The Great Google Index Split and You: What You Need to Know

November 16, 2016

Digital Marketing Chris Sciulli By Chris Sciulli

As you may or may not have heard, Google is going to be splitting its index from one overall search engine index into two separate indexes: mobile and desktop.

In fact, as of November 4, the search giant has begun testing it. This is great news for searchers but not-so-great news for e-commerce shops, service area businesses with websites and others that didn’t get on the mobile readiness train back when Mobilegeddon hit a few years back.

Let’s take a minute and talk about what you need to know, so you’re not left behind when the changes take effect.

Google is Doing What, Now?

So Google is splitting its index. Let’s stop for a second and talk about what this even means.

Right now, Google’s search results are all one great, big, giant index. Mobile and desktop sites are crawled by the bots, and the mobile results and desktop results are all in the same index, living together on the search results page.

What does this mean? Well, have you ever used your phone to go to a website and end up getting to the desktop version of it? You know, the tiny print you have to zoom in on which ultimately frustrates you and causes you to and leave?

That’s exactly what Google’s intending to fix by splitting the indexes.

Instead of having one big index no matter what you search on, there will be two separate indexes: one for mobile, which will be the primary index, and a secondary one for desktop. Eventually, Google plans to recombine both indexes into a single index based on the mobile versions. But until that happens, the index will be split.

The mobile index is going to be updated more frequently since Google realized — way back in 2014, along with everyone else — that more searches take place on mobile devices than desktop computers. This way, Google can provide searchers with faster, fresher content on their mobile devices and serve better and more helpful responses to queries.

Who Will Be Affected?

Not sure whether or not you’ll be affected by the index split? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have a responsive or mobile site?
  • Does my mobile/responsive site have appropriate load times?
  • Is my responsive/mobile site user friendly?
  • Do I have quality, engaging content on my mobile/responsive site?

Did you answer “no” to any (or all) of these questions? If Mobilegeddon didn’t prompt you to get your mobile sites in shape, be consider this a warning: You will no longer have a choice.

Let me repeat myself: If you want to appear in the latest index, you need to get your mobile sites on point. Now.

Sure, Google is saying that you don’t need to worry if your site isn’t responsive. It will continue to index your desktop site with its mobile user agent. But realistically, Google is moving to a mobile-first format.While this move might not hurt you now, that doesn’t mean it won’t down the road.

Remember: While Google says it’ll index you just fine, it has said nothing about ranking you.

Get Responsive or Go Mobile!

The most important thing you can do right now is to design your site with responsive web design or create a mobile version of your site if you don’t already have one.  Don’t get buried by not having a responsive mobile site. In this day and age, mobile search is overtaking desktop. Even if this update wasn’t happening, there’s no excuse to not have a great mobile presence for your business.

Don’t know if your site is responsive? Test it out with Google’s Mobile Testing Tool.

Also, don’t forget to make sure the robots.txt file of your mobile site isn’t blocking Googlebot. If Google can’t crawl you, you’ve got problems. You can check that out on Google’s testing page.

AMP Up Your Content!

Speed is everything in terms of mobile (and desktop for that matter!) and AMP is the current standard.

AMP, which stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, is something that your developers can implement in your website’s code that will help your content — like blog posts — load almost instantly, even on slow internet connections.

I’ll be honest: AMP compliance will absolutely take time to do, so make sure you have a good development team. The payoff is there — According to KissMetrics, 40% of web users will abandon a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. AMP makes sure you don’t have that problem.  

AMP is not a ranking signal for Google at this time, but Google does look at it and it will most likely become a ranking signal in the future. So to steal a line from Nike and “just do it.” Speed is everything.

Need to test your AMP Compliance? There’s a page for that!  

Is Your Mobile Site Up to Par?

If you already have a mobile site or your site is already responsive, you’re ahead of the curve!

Now, we just have to make sure it’s up to the challenge. It’s important to ask yourself two questions:

  • Do you have helpful, quality content on your pages?
  • Is your mobile site easy to use?

Some businesses may have great content on their desktop sites, but cut that content down on the mobile versions to make the pages load faster. Yeah, Google’s going to ding you on that now.

Words in text don’t slow down page load times. On-page content is a ranking factor. Now that mobile will become the primary index, you probably won’t rank as high as you could if the mobile crawler sees little to no content on your page. Don’t forget, content is one of the top three ranking signals on Google, so make sure it’s useful, high quality and, of course, on your mobile page. Also, Google recently said that content hidden in Accordion boxes, tabs and other expandable methods that normally aren’t weighed as heavily on desktop versions of sites will be given full weight on mobile if it’s done for user experience.

That being said, great content is ultimately worthless if your site’s user experience (UX) is a mess. Who’s going to put their credit card info into a site that’s hard to navigate? Make sure your mobile UX is clean and on point for your visitors.

Also, keep in mind that while text doesn’t slow your page down, a lot of unnecessary markup in your code will. Make sure you’re keeping it light and only marking up what you need to not slow your page down significantly. If you’re marking something up with Schema or structured data, make sure it’s relevant to what the page is about. And speaking of structured data, make sure you have structured data on both the desktop and mobile versions of your site.

Need to test out your UX? Google’s got you covered there, too!

Change your Perspective

Mobile has almost always been a challenge for e-commerce. It doesn’t have to be! Desktop search has traditionally been the primary focus of e-commerce websites and businesses. It’s time to think like a consumer. Get your business and your team into a “mobile-first” mindset and your business can win big with this upcoming index split, especially if you make those changes ahead of your competitors!

Keep in mind that Google is still testing this update. The specifics of what the index split will mean for your site can change at any time, but following the above best practices will keep your site ahead of the curve for this and (almost!) any other changes Google throws at you!

Ready to start getting optimized? Send us an email at, and our SEO team can help you get your site ready for the great index split and more!