Cell-First Indexing: What You Want To Know

Mobile-first indexing means that Google is shifting the indexing and ranking of content from the desktop to the mobile version of websites.

We are in a mobile era. It has been over five years since the number of mobile searches exceeded the number of desktop searches. It makes sense for Google to index and rate content based on the mobile pages as more users will see the mobile versions.

This guide will walk you through how to check if Google has already switched your website to mobile-first indexing, and how to prepare if it hasn't.

Are you into mobile-first indexing?

Google announced the move to mobile-first indexing in 2016. Since then, the introduction has slowly expanded to more and more websites. Google wants to introduce mobile-first indexing for every website by March 2021. In other words, their index is only for mobile devices.

Here is a more detailed timeline:

November 2016 – Mobile-first indexing announced and tested on some websites.
March 2018 – Mobile-first indexing is introduced.
December 2018 – Over 50% of crawled websites are now indexed mobile first.
July 2019 – Mobile-first indexing for new websites by default.
March 2020 – Over 70% of the crawled websites are now indexed with Mobile-First. They also announced that they would use mobile-first indexing on 100% of sites by September 2020.
July 2020 – Coronavirus will delay 100% indexing of mobile devices until March 2021.
March 2021 – Preliminary start of 100% mobile-first indexing.

According to the latest information from Google in March 2020, 70% of websites have already switched to mobile-first indexing.

You can use the Google Search Console to check that you are in that 70%. Simply go to "Settings", where they will identify the crawler in the "Info" section and tell you if and when your website has been switched to mobile indexing.

If you're still in the desktop index, it might be because you have a separate mobile website (m-dot) or a complex website. In either case, you are likely to face some problems and prepare accordingly.

How to prepare

Let's be double clear: Google doesn't have a separate index for mobile devices and desktops. There is an index, and Google is slowly moving to indexing the mobile versions of websites instead of the desktop versions. This can be a problem as content that isn't showing on your mobile version won't be counted after Google switched you to indexing for mobile devices.

As mentioned above, this is usually not a problem for responsive websites, but it can be a problem for complex websites or those using the old M-Dot websites (e.g. m.website.com).

Let's go over a few things that you might need to check to make the transition smooth.

Technical controls

You want to make sure that there are a lot of technical elements on your mobile website. If you haven't already, create a free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools account and crawl your website in Site Audit. By default, we crawl your website using a desktop user agent. This means that we can see how it appears on the desktop. You can change this on the "Crawl Settings" tab when setting up a project, or edit it in your "Project Settings". Just change the user agent from desktop to mobile.

A user agent

We recommend crawling your website with the desktop user agent before crawling it again with a mobile user agent. When you do, our comparison feature will compare your mobile and desktop sites and let you know what has changed or if there have been "new" issues (i.e. issues that appear on mobile but not on desktops).

When you click on an issue, there is a "Show Changes" option that highlights what is different.

Show changes see

Alternatively, you can click on any of the numbers added, new, or removed to see what has changed specifically for each issue.

sa changes clickable

You want to check what changed if there were problems, but you may want to start with some on-page tags, such as: B. Title tags, meta descriptions, canonical tags, meta robots tags, hreflang tags, structured data and alt attributes on images.

Other things to check:


For M-Dot sites, you want to check whether different rules apply to the robots.txt file for this subdomain. To do this, go to yourwebsite.com/robots.txt and m.yourwebsite.com/robots.txt and look for any differences. If you're having trouble, put both files in a text comparison tool like this one.

You also want to make sure your CSS, JavaScript and images can be crawled on all websites.


Google measures your page speed based on your mobile version. The best place to check is in the Google Search Console under Improvements> Core Web Vitals> Mobile.

Mobile Core Web Vitals

Popups, Interstitials, and Ads

To do this, you need to visually check and make sure you don't have too many interstitials and that they don't take up too much of the screen. Google has some guidelines for interstitials.

Mobile design best practices

Text size, tapping goals, padding, etc. You can find information on this in the Google Mobile-Friendly Test or in the Google Search Console under "Improvements"> "Mobile Usability".

mobile ease of use

Google has a helpful article with even more cell phone indexing best practices that are also worth a look.

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If you have a separate desktop and mobile (m.) Website, there seems to be no way to avoid having the mobile (m.) Version of your website appearing in both desktop and mobile search results after Google She switched to mobile. first indexing. Your only solution would be to get rid of m-dot and react or add conditional logic to redirect users to the desktop version. In general, m-dot is complicated and it's easy to make mistakes – especially when adding other elements like hreflang. At this point it is best to exit these systems, if at all possible.

Keep important content

There are usually some differences between how a website is displayed on mobile devices and on the desktop. This is because smaller screen sizes make it harder to see everything from a desktop site on mobile devices. There's no space for sidebars or mega-menus, so mobile websites often exclude or hide content on desktop websites.

The content on your mobile website doesn't have to be the same as the content on your desktop website, but all of the essential content needs to be on your phone. Ruling out things like email opt-ins isn't a big deal SEO Point of view, but excluding things just because someone thought they were too long for mobile can have a negative impact.

Previously, if content wasn't shown by default on mobile devices, it will count as less than visible content. This has changed with mobile-first indexing, and you now have more design options like tabbed content. Google no longer reduces hidden content to improve the user experience.

hidden content ui

I've noticed that a lot of ecommerce websites make great use of these design elements. They often manage to create simplified pages that give users additional details when they request them, such as: B. additional product details, Q.&A, user reviews, etc.

You probably don't need to worry about external links to your website. They should be properly consolidated and counted for your mobile pages as long as your canonical tags are correct.

With internal links, you want to make sure that all the important links are still there on your mobile version. For example, a mobile site may have skipped breadcrumbs to save space. Some websites use a smaller menu for mobile devices than for their desktop website. These can affect your rankings as they can alter the flow of PageRank through your website.

Final thoughts

Hopefully you are already in mobile-first indexing and not have to worry in the upcoming update. If not, you might want to take a look and prepare while you still have time. Mobile is the new normal and will remain. So make sure your website is ready.

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