The Great Google Index Split and You: What You Need to Do Now

As you may or may not have heard, Google is going to be splitting their index from one overall search engine index into two separate indexes: Mobile and Desktop. In fact, as of November 4th, they’ve begun testing it. This is great news for searchers but not so good news for eCommerce shops, Service area businesses with websites and others that didn’t get on the Mobile readiness train back when Mobilegeddon hit a few years back. Let’s take a minute and talk about what you need to now to make sure you’re not left behind when the changes take effect.

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Google is Doing What, Now?

So Google is splitting their index. Let’s stop for a second and talk about what this even means. Right now, Google’s search results are all one great big, giant index. Mobile and Desktop sites are crawled by the bots and the Mobile results and Desktop results are all in the same index and living together on the search results page. What does this mean? Well, have you ever been used your phone to go to a website and you ended up getting the desktop version of it? You know, the tiny print you have to zoom in on and you just end up getting frustrated and leaving? Well, they’re trying to stop that so they’re splitting the indexes. So, instead of having one big index no matter what you search on, theyre going to have two separate indexes: one for Mobile, which they are going to make as their primary index and one for desktop which is the secondary.

The mobile index is going to be updated more frequently than the desktop one as Google – along with everyone else way back in 2014 – has realized that more searches take place on Mobile devices than desktop computers. This way, Google can provide searchers with faster, fresher content on their mobile devices and serve better and more helpful responses to queries.

 

Who Will Be Effected?

Short and Sweet: If you have a website that is any of the following, you will probably be effected:

  • Is not Responsive Design or a Mobile Version of your site
  • Is a mobile site or a responsive site but is extremely slow
  • If your mobile or responsive site is a mess in terms of UX
  • If you don’t have great content on your mobile site

If you weren’t scared by Mobilegeddon into getting your mobile sites in shape, let this be the fire under you because now you won’t have a choice. Mobile and Desktop are going to be indexed separately and if you want to appear in the latest index, you need to get your Mobile sites on point. Now.

Google is currently saying that you don’t need to worry if your site isn’t responsive and of course, they’ll continue to index your desktop site with their mobile user agent, but realistically, Google is moving to a mobile-first format and just because it might not hurt you now doesn’t mean it won’t down the road. Between this update and Mobilegeddon, it’s clear they want mobile search to be as clean and easy as it can be.

Remember: they said they will ‘index’ you just fine, they said nothing about ‘ranking’ you.

 

What Can I Do?

There are a few things you can do to make sure your business and your site is prepared for the upcoming index split. Some will be relatively quick and easy depending on your development team and others will require a bit of investment. Realistically, though, these are things that can only help you in the long run but it is up to your individual business to determine exactly how much you want to invest in this process.

 

Get Responsive or Go Mobile!

The most important thing you can do right now is to turn your site into a Responsive Design Site or create a mobile version of your site if you don’t already have one. Google is going to a ‘mobile first’ approach and has been for a while now when it comes to search results so if you don’t have a mobile or responsive version of your site already, you need to get on that immediately if not sooner. Mobilegeddon should have hit you hard enough to wake you up to this need and this split might completely bury you if you don’t. In 2016, with mobile search overtaking desktop, even if this update wasn’t happening, there is no excuse to not have a great mobile presence for your business.

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Don’t know if your site is responsive? Check it out with Google’s Mobile Testing Tool

Also, don’t forget to make sure your robots.txt file of the mobile version of your site is not blocking Googlebot. If Google can’t crawl you, you’ve got problems. You check that out on Google’s testing page.

 

AMP Up your Content!

Speed is everything in terms of mobile (and desktop for that matter!) and in terms of mobile, AMP is the standard for now. AMP, which stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, is something that your developers can implement in your website’s code that will help your content like your blog posts that can make your pages load almost instantly for people even on slow internet connections. I’ll tell you right now that AMP compliance is something that will absolutely take time to do on your page so make sure you have a good development team doing this but the payoff is there and not only for search results. According to KissMetrics, 40% of web users will abandon a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. AMP makes sure you don’t have that problem.

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AMP is not a ranking signal for Google at this time, but they do, in fact, look at it and it most likely will become one in the future. Have an eCommerce site but not sure about needing to go AMP compliant? Heard AMP is just for blogs and news companies?  Do it. Speed is everything.

Let’s not even talk about search results – if your site is slow to load, your customers will leave and go to your competitors. Period. I’ve seen it happen with my own clients that failed to optimize for page load. Cut that cart and page abandonment rates and your bounce rates just by making sure your page loads in a timely fashion! Think about it: if the page doesn’t load, you can’t buy, right? Why should someone have to wait in order to give you money? Get that speed up!

Need to test your AMP Compliance? There’s a page for that!

 

Is Your Mobile Site Up to Par?

If you already have a mobile site of if your site is already responsive, you’re ahead of the curve! Now, we just have to make sure it’s up to the challenge. This means your mobile site needs to be easy to use and navigate and you have helpful, quality content on the page. Some businesses may have great content on their desktop sites but take that away on the mobile versions to make the pages load faster. Yeah, Google’s going to ding you on that now.

Ok, let’s get real: Words in text don’t slow down page load times. They don’t. They may not look as ‘pretty’ on the page as you’d like but guess what – on page content is a ranking factor. Now with the splitting of the indexes and mobile becoming the primary index, if the mobile crawler comes out and sees little to no on page content, you probably won’t rank as highly as you could. Don’t forget, content is one of the top three ranking signals and so you want to make sure it’s useful, quality and on the page.

That being said, you can have all the content in the world but if your site’s UX is a mess, no one is going to stick around long enough to make a purchase. Who’s going to put their credit card into a site that looks like garbage? Make sure your mobile user experience is clean and on point for your visitors.

 

Also, keep in mind, while text doesn’t slow your page down, a lot of unnecessary markup in your code will, so make sure you’re keeping it light and only marking up what you need to not slow your page down significantly. If you’re marking something up with Schema or structured data, make sure its relevant to what the page is about. Also, speaking of structured data, make sure you have structured data on both the desktop and mobile versions of your site.

 

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Need to test out your UX? Google’s got you covered there, too!

 

Change your Perspective

Mobile has almost always been a challenge for eCommerce and other shopping websites. It doesn’t have to be and in fact, it shouldn’t be! Desktop search has more often than not been the main focus of eCommerce websites and businesses but as searchers are going mobile, you should too! Get your business and your team into a ‘mobile first’ mindset and your business can win big with this upcoming index split, especially if you make those changes ahead of your competitors!

Keep in mind that Google is currently testing this update and the specifics of what this change does and how it ranks your site can change at any time but following the above best practices will keep your site ahead of the curve for this and (almost!) any other changes Google can throw at you!

Note: an edited version of this article has been since published on the ChannelAdvisor Blog on Nov 16, 2016

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