Search Engine Optimization

Is Desktop SEO Still Necessary?

Is Desktop SEO Still Necessary?

Google’s John Mueller responded to a question about whether it’s okay to stop optimizing a desktop version of a website now that Google is switching over to exclusively indexing mobile versions of websites.

The question asked is related to an announcement they made a week ago:

“…the small set of sites we’ve still been crawling with desktop Googlebot will be crawled with mobile Googlebot after July 5, 2024. … After July 5, 2024, we’ll crawl and index these sites with only Googlebot Smartphone. If your site’s content is not accessible at all with a mobile device, it will no longer be indexable.”

Stop Optimizing Desktop Version Of A Site?

The person asking the question wanted to know if it’s okay to abandon optimizing a purely desktop version of a site and just focus on the mobile friendly version. The person is asking because they’re new to a company and the developers are far into the process of developing a mobile-only version of a site.

This is the question:

“I am currently in a discussion at my new company, because they are implementing a different mobile site via dynamic serving instead of just going responsive. Next to requirements like http vary header my reasoning is that by having two code bases we need to crawl, analyze and optimize two websites instead of one. However, this got shut down because “due to mobile first indexing we no longer need to optimize the desktop website for SEO”. I read up on all the google docs etc. but I couldn’t find any reasons as to why I would need to keep improving the desktop website for SEO, meaning crawlability, indexability, using correct HTML etc. etc. What reasons are there, can you help me?”

Mobile-Only Versus Responsive Website

Google’s John Mueller expressed the benefits of one version of a website that’s responsive. This eliminates the necessity of maintaining two websites plus it’s desktop-friendly to site visitors who are visiting a site with a desktop browser.

He answered:

“First off, not making a responsive site in this day & age seems foreign to me. I realize sometimes things just haven’t been updated in a long time and you might need to maintain it for a while, but if you’re making a new site”

Maintaining A Desktop-Friendly Site Is A Good Idea

Mueller next offered reasons why it’s a good idea to maintain a functional desktop version of a website, such as other search engines, crawlers and site visitors who actually are on desktop devices. Most SEOs understand that conversions, generating income with a website, depends on being accessible to all site visitors, that’s the big picture. Optimizing a site for Google is only a part of that picture, it’s not the entire thing itself.

Mueller explained:

“With mobile indexing, it’s true that Google focuses on the mobile version for web search indexing. However, there are other search engines & crawlers / requestors, and there are other requests that use a desktop user-agent (I mentioned some in the recent blog post, there are also the non-search user-agents on the user-agent documentation page).”

He then said that websites exist for more than just getting crawled and ranked by Google.

“All in all, I don’t think it’s the case that you can completely disregard what’s served on desktop in terms of SEO & related. If you had to pick one and the only reason you’re running the site is for Google SEO, I’d probably pick mobile now, but it’s an artificial decision, sites don’t live in isolation like that, businesses do more than just Google SEO (and TBH I hope you do: a healthy mix of traffic sources is good for peace of mind). And also, if you don’t want to have to make this decision: go responsive.”

After the person asking the question explained that the decision had already been made to focus on mobile, Mueller responded that this is a case of choosing your battles.

“If this is an ongoing project, then shifting to dynamic serving is already a pretty big step forwards. Pick your battles :). Depending on the existing site, sometimes launching with a sub-optimal better version earlier is better than waiting for the ideal version to be completed. I’d just keep the fact that it’s dynamic-serving in mind when you work on it, with any tools that you use for diagnosing, monitoring, and tracking. It’s more work, but it’s not impossible. Just make sure the desktop version isn’t ignored completely :). Maybe there’s also room to grow what the team (developers + leads) is comfortable with – perhaps some smaller part of the site that folks could work on making responsive. Good luck!”

Choose Your Battles Or Stand Your Ground?

John Mueller’s right that there are times where it’s better to choose your battles rather than dig in and compromise. But just make sure that your recommendations are on record and that those pushing back are on record. That way if things go wrong the blame will find it’s way back to the ones who are responsible.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Luis Molinero

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