Google Index Updates: Mobile vs Desktop

Google Index Updates: Mobile vs Desktop 1024 683 lodestar marketing group

Here at lodestar marketing group, we make a point of staying on top of the latest trends that impact the digital world. Since one of our core services is to optimize client’s search rankings, we pay close attention to any Google updates that may impact those rankings. Business published an article on October 27, 2016 detailing the latest news from Google and how they will be splitting their search index into two separate parts, one for desktop and one for mobile versions. For your convenience, we’ve re-posted the article below.

Google is splitting its search index in two — and there will be winners and losers

Source: Business Insider | Author: Hannah Roberts

Google is dividing its index — the almost infinite database of websites it stores for search — into separate mobile and desktop versions.

There will be winners and losers in this process. Counter-intuitively, publishers with mobile sites designed specifically to make life easier for smartphone users may suffer. The stripped-down level of content on their mobile sites will offer fewer targets for Google’s searches to hit, and may lead to them ranking lower in search results on phones.

Thus the new index split will incentivise publishers to offer richer, better pages on mobile, as Google is prioritising the mobile index over the desktop one, especially for smartphone users — which is where a majority of searches now takes place.

The change will happen within months, Google’s webmaster trend analyst Gary Illyes told Search Engine Land.

Jennifer Slegg, founder of search expert site The SEM Post and Lisa Barone, CMO of web design agency Overit — attended the Pubcon conference where Google announced the change in the keynote address. They explained to Business Insider exactly how they expect the change to impact search results.

Google wants users to stop users having an inferior search experience on a smartphone. By prioritising the mobile index, the search giant is effectively asking site owners to stop simplifying their mobile sites.

Right now Google only lists desktop sites in its index

Up until now, Google has only listed desktop websites in its index. As explained by Overit’s Janae Quackenbus, who also attended the conference, “Google has historically ‘crawled’ the desktop version of a site”. Crawling is a term used to describe the process of Google visiting websites to then file them away in its index.

So when you search on a smartphone, Google returns your result as if you are on a desktop, even though what it shows you — and what you click on — is a list of mobile sites.

That wouldn’t be a problem if the content on a mobile site was exactly the same as the content on the desktop site. But in a lot of cases, it’s not.

In the effort to make their websites load quicker on a mobile (which Google said does not work), a lot of site owners “strip down” the amount of content on their mobile site by removing words and pages. A simplified site — usually with the format “” like this one from IMDb —  is an example.

Google doesn’t want site owners to strip down their sites for mobile, and that’s the crux of why the change is happening.


Google is targeting ‘stripped down’ mobile websites

After Google splits its index, when you search on a smartphone, the search engine won’t refer to the “full” desktop site when determining what results to give you. Instead, it will refer to the stripped down mobile site in a separate mobile index. With less content, a stripped down mobile site will show up in fewer search results.

Not all websites have stripped down their mobile sites, and therefore they won’t be affected. If a website has a responsive design — where the content is the same but it loads to fit the screen size of each device — the index split should not have any impact at all.

The move makes sense when you consider that mobile is the dominant choice over desktop for search. And it’s not just search — 61% of online retail sales came from mobile devices in the UK in the first half of 2016, according to Criteo’s State of Mobile Commerce Report.

As Barone said to Business Insider, “Google’s shift to prioritize mobile over desktop follows user behavior to do the very same. Mobile devices are no longer secondary devices; they are the primary device”.

RBC analyst Mark Mahaney told Business Insider, “I think the broad point is that we are multiple years now into the ‘Mobile Revolution’. Consumers are increasingly comfortable using their Smartphones to access/use Internet services and apps as they used to do with their desktops … marketers are catching up with consumers and Google is making it easier for them to do that with initiatives like splitting its Search index”.

Disclosure: This author used to be an employee at Google and currently owns Alphabet stock.


If you’re afraid that your site might be one of the “losers,” Let’s Talk. We can help you determine if your site meets Google’s requirements for optimal rankings for both your mobile and desktop sites; if it does not, we will implement SEO best practices to ensure optimal search rankings on both. We also offer web design that will enable you to meet the new standards that Google is implementing while maintaining your high search rankings on both desktop and mobile sites.