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John Mueller, the Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google, revealed in October that websites without a mobile component will be dropped from Google search rankings.
We already knew that Google planned a significant, mobile-centric change to its search rankings in March when the search giant turns to mobile-first indexing. Now we know one more major change:
Desktop-only websites will no longer appear on Google searches at all. Not on mobile searches. Not on desktop searches. Not on any searches. Gone.
John Mueller, the Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google, revealed in October that websites without a mobile component will be dropped from Google search rankings when the switch to mobile-first indexing occurs. Google’s bots will only crawl for mobile content from March on.
It’s a departure from the forecasts of the Search Engine Optimization community, which expected mobile-friendly sites to get a significant boost and desktop sites to get a demerit – but not necessarily that desktop content would fully disappear from rankings.
While initially jarring, the news still doesn’t fundamentally change what you need to do in preparation for mobile-first indexing. It was already the case that companies, now more than ever, need a mobile-friendly web presence. Ideally your company already has a mobile-friendly website (on par with the quality of your desktop site) or has been working toward one.
What’s new with Mr. Mueller’s October revelation is that desktop sites will no longer appear in Google searches, period. Desktop-only content will be invisible to Google.
What was already known, announced by Google in March 2020, is that in March 2021, Google is modifying its search algorithm to give mobile websites higher priority in search rankings over desktop websites.
Instead of considering desktop the primary version of a website, as Google historically has, Google will consider mobile the primary version. As a result, search rankings and Google Ad fees are expected to be negatively impacted for websites that are not mobile-friendly.
Images and other assets that appear on desktop but not on mobile will not be considered in the rankings. (If you expected that Google surely would see the assets from desktop and apply at least partial credit, Mr. Mueller threw cold water on that.)
Additionally, separate mobile domains, meaning M-dot sites (the familiar m.website.com), are likely to be victims of some early Google bugs. Mr. Mueller explained that Google’s algorithms may have some initial difficulties interpreting M-dot sites on desktop searches. He recommended redirecting desktop traffic away from M-dot sites as a precaution.
Finally, Mr. Mueller reaffirmed the timing for all of this to happen: March 2021 is the firm date.
It remains the case that you need a mobile-friendly website. All that’s changed is that it’s more pressing than ever.
The new information is jarring. It means that if your content isn’t on mobile, it doesn’t count. But fundamentally the new information doesn’t change much.
You knew you needed a mobile-friendly website since at least 2015, when Google’s "Mobilegeddon” update began promoting content that displays well on mobile devices. You likely knew it before that, as mobile traffic had roughly doubled in each of the prior five years.
So it remains the case that you need a mobile-friendly website. All that’s changed is that it’s more pressing than ever.
The most efficient approach to mobile-friendliness, and the approach recommended by Google, is to use a single responsive website. The desktop and mobile versions are the same website with the same content, except the content displays differently according to the viewport (desktop vs. phone vs. tablet).
The single responsive site not only provides mobile-friendliness without having to start the site over, it eliminates the future burden of maintaining two separate website versions and making them "match.”
The new news feels like a bombshell. But it still remains the case that you need a single responsive website that’s mobile-friendly. You knew that already -- but now the urgency is higher than ever.
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