The folks who run Google’s search engine deserve a lot of credit for not being afraid to change things up, even when the current approach is working.
The company is on the precipice of one of those changes. Last week, Google announced perhaps the biggest transition yet: The search engine is switching to a mobile-first approach.
The announcement was made in a blog post on Nov. 4 by Google Product Manager Doantam Phan. At the highest level, the switch is simple. If given a choice, the mobile version of a site will be the one from which Google will work to determine rankings:
To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we're going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.
It’s not surprising that the change wasn’t made quickly. InformationWeek’s Scott Ferguson said that Google gradually began prioritizing mobile over desktop during the past year and, as if to justify what it was about to do, released research that verified the idea that mobile had surpassed desktop as the way in which people look for content.
The change will roll out over months, which will give companies time to prepare. And they will do so, since advertising departments tend to structure around Google. The change will affect the subtleties of how they do their jobs.
Search Engine Land offers a handy FAQ column on the move to the mobile-first index. Companies should beef up their mobile sites if they contain less content than their desktop cousins. The piece says that the move shouldn’t have too much effect on rankings and that Google will maintain discrete mobile and desktop rankings during the rollout period.
Nothing is more important than Google rankings to many companies, so this is a big deal. Google is seems to be soft-selling it a bit, perhaps in an effort to not alarm companies that have made big investments in optimizing expensive desktop websites to attract the dominant search engine.
At the same time, the tone of Phan’s post is reassuring. The right move now is for a company to do an assessment of its online sites and move on from there. Also keep in mind Phan’s point that a well-functioning desktop site is preferable to a mobile site that is broken.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.