Google advice: Switch your m-dot domain to responsive before the mobile-first index rollout

In November 2016, Google announced their mobile-first index initiative. We shared a comprehensive FAQ, but since then, Google has been working out issues with launching the new mobile-first index. In fact, we don’t expect to see it until sometime in 2018, well over a year since they announced this initiative.

Google’s webmaster trends analysts, including John Mueller and Gary Illyes, have been very active answering webmaster questions around this update. Outside of timing, which the two don’t control, they have recently been sharing some tips and advice for webmasters.

Migrate your m-dot site to responsive before the launch

Google said in a recent “webmaster office hours” video (at the 25:16 mark) that if you are planning at some point to migrate your m-dot domain to a fully responsive website, then you should do it before this mobile-first index goes live.

The rationale is that right now, Google has a desktop-first index. So Google doesn’t really index your m-dot; they just annotate the m-dot URLs, but there is no true indexing of your m-dot content. So if you did a migration from m-dot to your main www now, Google doesn’t have to index anything, it just updates those mobile annotations to say the main website is mobile-friendly because it is responsive.

If you wait to do this after the mobile-friendly index rollout, then Google will fully index your m-dot content and URLs. Then the migration will take longer, because Google is not just updating URLs but also the content and signals within your pages. In short, it might make sense for you to push up your m-dot migration plans now versus waiting.

Mobile content should be equivalent to your desktop content

Many user experience experts say it is okay to show less content and fewer features on your mobile version of your website. But as we discussed, having less content on your mobile site than you have on your desktop site may result in ranking changes when the mobile-first index goes live.

Google’s John Mueller said on Twitter that “mobile pages should be fully equivalent in content & functionality regardless of indexing.” “Why wait to fix that?,” he added. Mueller’s logic is that your users want the same level of experience, so figure out a way to have it in a user-friendly way without removing any content or functionality. It will not just help with giving users what they want, but also with indexing when the new mobile-first index rolls out, he said.

How will the mobile-first index roll out?

So we know the mobile-first index might likely won’t launch until sometime in 2018, but how will that rollout happen?

Mueller said this morning on Twitter that they will roll it out on a site-by-site basis. He said something similar a few months ago, saying Google might roll this index out in batches.

“We’re planning on switching sites over as we see they’re ready,” Mueller said. So Google might move sites over in batches to this new index. He added that it is “unlikely that we’ll have a single ‘launch date.'” But all of this information that he just shared is “still in the works,” and all of this might change.

For one thing, Google will communicate well in advance how webmasters and SEOs should prepare for the mobile-first index.

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