Has Your Site Moved to Google’s Mobile-First Indexing? What To Do Next.

Did Google recently enable mobile-first indexing for your site?

With Google’s mobile-first indexing, Google will use the mobile version of the pages for indexing (although if the site has separate mobile and desktop URLs, searchers will still see the desktop version of the URLs when searching on a desktop device).

Google has said they switch sites as they determine a site is generally the same on desktop and mobile devices and the impact should be neutral.

You can check a few data points to ensure everything has gone smoothly and that your site isn’t experiencing any Google organic issues as a result.

If Google hasn’t enabled mobile-first indexing for your site or you aren’t sure, this post will also outline how to watch out for the switch and prepare.

How To Know When Google Has Enabled Mobile-First Indexing

Log into Google Search Console and click Go to the old version in the lower right corner. Google hasn’t yet moved their message center to the new version. Next, click Messages in the left navigation menu.

Note that when you are in a single property view, the messages inbox shows messages for that property. Click the Search Console link just under the Google logo in the upper left to access the account view, then click All Messages in the left navigation menu to see messages for all properties in the account.

GSC mobile-first indexing messaging

Google’s message says:

“This means that you may see more traffic in your logs from Googlebot Smartphone. You may also see that snippets in Google Search results are now generated from the mobile version of your content.

Background: Mobile-first indexing means that Googlebot will now use the mobile version of your site for indexing and ranking, to better help our (primarily mobile) users find what they’re looking for. Google’s crawling, indexing, and ranking systems have historically used the desktop version of your site’s content, which can cause issues for mobile searchers when the desktop version differs from the mobile version. Our analysis indicates that the mobile and desktop versions of your site are comparable.”

Monitoring Server Logs for Googlebot Activity

As Google notes in their message, you’ll see more requests from Googlebot Smartphone in your server logs once Google has made the switch. The typical Googlebot behavior generally follows this timeline:

  • More requests from Googlebot desktop than Googlebot smartphone (before mobile-first indexing)
  • Spike in requests from both Googlebot desktop and Googlebot smartphone
  • More requests from Googlebot smartphone than Googlebot desktop

Keylime Toolbox Crawl Analytics monitors Googlebot crawl activity and provides charts and data to help monitor this, as you can see below. With this site, the crawl spike happened on 9/17/8. Before the spike, Googlebot desktop crawled the site more often and after the spike, Googlebot smartphone is now crawling the site more often. (You can click the image to see a larger version: for this site, on 9/24/18, Googlebot smartphone was crawling around 80k URLs a day and Googlebot desktop was crawling around 28k URLs a day.)

Googlebot Crawl Activity Mobile-First

Googlebot crawl before mobile first indexing

Googlebot crawl mobile first indexing spike

googlebot crawling after mobile first indexingIf you don’t already use Keylime Toolbox Crawl Analytics, you can subscribe for only $49/month per domain by emailing us at support@keylimetoolbox.com. We’ll walk you through how to get an automated import set up of daily server log files (and if you have historical files, we can import those as well).

You can also view your logs directly or can process them through another third-party log analyzer.

Note that the Google Search Console Crawl Stats are not the best way to monitor this type of crawl data, as those charts don’t segment Googlebot desktop vs. smartphone and include other crawler activity (like Adsbot-Google).

Monitoring Google Organic Ranking and Traffic Once Google Enables Mobile-First Indexing

Google has said that they’re enabling mobile-first indexing for sites as the sites are ready, and as they note in the message, when the two versions are comparable. This means that you shouldn’t see any impact to ranking or traffic with this change.

But it’s still a good idea to make sure that nothing is amiss. In particular, ensure the site hasn’t lost ranking or traffic from desktop devices.

With Keylime Toolbox, which provides detailed and trended data from Google Search Console and Google Analytics, you can easily see Google organic traffic and ranking patterns for mobile vs. desktop devices, for branded vs. non-branded traffic, and for categorized and individual queries. (You can also look at analytics data directly for traffic changes and can look at Google Search Console directly for overall traffic, ranking, and click through rate changes, but can’t as easily look at data segmented by query category.)

If you don’t use Keylime Toolbox, you can set up a free trial, which includes 16 months of historical data.

The example below compares all Google organic data for mobile devices from September 2018 data to August 2018.

For this site, mobile traffic is higher on weekends and you can see that after mobile-first indexing was enabled, the pattern remains steady.

Google organic traffic mobile

You can compare week over week (in this case, the week ending 9/22/18 compared to the week ending 9/15/18) for more granular analysis.

google organic week over week traffic

 

You can also compare average ranking (for all queries), average click through rate, impressions, and number of queries that site is visible for. If all has gone well, you shouldn’t see any substantial changes. In this example, you can see everything is steady (the charts below are week over week comparisons). The ranking decline is from 2.5 to 2.8, so is negligible.

