Google Mobile First, Responsive Websites, & SEO

mobile first

Google is rolling out a MOBILE FIRST version of its search engine ranking index algorithms.

What does Google’s Mobile First Mean to SEO?

Google traditionally viewed web pages through the eyes of a desktop user, and looked at mobile pages (mobile websites) as secondary to those desktop pages. With this “mobile-first” initiative Google is treating the mobile versions as the primary page to index, with desktop versions being secondary.

In November of 2016, Google announced their mobile-first index initiative. They have begun to roll-out implementations in 2018. This means that all websites should be made “responsive” or “mobile friendly” and the mobile versions will be the focus of Google’s indexing. This should have minimal impact for those who comply, but will dramatically impact those that a) don’t have a responsive website or b) have two completely different websites (i.e. a desktop version and a mobile version).

As of October 2019, many websites that are not responsive have felt the repercussions of Google’s initiative. If your website isn’t responsive, i.e. doesn’t present well on mobile phones you’ll miss the initial Google indexing.

MINI SEO Case Study: I have one seasonal client that didn’t heed my repeat email and phone call recommendations to have his website redesigned into a responsive design. I showed him via Google Analytics as to how much mobile activity he received. He kept arguing that people could still “see” his site on a smart phone – I tried to explain that people weren’t patient with using their fingers to enlarge…make a website readable. I showed him articles from Google.  I even suggested that they forego SEO until the change was made. He did NOT listen, continued with me for SEO and finally felt the pain in his 2019 spring “season”! Now, during his October-December down time he’s having his website redesigned to include a responsive design. I have to mention that he DID listen to me about getting a secure SSL certificate.

A Brief on what lead to this Mobile First initiative

In the past Google would “index” pages of a website and connect it to keywords. When someone searches for a keyword, they know which web pages to display. When smartphone and tablets started becoming popular, they would simply display a shrunken version of the website. People hated having to use two fingers to enlarge the site and slide up and down to view everything.

Companies quickly started sprouting up to address this issue and creating separate mobile websites. Some were free, some were quite expensive, they seemed to solve the problem. However, any SEO specialist will tell you that duplicate content is detrimental to your search engine optimization strategy – and all of these mobile websites had duplicate data. Another problem … every time a business owner wanted to update their website they had to update 2 different websites. Not only was this expensive and counterproductive for website owners, but Google needed to decide where to place their emphasis on desktop or mobile.

With this new initiative, Google needed to change the formulas that they use to display search results for various queries . Up until recently, Google primarily viewed web pages through the eyes of a desktop user, treating mobile pages as important, but secondary to those desktop pages. Now, Google is treating the mobile versions of each page as the primary page to index, with desktop versions being secondary.

As any SEO consultant will tell you, it’s not that Google is trying to get businesses to follow their rules, it’s that Google as a business is trying to stay on top of keeping their brand relevant. The trends in mobile devices have dramatically changed people’s lives. Google is just keeping up with the times.


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This post was first released in February of 2017. In March of 2018 Google announced that they were officially starting the Mobile First initiative. Read “Rolling out mobile-first indexing” on the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog.  Throughout the summer of 2018 we’ve seen our client website begin to go through this process.

initial publication 2/21/2017
update/re-publish 7/13/2018
update/re-publish 10/2019