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In Depth Guide to Mobile SEO

Google recently sent notifications to Google Search Console owners warning about the ramp up of to the Mobile Index and the increasing utilization of the Googlebot Mobile crawler. The Mobile Index, is well and truely here. At a basic level, Google wants to retain it’s competitive advantage by improving the quality of it’s search results for all users. Recent developments including “Mobilegeddon” in 2015 and the roll-out of the Mobile Index is especially relevant mobile users, as it affects mobile search results hugely – the effect of this is that website owners stand to win big from making their websites more mobile friendly.

At first, the 2015 update only significantly impacted websites whose target audience performed searches via their mobile devices. But over time, Google has made gradual changes that makes being mobile-friendly all but compulsory for anyone wanting to be visible in Google. If your website isn’t mobile friendly, expect to be at a huge disadvantage to show up in search engine results. 

Why is mobile SEO important?  

Mobile SEO involves optimizing your website for those surfing the internet via mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and so on. This is important because, as of 2016,  58% of all Google searches were conducted via a mobile device and this figure has only gone up since then. 

With mobile SEO, you can reach your online customers on their preferred device for accessing the internet. Mobile traffic has by far eclipsed desktop traffic, and failing to bring your website to where your target audience is simply amounts to losing the majority of your potential traffic/customers. In order to reach this increasing population of mobile users, you need to execute a mobile SEO strategy. 

Mobile SEO vs. Desktop SEO 

Desktop SEO and mobile SEO are quite different, even though their goal is quite similar. This goal is making your website visible on search engines in order to reach and convert your visitorsDesktop SEO tactics intersect with mobile SEO tactics in the sense that they both focus on user experience, performance, and content. But the difference is that desktop SEO tends to focus more on the general public, unlike mobile SEO that typically has more local focus. 

Google’s mobile-first index 

Mobile SEO recently became critical to the success of all websites after Google announced that it would soon be switching to a mobile-first index. The implication of this is once mobile-first index becomes operational, Google will begin determining website rankings not based on the quality of the desktop version of a website, but that of its mobile version. This means Google will look at a mobile site’s performance, user experience and content, and use it to determine the appropriate ranking of the website. If you fail to make your website mobile friendly, you will be ranked lower than competing websites that are mobile friendly, or not ranked at all. 

The mobile-first index ranking will apply to your website regardless of if a search is being performed on a desktop or mobile device, unlike before when Google used a mix of desktop and mobile results. 

What this simply means is that it is time to prioritise mobile SEO over traditional desktop SEO. But how do you get started with this? Our in-depth mobile SEO guide below is a great place to start. 

How to optimise for mobile

We’ve put together some crucial tactics you can apply to optimise your website’s mobile SEO: 

Responsive design  

When developing or modifying your website to be mobile friendly, you have the choice of opting for a responsive design, utilising dynamic serving, or having a separate mobile website on a subdomain. It’s advisable to go for the option of a responsive design because that’s what Google prefers. With a responsive design, you only have one website and it will have the capability to adapt itself to fit and function on any screen, be it a computer screen or mobile screen. Google states that utilising a responsive design qualifies your website to be added to its new mobile-first index. In case Google is unaware your website is mobile friendly, you can bring it to their attention by inserting the meta name=“viewport” declaration in your documents’ heading. 

Develop for load-time and render performance 

When improving your mobile SEO, always stay focused on the performance of your website. Website performance consists of a number of variables, but priority should always be given to website speed. The faster your website is, the more Google and your visitors alike will love it. However, optimising the speed of your website isn’t a onetime thing. It is something you need to keep monitoring and improve over time 

PageSpeed Insights is a versatile tool from Google that you can use to monitor and analysyour website’s speed, as well as other aspects of its performance. Lighthouse is another important and easy to use tool. Simply insert your website URL on Insights and it will provide you scores for your sites desktop and mobile performanceThe score will be followed by useful suggestions to enhance the performance of your site.  

Generally, you can optimise your website’s speed by utilising the following tips.  

Consider implementing AMP 

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are meant to help your website pages load faster on mobile devices. Asides from being useful in improving website loading speed, Google pretty much insists on having AMP implemented, so it’s best to just give Google what it wants. Website pages without AMP are typically ranked lower than those that do in search results. 

While not every site needs AMP, the ones that do stand gain a lot from it. 

