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Google is taking it a step further: the mobile index is becoming the primary index of the search engine

Internet use is becoming more and more mobile. Therefore, the newest announcement of the search engine group Google follows this. The mobile index of the search engine should serve as the primary index in the future and the desktop index should come second.

In this article, you will find out which consequences this announcement has for website operators.

Ever since the commercialization of the internet, not only the content on the web has changed but also the way we consume it. Just a few years ago, it was unusual to surf on the web with a smartphone. Now, according to a 2015 survey, more than 50 percent of the population in Germany alone uses the internet in a mobile way.

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From Mobilegeddon to AMP - Google as an initiator for mobile-friendly websites

The development away from desktops all the way to smartphones can be seen through means of central activities by Google. In 2015, Google caused great excitement with the announcement of an algorithm adjustment. On April 21st, 2015, the big mobile update that was given the distinctive name "Mobilegeddon" finally followed. Only one month after the mobile update, some websites already suffered significant ranking losses in the mobile SERPs. Almost exactly one year later, Google even took it a step further and adjusted the mobile update. With that, the foundation for mobile optimization to finally become the important ranking factor for websites was laid.

In the same year in which Google webmasters caused excitement all over the world with the mobile update, another new feature for mobile websites was introduced with the open-source AMP Framework (Accelerated Mobile Pages) in December 2015. If websites use this technology, the pages can be loaded with a click in the SERPs in almost real-time. This year, Google increased the focus on AMP once again and shortly after, in September and October 2016, provided information on new features.

Looking at the developments, it is not hard to figure out that Google is consequently sticking to the strategy "mobile first". Google’s Gary Illyes’ announcement at the Pubcon in Las Vegas, that the mobile index had been separated from the desktop index and is more important than the desktop index, had already been anticipated. Illyes had already spoken about Google wanting to develop its own mobile index a year ago.

Consequences for webmasters

With Garry Illyes’ announcement, the paradigm shift to the "mobile first strategy" at Google has been impressively carried out. First, the main index of the search engine should be separated into a mobile index and a desktop index and then the mobile index should be used as the primary index. This shift should be carried out within the upcoming months. How the mobile index will work exactly was not specified in Illyes’ announcement. Nevertheless, Illyes announced that the desktop index will be less up to date than the mobile index. However, it is possible that Google will first check if a mobile website version is available and only after that check if there is a desktop version in the future.

Webmasters and SEOs should listen up after this announcement. Because at the latest, everyone should now know that websites without mobile optimization will have disadvantages during indexing. Those who operate websites that are not optimized for mobile devices will probably hardly have a chance to reach top placements in the mobile web search. Until now, Google has been searching for the best result, regardless of mobile optimization, and therefore still lists websites in the mobile SERPs that are not mobile-optimized, depending on the search request.

Test mobile friendliness with OnPage.org Focus

In order to check if your page is optimized for mobile devices, you can use the OnPage.org Focus Module. For this, just click on the respective icon in the menu and enter the URL that should be analyzed.

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Figure 1: Home page of OnPage.org Focus

Now start the extensive single page analysis in real-time and then click on "Mobile" in the quick navigation. You are already jumping to the desired analysis data. Besides receiving information on the viewpoint, OnPage.org also shows you whether your website uses Flash or an Apple icon.

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Figure 2: OnPage.org Focus mobile analysis

Use custom fields for monitoring mobile device friendliness

Those who host a subdomain on their page should take the specifications of Google on the topic mobile into account. In particular, you need to make sure that every mobile URL is referenced by the desktop URL:

<link rel="alternate" media="only screen and (max-width: 640px)"

In order to check if a suitable rel-alternate exists and in order to select the content, you can use the custom fields at OnPage.org Zoom. With the help of these so-called custom fields, you can search through your pages for an individual HTML code and extract it. You can find helpful application examples here in the OnPageMagazine.

You can find the custom fields in OnPage.org Zoom at "Project Settings >> Snippets". For this, create a custom field with the following content:

//link[contains(@media, '640') and @href]/@href

Select this mode:

XPath: only extract text

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Figure 3: Create a custom field in OnPage.org

After the crawl, you can find the following report at "Content >> Custom Fields" that gives you a quick overview over all URLs that do not contain a rel-alternate for the mobile version.

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Figure 4: Evaluate the "Mobile" custom field

Pro tip: Use this report in combination with other custom fields in order to, for example, identify all URLs without rel-alternate in a certain category or template.


Google increases the clock rate when it comes to mobile optimization of websites. Those who have not taken action so far and have suffered from ranking loses in the mobile SERPs due to a missing mobile optimization should take action now. In the end, it is not about pleasing the search engine but offering the best user experience possible. Those who ignored this fact that the future of web use is for the most part mobile will have dissatisfied and less visitors in the long run.

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Published on Oct 21, 2016 by Eva Wagner