Why Mobile and Desktop Rankings Are Different

Google’s John Mueller answered an interesting question about why mobile and desktop search rankings can differ. Mueller offered several factors related to personalization to explain why the two kinds of searches sometimes are different.

Why Do Desktop and Mobile Search Rankings Differ?

The person asking the question was interested in learning how to diagnose the reason why a site might not perform as well in mobile search as it does in desktop search.

Here’s the question:

“Why… How are desktop and mobile ranking different when we’ve already been switched to mobile first indexing?”

Google’s John Mueller pointed out that indexing and ranking are two different things.

Just because we’re in a mobile-first indexing environment doesn’t mean that the mobile and desktop versions will be ranked equally because they were indexed as mobile.


“So, mobile first indexing is specifically about that technical aspect of indexing the content.

And we use a mobile Googlebot to index the content.

But once the content is indexed, the ranking side is still (kind of) completely separate.”

Mobile and Desktop Rankings Are Contextually Personalized

Mueller next explained that for some situations the context of the searcher and the device that is used can alter rankings.

He explained that for some searches the needs of the users are different depending on the device and that can influence rankings.

John Mueller Explaining Why Mobile and Desktop Searches are Different

Mueller explained:

“And it’s normal that desktop and mobile rankings are different.

Sometimes that’s with regards to things like speed.

Sometimes that’s with regards to things like mobile friendliness.

Sometimes that’s also with regards to the different elements that are shown in the search results page.

For example if you’re searching on your phone then maybe you want more local information because you’re on the go.

Whereas if you’re searching on a desktop maybe you want more images or more videos shown in the search results.
So we tend to show …a different mix of different search results types.

And because of that it can happen that the ranking or the visibility of individual pages differs between mobile and desktop.

And that’s essentially normal. That’s a part of how we do ranking.

It’s not something where I would say it would be tied to the technical aspect of indexing the content.”

Page Speed and Mobile Factors for Ranking Differences

The person asking the question next asked a follow up question about diagnosing these ranking differences.

He asked if lower mobile rankings are an indication that mobile page speed factors are the cause.

Google’s Mueller answered:

“…Mobile friendliness is definitely a factor.

There might also be other factors that play in there, specifically with regards to mobile and desktop.

These are kind of the differences that are always a bit around with regards to mobile and desktop search results.

Sometimes it’s also just because it’s a different device or a different connection to the Internet so we use different settings essentially for personalization.”

Difference in Rankings is Due to Personalization

Google’s John Mueller confirmed that mobile indexing is just indexing and separate from the ranking part of the algorithm.

He also revealed that personalization plays a role in the occasional differences in search rankings between the mobile and desktop searches.

Mueller explained that the needs of someone on a mobile device may be different from the needs of someone on a desktop device.

So if one is trying to diagnose why there are differences in ranking between devices then maybe it may be useful to see why the top ranked sites mobile versions might be preferable over the lower ranked pages within the context of a mobile device and personalization.

It’s possible there may be clues there to help diagnose the issues.


Why Mobile and Desktop Rankings Differ in Mobile First Indexing
Watch John Mueller answer the question at the 49:10 minute mark