Google organic rank metrics

You can generate similar reports for desktop devices and for only branded queries, only non-branded queries, or for a particular category of query. (You may want to look at the more granular category-level data if you do see an impact in order to pinpoint where the issue might be.)

Below is an example from another site that shows Google organic traffic from non-branded queries and desktop devices. This chart compares the week ending 9/22/18 to the previous week.

google organic traffic desktop

google organic ranking desktop

If all has gone well, you shouldn’t see much of a difference in ranking or traffic. If you do see a loss of traffic, ranking, click through rate, or query visibility:

Note that after the switch, Google’s cache of the pages may be missing. This is a temporary Google bug and doesn’t have any impact on crawling, indexing, or ranking (and doesn’t indicate a problem with the site).

One other thing to note is that once Google enables mobile-first indexing for a site, that switch is permanent. So if the site later changes platforms or in some other way changes the parity between desktop and mobile devices, Google won’t note the change and switch the site back. So once your site has been switched, ensure any future technical changes continue to ensure that content and internal links are available for mobile devices.

See Google’s documentation on mobile-first indexing here.

If you have any questions about Keylime Toolbox Crawl Analytics or Query Analytics, just email us at support@keylimetoolbox.com or start your free trial of Query Analytics here!

7 thoughts on “Has Your Site Moved to Google’s Mobile-First Indexing? What To Do Next.

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  • Julia Marshall

    Hi,

    Since Google switched me to mobile first, my traffic in Google Search Console has dropped to just a few visitors per day. In analytics, it is still running at about 25 per day. Do you have any idea why this is? Could it be that the analytics data is still showing visits from both desktop and mobile? Please note all of the visitors in Analytics are showing as coming from search rather than social media and other sources. Very weird.

    My site passes the mobile friendly check. Yet, only 56 pages are in the mobile index, instead of the 76 that are in the desktop index. I am trying to fix this now.

    This change is a bit annoying, because historically 88% of my traffic has come from desktop users, so not being able to see those stats is frustrating to say the least. Plus, if I wanted to sell my site only a tiny % of my visitors would show up in the stats I would be showing a potential buyer.

    Right, rank over. My main issue is the marked difference between the Analytics and Google Search Console after the mobile-first switch. Any light you could throw on this would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • Vanessa Fox

      This change only impacts crawling and indexing. You should still see both mobile and desktop traffic in both analytics and Google Search Console. (In either product, you see all traffic by default and can filter by either.)

      You say that only 56 pages are in the mobile index instead of the 76 pages that are in the desktop index. Do you mean that your site has separate mobile and desktop pages (such as m.example.com and http://www.example.com) or do you mean that you have responsive pages (same page for both desktop and mobile users) and that you used to see 76 pages indexed and now you see 56 pages indexed?

      Did you get a message in Google Search Console that mobile-first indexing has been enabled?

      Without knowing more details, I’m not sure why you would be seeing fewer visits in Google Search Console vs. Google Analytics. But you’ll see traffic from both sources in both products.

      Reply
      • Julia Marshall

        Thanks for the extensive reply Vanessa.

        I only have one version of my site.

        In the new Google Search Console – coverage tab – I have 78 valid pages and 1 error (added new content)

        But, in the enhancements tab, when I click on mobile usability there is only 60 valid pages. The number improved slightly after I did a fetch and render as google crawl in old version of GSC, yesterday.

        I recieved the message that my site was now mobile first on 18 September. From that point on the difference between GSC and Analytics became even bigger than normal. Its a mystery, one that will eventually resolve itself. It is not a huge issue. I do need to work out why not all of my pages are appearing in the mobile usability report and whether it is an issue or not.

        Your help and input is much appreciated Vanessa. Don’t feel obliged to respond further, I’ll work it out 🙂

        Reply
        • Vanessa Fox

          I just did a quick check of sites in Google Search Console and the mobile usability report seems to show fewer valid pages in all cases than are listed as valid in the index coverage report. (And these are cases that the sites are fully mobile-friendly, mobile-first indexing is enabled, and are fully indexed.

          So I think that the mobile usability report likely can’t be used as a proxy for number of pages indexed (with mobile-first). It’s a good question as to why the valid mobile friendly page list doesn’t match the valid index coverage list, but possibly it’s indexed to be a sample vs. a full list or possibly in many cases, Google hasn’t recrawled all pages with the mobile crawler and so most sites don’t actually have all pages moved to mobile-first indexing just because the crawl is still in process.

          I’m just guessing as to why the reports don’t match, but it does seem to be the case that they don’t match for most sites.

          Reply
          • Julia Marshall

            Good to know it’s not just me. I asked Google to fetch and render in mobile yesterday. That found 4 more pages. I will try to work out what is missing and submit them individually.

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