SEO Tools

Mobile-first SEO Makes Search Console More Important

In 2018, Google will judge your desktop search ranking by the signals from your mobile site.

Google’s mobile-first index, the algorithm update that will flip the importance of desktop sites compared to mobile, doesn’t have a launch date yet, but is said to be coming in 2018. While details have been foggy and speculation high, Google is communicating how it might roll out the mobile-first index.

Google Search Console

That’s where the Google Search Console comes into the picture: Google uses Search Console to communicate its thoughts on your site and to provide additional data on the performance of your natural search channel that cannot be found in any other tool.

If Google has something to say about how its mobile-first index will impact your site specifically, it will use messages in your Search Console account.

But you must first have a Search Console account. Sign up for Google Search Console and verify to Google that you manage your sites. These verification steps ensure that only someone with the ability to post to the site, or to influence what gets posted on a site, can access Search Console. Google looks for one of five verification methods, and walks you through how to complete the process.

Many other tools are in Google Search Console. Don’t miss the Search Analytics section — Search Traffic > Search Analytics — where you’ll find data on how many natural search impressions and clicks you’ve received by keyword and URL. You’ll also find average ranking, which is the most accurate way to determine how your site is performing in Google search results pages since you can’t check it accurately in your own browser.

Also, you can associate your Search Console account with your Google Analytics account to access more comprehensive data. The same can be done with paid search data when you link your Search Console account to Google AdWords, enabling you to manage your integrated search presence more optimally.

A parting note on verifying Google Search Console: The data is limited to exact subdomains. Make sure to register and verify every protocol, subdomain, domain, and top-level domain you need to track performance on. For example, if you have a mobile site and a desktop with separate canonical URLs, you’d need to register and verify six separate sites:,,,,, and

Each of these variations could load unique sites and perform differently, so Google treats them as unique properties within search console. Each site variation could have different messages and different data.

Yes, it’s annoying. Yes, you should verify them all. Yes, if you have international domains or multiple country-code top-level domains — such as .de — register all your protocols, subdomains, and domains for those as well.

About Google’s Mobile-first Index

Whether your rankings change with Google’s mobile-first index depends on how different your mobile site is from your desktop version.

The first thing everyone from Google has said about the switch to mobile first is that it’s “quality neutral” — there is little-to-no change to the existing rankings. For responsive sites, this is reportedly pretty easy. And for those with no mobile-optimized site at all, the desktop site should still rank as well as it does today.

Whether your rankings change with Google’s mobile-first index depends on how different your mobile site is from your desktop version.

Full-featured, dedicated mobile sites — where the URLs that serve mobile content are different than their desktop counterparts — will be Google’s next type of sites to tackle. These are more difficult to launch in a quality neutral state because the authority signals that a mobile site sends by virtue of its backlink profile are typically smaller than signals from a desktop site.

In addition, separate mobile sites require specific technical optimization that can be tricky to implement correctly. In other words, the signals that dedicated mobile sites send are typically weaker than their desktop counterparts, which makes it harder to rank them as strongly.

Google is also grappling with mobile sites that have only a portion of the desktop site’s content or functionality. These mobile sites will typically send different ranking signals as compared to desktop, which makes a quality-neutral launch even more difficult.

Google hasn’t given many answers. Most of what we know about Google’s mobile-first index has come from various interviews with Google employees and from presentations by Google employees at conferences.

So far we’re still hearing a lot of “should be” and “might do” in those communications, which shows a level of uncertainty that troubles many SEO professionals. A clear way to come through the mobile-first change is to have a responsive site. For ecommerce companies that rely on organic search traffic to drive revenue but don’t yet responsive sites, it’s time to start planning the move.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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