost, just two years later, to decide on the positioning of sites based on the optimisation of the mobile version of the site and finally, now, with the mobile only generation, with which the desktop version takes a back seat for good.

A further step towards a definitive mobile-only indexing of the Mountain View search engine, certainly.

But in practice, what will really change?

The reasons for Google's decision

Google had announced this change for September 2020, but the pandemic initially delayed operations.

Mueller himself, during the Pubcon Pro Virtual 2020, had stated: «We are currently indexing almost the entire Web using a Googlebot for smartphones, which corresponds much more to what users would actually see when they perform a search.

It is true that in the future we will only index mobile content: when a site is moved to mobile-first indexing, we will remove everything that is only on the desktop site. We will essentially ignore it. Everything that you want to be indexed must be on the mobile site».

The elements were already there. Gradually, however, it was taken for granted that the scanning and indexing of the desktop version of a site would continue, along with that of the mobile version, evolving into this necessary choice.

Your checklist to get ready for mobile-only

In concrete terms, however, countering a possible loss of traffic means ensuring that all the content to be indexed is found in the same way on the mobile version of the website as on the desktop. It goes without saying, but the mobile version of a site will have to be optimised so that Googlebot can scan the content correctly.

In practice:

Googlebot will have to be able to access the mobile content: the robots.txt instructions must be checked and, where necessary, adapted to this update.

In other words? The robots meta tags of the mobile version must be aligned with the desktop version, to avoid any kind of problem in scanning and therefore indexing the two versions of the site. The same applies to the content, which must be aligned in order not to cause a loss of traffic in one or the other variant.

All this so that Google can continue to retrieve relevant and consistent information for the search results pages, including the same meta information, links and meaningful headings.

Essentially, the site will need to be mirror-image, favouring a very accurate and refined analysis of the mobile experience.

A sign of the times

The internet is increasingly becoming mobile, the data on traffic from mobile devices speak for themselves. The instructions were to make sure that desktop and mobile sites were synchronised, from all points of view.

In concrete terms, nothing will happen to disrupt our site that much. Google prepared us in good time, always emphasising the importance of the mobile experience as the compulsory frontier for the web age ahead. Now that that moment has arrived, this sudden transition is nothing more than the natural consequence of the language of the web - and its use - changing at a rapid pace.

The ultimate transition to Google mobile-only translates into the need to always have a mobile-optimised version, following all the best practices that we can already strategically bring to bear today in UX planning, SEO and development.

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