Google is Splitting its Search Index, Prioritizing Mobile over Desktop

Written by: Jason Bayless | March 22, 2017

For as long as it has existed, Google has kept all of its results within the same search index; however, in 2015, the search giant announced that it was looking into the possibility of dividing that index into mobile-based and desktop-based subsections. Now, with an announcement from Goggle’s Gary Illyes, it has been confirmed that Google has concrete plans to divide its search index within a matter of months.

With this division, Google’s desktop and mobile indices will be officially split from one another. A large amount of evidence has pointed to the dominance of mobile usage over desktop usage, and Google has not let this slip under its radar.

With the desktop and mobile indices officially in their own columns, there have been questions about how this may affect the rankings for websites with varying levels of mobile optimization. The following are just a few of the predictions of what will be observed after these changes go into full effect.

Mobile will assume the mantle of primary search index

As the data has made it plainly clear, mobile usage is currently the clear leader in terms of digital growth. Based on what the data has shown, Google will be appointing its new mobile index as the primary index for the platform. The mobile search index will likely be updated more frequently and swiftly than its desktop counterpart.

In the meantime, the desktop index will still be operational, but chances are that it won’t receive the same amount of attention as its mobile counterpart; neither in terms of the search engine algorithm or in organic traffic.

Owners of mobile-optimized sites will have a strong advantage

Naturally, websites that have already put forth a decent effort into optimizing their mobile content will be in a better position to leverage the search engine split than others. For years now, webmasters, content creators, and business owners have been advised to pay attention to the mobile-friendliness of their sites’ layouts; now, it would seem, those who heeded the advice will be the ones who benefit the most from the changes to come.

While content that hasn’t been fully optimized for a mobile browsing experience may still be potentially discovered in the mobile-only index, it likely won’t be ranked as highly as content that has been made exclusively for mobile browsers. In time, desktop-centric webmasters, bloggers, and content creators may see a gradual dip in their engagement analytics unless they make a concentrated effort to invest in more mobile-exclusive content.

A new algorithmic process

While it’s been made apparent that the mobile index will favor mobile-optimized results, the specific algorithmic process hasn’t been completely clarified yet. There has been some speculation as to just how wide the gap will be between the updating speed of the mobile index and the desktop index.

Regardless of whether the desktop is index is slightly or significantly behind the primary mobile index, what is clear is that the ranking algorithm itself will have been distinctly different. Content that might have once been simply evaluated for its on-page factors may now have its rank determined based on standards that measure its level of “dedication” to mobile optimization.

Mobile-centric websites typically aren’t as sizable as desktop websites, which could mean that the mobile index won’t have the same level of favor given to search results from websites that simply have a wealth of content.

There have also been questions as to how the search engine algorithm’s consideration of website age will play into to the mobile index’s ranking system when it emerges, as the top-performing mobile-based websites likely won’t be much more than a decade in age when the split occurs.