Mobile-first indexing: Will it change your rankings on desktop?

Mobile-first indexing: Will it change your rankings on desktop?
Getting conflicting information about whether the mobile-first indexing change will impact your rankings? Brush up on the different processes behind search results. The online SEO Magazine ‘Search Engine Land’ has produces an article outlining how this works and the impact it might have on your SEO.

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Mobile-first indexing has been the talk of 2018 in the SEO world, and certainly this major shift in how Google search works has left SEOs with questions about what will result. I’ve read many posts about mobile-first and predictions about how, if at all, it will alter how sites will appear in search results. It’s important, however, when discussing any type of Google update to remember the basics of search indexing and ranking, and this knowledge is especially applicable to mobile-first indexing

Indexing vs Ranking
Indexing is the reading and storing of a web page’s information by the search engine indexing robot (in this case, GoogleBot). Once Google visits and reads a page, it stores that information in its index. I like to imagine the index as a huge library, like the Jedi Library from “Star Wars.”

Ranking is the process where the search engine evaluates the information in its index and determines which web pages match its criteria according to the search query and other factors (such as device). A site cannot be ranked, however, if it is not already indexed. Ranking is like the librarian, providing recommendations based on your criteria.

Mobile First Indexing
Mobile-first indexing addresses indexing -– not ranking. While mobile-first represents a major shift for Google and how it has traditionally indexed web pages, it does not necessarily mean that much will change for many websites. All that Google is doing is changing which version of the web page content it is indexing, preferring to index the mobile version first.

Desktop vs Mobile Rankings
I recently read a statement by an SEO that once mobile-first indexing is completely rolled out, desktop and mobile rankings will be the same. That is unequivocally incorrect.

Remember that ranking and indexing are separate things, each with separate purposes, goals and factors. Just because Google is changing how it indexes, it does not mean that Google is changing how it ranks websites, too.

Currently, Google’s organic rankings do differ based on whether the query is made on a mobile device or from desktop. In part, that is due to specific Google ranking factors and penalties that exist for mobile results, such as the intrusive interstitial penalty and the mobile page speed ranking factor. That’s not likely to change with mobile-first indexing, as those penalties/factors affect ranking, not indexing. And there’s a whole host of other factors that also can affect rankings differently on desktop versus mobile that are not likely going away or being applied differently because of a new indexing model.

When thinking about SEO and factors, return to the basics: indexing and ranking. Be sure not to conflate the two, because each has a specific function, purpose and effect on your website and how you appear in search results.