Focus on user experience 

It is not enough to simply own a mobile website. Such a website should also be easily navigable and convenient to use. A mobile website with an unsatisfactory user experience will not meet the requirement of users nor the standards of search engines like Google. To boost user experience, you need to remove the obstacles that impede the website’s smooth access and navigation. You can accomplish this by working on the following: 

  • The mobile site should be useful and enjoyable across all mobile devices 
  • Font size and type should be easily legible 
  • Create enough space between clickable tabs 
  • Make your sub-menu clickable 
  • Make your buttons large enough for fingers 
  • Remove clutter and leave sufficient white space, where it makes sense
  • Make phone number visible (especially homepage) on all pages and make it clickable  

Optimise for map-pack search

Google has indicated that over 70% of people first do an online search for nearby businesses before going shopping. If you run a business, you need to be visible to these online searchers in your area and you can accomplish this through local SEO. Improving your Below are some basic ways you can improve your local mobile SEO: 

  • Write locally oriented content   
  • Build citations – list your business details in high quality directories eg Yelp, YellowPages, Localist
  • Place your business on Google My Business (GMB)
  • Ask your local customers for reviews and present submitted reviews on a dedicated page on your site  
  • Add structured data for NAP (name, address, and phone) details, products, and so on Optimise your mobile content 
  • Ensure all GMB features are utilised where possible and aim for 100% profile completion:
    • Product + service + price list
    • Useful photos of business, brand and people
    • NAP consistency between website, GMB and all online directories
    • Add workplace street-view where appropriate eg malls, schools, tourist destinations, cafes, offices

Optimise your mobile content 

Mobile devices, especially phones, have small screens. If your text on a mobile device is illegible, your visitors will not be interested in your content. So, make your content easy to read on various devices by using appropriate font, spacing, and colour. The content itself should also be quality – engaging and informative, as well as free of typos. Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Use headings and bullet points when necessary. And always remember “white space”. 

Write better meta-descriptions and titles 

Less information is shown on Google search results on a mobile device. To avoid your meta-descriptions and titles being shortened to something incomprehensible, make sure you write them in a more fitting length. You can use Yoast SEO’s snippet editor to see how your meta-description and title will look on mobile and desktop search results. 

Prepare for voice search 

Voice search is already here and it’s only going to get bigger. You need to prepare to have your mobile website’s content easily accessible by Google’s Home assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa. You can accomplish this by finding out which questions are typically asked or used to find your content and optimise for that. Answer the Public and Google’s autofill are useful tools to discover what questions people are asking. This is a whole topic in itself, but a great way to get started with that is by creating FAQ caches on relevant pages on your website, as well as a master FAQ list and make the Questions and Answers clear to Google with relevant JSON-LD schema markup.

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) 

Progressive Web Apps are an all-in-one solution that helps target mobile users. The core feature of a PWA is is the offline or native app functionality, install to home and background processes . This is fundamentally different to the classic idea of “bookmark webpage to home” on mobile because of the inclusion of service workers which are JavaScript that allow things like notifications, and background downloads to occur. It is a web app that works on all devices. Utilising PWA combines the load speeds of mobile sites with a native app’s functionality to give your visitors the ultimate experience. While PWAs are not perfect yet, and effectively implemented PWA will make your users think they are using a native app instead of simply surfing the web. Learn how to create indexable PWAs here. 

Diagram showing a graphical diagram a PWA
Diagram showing a graphical diagram a PWA

Mobile SEO tools 

Mobile SEO tools that can be a big help on your path to becoming more mobile friendly include: 

  • Google Search Console: It will help evaluate your site and determine how it is doing in search results.  
  • Fetch as Google: This tool will allow you know how Google bots view and render your content. The errors provided by the tool will let you know what changes you need to make.  
  • Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test: a test for things like tap target size, meta viewport settings, text size & readability at mobile viewport, page speed all wrapped into a simple yes/no check
  • Mobile Usability  tool: This tool provides an overview of your website’s posts and pages that aren’t mobile-friendly according to Google rules. This insight will allow you to make the necessary changes.
  • PageSpeed Insights: Insights will benchmark your website speed metrics and offer technical change recommendations that can be made.
  • Specialised SEO crawl tools like SiteBulb, ScreamingFrog and DeepCrawl can identify issues that affect mobile at a much larger scale

In conclusion 

Optimising for mobile SEO is a continuous process as mobile browsers evolve, Google makes adjustments to their Mobile Index and best-practise changes. You can use the tools we’ve mentioned to help benchmark where you’re at, and suggestions from there to start making changes to optimise your website for mobile users and as a result of that you will be optimising for mobile SEO as well.

About the author

Kieran is an SEO Account Manager at Synapse. He has a passion for the web, and a mix of hands-on digital experience in multiple roles. Kieran has helped companies grow for over 4 years. He takes a highly analytical approach to delivering bespoke SEO campaigns that drive serious growth!

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