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How Does Mobile-First Indexing Impact Website Link Structure?


Have you seen how when you bring up a Web page on a mobile device, certain features go unavailable? Certain features that you may be accustomed to on desktop may just go invisible on mobile screens! This gets very frustrating and annoying, because now you have to find new ways of performing that particular action, or forget about it at all. This is why Web designers and developers have always been trying to simplify their site on mobile screens without needing to strip off any features or content. But, because the mobile screens are to be kept clutter-free, this becomes really difficult.

While the desktop version of a particular website may have 100 links and other external links, the mobile version of the same website may have only 20 links, with all the external links eliminated! So, with Google becoming more and more mobile-friendly, and considering mobile-first indexing, what happens when the mobile versions of websites become the primary way the Web is accessed by Google bots? How will the link structure of websites be influenced? Let’s take a look.

With the content and links are being stripped down on mobile versions of websites, the link structure is altered, thus affecting Google rankings. Moreover, we don’t know how much of the Web Google will crawl with both desktop and mobile bots. So, let us consider the worst situation where Google can go mobile-only instead of going mobile-first. This means that it will only consider mobile versions of websites, and leave out the desktop versions.

With a research of 20,000 random websites done for this purpose, going two levels deep, the link structure of the Web has been analyzed. Here is the analysis.

  • More than 85% of the websites had the same number of links on their homepage on both mobile and desktop versions. The remaining 15% of the sites had altered number of links. However, out of the 85, only 80% had the same links on the homepage; the other 5% were different. These 5% matter too because links are the pathways which bots use to find content on the Web, and different paths mean different indexes.
  • External links were seen to drop by 7%, meaning a radical shift in some of the most important links on the Web.
  • Social media sites were seen to be the biggest losers out of the lot. This is because a website is likely to remove social share buttons when shifting to mobile, because these buttons are generally incorporated into the “chrome” of the page, and not the content. And, the “Chrome” often changes to accommodate a mobile version.

Now, let us delve deeper into the main navigation links. As you crawl deeper, you will find the exact same links, but there is a radical difference in second-level crawl links. For this too, there was a research done. With an identical number of home pages being crawled, there was divergence in the second-tier results, based on the number of links found on the original home pages. The desktop index was seen to be much larger than mobile. In all categories of the number of URLs, domains, links, and root linking domains discovered, those unique to the desktop crawl were more than those unique to mobile, or shared by both desktop and mobile. This means that just by the second level of crawl, the difference in indexes is huge, meaning a considerable shift in the link graph. Moreover, more than 60% of external links were unique to the desktop crawler; and that in the case of mobile crawling was almost halved.

All of this research has brought forward one thing for sure; and that is, making a site mobile-friendly with fewer links and fewer features makes the experience better for the users, but it does create a really different experience for Google bots. But just relax, because Google has announced only a mobile-friendly approach, and not a mobile-only line of attack. The search engine is only prioritizing the mobile crawl because the amount of search traffic coming from mobile is highly increasing. However, if you are building a mobile-version of your site to satisfy Google, keep in mind that a functional desktop-oriented site is better than an incomplete mobile version of the site. So, remember that if you are providing a mobile version, you need to make sure it is complete.

Another big consideration is how Google’s announcement of mobile indexing is going to affect SERPs. Obviously, any announcement made by Google not affecting SERPs is impossible. So, here you go!

  • A slow rollout means that shifts in SERPs will be lost to the natural ranking fluctuations already seen today.
  • Google may consider both mobile and desktop crawls for link purposes, without excluding any one over the other.
  • Google can limit index divergence by seeding URLs found by mobile or desktop into their respective crawlers.

Although we can never say what Google has in mind, and how it works the way it does, you can hire professional SEO services in India who know their business and can always keep your website up-to-date so that any kind of changes in Google’s theories will only bring benefits for your business.


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