Desktop only websites will be completely banned from Google’s index from next spring. In addition, mobile versions (or M-Dot websites) could have more bugs in the future.
Originally, Google wanted to complete its mobile-first indexing for all websites in September 2020. This trend towards indexing only mobile-optimized websites has been going on for years. Due to the extraordinary circumstances in the times of the corona pandemic, Google had already announced in the summer that the time window in which all webmasters can switch to mobile-first indexing will be extended to March 2021. Now Google’s webmaster trends analyst and SEO guru John Mueller has impressively confirmed that desktop content will no longer be indexed and ranked from this point on. So webmasters have to get their mobile versions ready so that the Googlebot crawls the right content.
No turning back: Desktop Only Websites will soon drop out of Google’s index
It’s no surprise that Google will soon stop indexing desktop content – but not all webmasters should be prepared for it yet. So it is helpful that John Mueller emphasizes again what they now have to pay attention to. After all, in addition to the pages, images or other content that can be found on the Desktop Only websites are also removed from Google’s index.
At Search Engine Journal, Roger Montti reports from Muellers Statements at Pubcon Pro Virtual 2020. There he says about the timetable for mobile-first indexing:
But actually, it is the case that we will only index the mobile content in the future. So when a site is shifted over to mobile first indexing, we will drop everything that’s only on the desktop site. We will essentially ignore that […] anything that you want to have indexed, it needs to be on the mobile site. And the final deadline we’ve come up with is March 2021.
There could also be problems with the separate URLs for desktop and mobile versions, which occur, for example, with the so-called M-Dot websites. Mueller states that some desktop users cannot be redirected from the SERPs to a desktop version if hreflang attributes are used. Mueller explains:
Usually we try to show the appropriate version, desktop or mobile version, in the search results, the URL at least. The indexed content is […] only the mobile version. But with m-dot sites it can sometimes happen that we just have the m-dot version where we didn’t actually pick up that there’s a connection to a desktop version here. This is a lot more likely if you have a m-dot version and use an hreflang. The only solution there is essentially to make sure that you redirect your users from the m-dot version to the desktop version when they use a desktop browser. And I don’t see us changing this in the near future or probably at all.
The review of hreflang links for their own content and the meaningful forwarding of M-Dot websites are aspects that webmasters should concentrate on now. A lot of information about your own pages can be viewed via the Google Search Console.
Preparations for mobile-first indexing in full swing
Perhaps with his statements John Mueller reminded one or the other of the webmasters how relevant the preparation for Google’s mobile-only approach is. In the blog post from July, Yingxi Wu from Google’s Mobile-First Indexing Team had already shared some tips that site operators should consider. The same robots meta tags should be used for desktop and mobile versions, while particular care should be taken to prevent lazy loading in the mobile area. Google had provided best practices for this.
In addition, Wu advised checking whether the content in the desktop and mobile versions match and whether crawling by Google is not being rejected by robots.txt files and adjusting the image quality and size for mobile. You can also find more information on the appropriate video markup or changed image URLs in the mobile versions in the detailed blog post. If you haven’t fully prepared your pages for mobile-first indexing, you can use these resources to do just that. Because from March 2021, no more desktop content will be relevant for the ranking. If you can then show pages that are not mobile-optimized, you will have to expect major traffic losses.
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