This week Google made a significant change to the way it indexes content, and we’ll explain what you need to know about the new mobile-first indexing system. Also, the company has completely changed its mind about something that was once a negative SEO factor.
Google has vowed to crack down on “repeat offenders” with a 30-day penalty. Who are repeat offenders and what are they doing? We’ll let you know. Finally, we say goodbye to one of Google’s local search tools, but don’t worry because the tool’s best features will be salvaged.
Full details about each of these headlines are included in this week’s SEO news update.
Google Splits Its Search Index, Begins Indexing Mobile-First
Google is officially splitting its search index into a mobile version and desktop version, which marks the first step toward mobile-first indexing. The company said just last month that it would begin to prioritize mobile-first indexing in the coming months, and we are now seeing the plan come into action.
What does that mean for you as a site owner? It means Google’s search engine spiders will first crawl the mobile version of a site’s content to learn how it should be indexed in BOTH mobile and desktop search.
The new mobile index is said to be always rapidly updating, with the desktop index moving a little slower behind. So after publishing a new piece of content it may take longer to get indexed in desktop search versus mobile search.
This is a giant shift away from how Google used to crawl and index pages. Google’s previous indexing practices involved crawling the desktop versions of web pages and indexing them in both mobile and desktop search results.
Google explains the problems caused by the way it used to index content:
”This can cause issues when the mobile page has less content than the desktop page because our algorithms are not evaluating the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher.”
This is currently being referred to as an “experiment”, which is being rolled out on a small scale over the next few months. Google will ramp up the experiment only when it is satisfied it’s providing the best search experience for both mobile and desktop searchers.
In the meantime, here are some need-to-know bits of information that will help you prepare for a larger scale roll-out.
Google’s Mobile-First Index: What You Need to Know
First of all, if you have a responsive site which displays the same content on both mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.
The biggest problem you may run into with Google’s new index is if you have a site where the primary content is different whether you’re viewing it on mobile or desktop. If that’s the case, consider making some changes bearing in mind Google will now be primarily crawling and indexing the mobile version of the site.
If you only have a desktop site, which is not recommended (but that’s another story altogether), then Google will continue to index your site, but it will crawl it as mobile. This could put your site at disadvantage versus those that do offer up a mobile version for Google’s new mobile-first indexing process.
However, if you are in the process of building a mobile site, Google cautions not to launch it until it’s ready, saying: “a functional desktop-oriented site can be better than a broken or incomplete mobile version of the site.”
If you have a separate mobile site (as opposed to a responsive site), and only the desktop version of your site is verified in Search Console, then you should also add and verify the mobile version. In addition, while you’re in Search Console use the robots.txt testing tool to verify that both versions of your site are accessible to Googlebot.
Tabbed Content is No Longer a Negative On-Page Factor
As part of the mobile-first indexing move, Google has completely changed its mind about having content behind tabs on a web page — what was once ignored by Google crawlers will now be given full value.
This news comes from Google’s Gary Ilyes after he was asked a question about it on Twitter:
no, in the mobile-first world content hidden for ux should have full weight
— Gary 鯨理／경리 Illyes (@methode) November 5, 2016
With that being the case, we can now disregard what was previously thought to be true when Google’s John Mueller stated crawlers may “actively ignore” content that is “hidden”:
“From our point of view, it’s always a tricky problem when we send a user to a page where we know this content is actually hidden. Because the user will see perhaps the content in the snippet, they’ll click through the page, and say, well, I don’t see where this information is on this page. I feel kind of almost misled to click on this to actually get in there. So that’s…the problem that we’re seeing. …we’ve gone a little bit further now to actively ignore the information that’s not directly visible. So if you want that content really indexed, I’d make sure it’s visible for the users when they go to that page.”
We don’t know about you, but over here we’re updating our technical audits and checklists to reflect that click-to-expand content, and content hidden behind tabs, are not negative SEO factors anymore.
Google is Going After “Repeat Offenders” of Safe Browsing Practices
Google shows warnings before a user is about to visit a site that is in violation of Google’s Malware, Unwanted Software, Phishing, and Social Engineering Policies. You’ve probably seen one of these warnings before — it’s a big red screen that prevents you from visiting the site for your own safety.
Those are called Google’s Safe Browsing policies, and the company is cracking down on an activity where certain site owners are maliciously breaking those policies over and over again.
When a site is no longer considered to be harmful, Google will remove the big red warning screen. What these “repeat offenders” will do is stop their harmful activity just long enough to get the warning removed. After the warning is removed, the sites will immediately revert to their harmful practices.
Now, once a repeat offender has been identified, it will not be so easy to get the warning removed. A repeat offender will not be able to get rid of the Google warning on their site for at least 30 days, whether their site has become safe again or not.
Before you conclude that this doesn’t apply to you, remember that your site can get hacked (and stay hacked) with malware without any obvious consequences. This means it is important for all site owners to consistently update their site’s CMS software, apply security hardening and monitoring best practices, and maintain frequent backups so that a fresh copy of the site can be quickly restored in the event of a hack.
Say Goodbye to Google Map Maker
Google Map Maker is a local search tool that has been around since 2008, which gives anyone the ability to provide information to Google Maps. Moderators would then either approve or deny the suggested contributions.
Google has announced plans to retire Map Maker in March 2017. However, anyone who enjoyed using Map Maker’s features may still be able to do so because some of the product’s features will be integrated into Google Maps.
If you’re thinking Map Maker sounds a lot like Google’s Local Guides program, where anyone can contribute information about local businesses, you’re not wrong. That may be one of the reasons Google decided to retire the product.
However, Map Maker had some more robust features where you can even go as far as to edit roads. Exactly which features will be ported over to Google Maps is unknown at this point, we’ll have to wait and see in March 2017.
Today’s mobile-first world means a mobile-first search index. It also means an about-face from Google on tabbed content, which was once frowned upon. What’s being heavily frowned upon at the moment are repeat offenders of Google’s Safe Browsing policies, and some users may either frown or rejoice over the changes concerning Map Maker.