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Mobile SEO: A Definitive Guide

Updated: Jun 25, 2018



In March 2018, Google announced the launch of its mobile-first indexing. How will the new mobile-first indexing affect your website's mobile search ranking?


With increasing global mobile penetration rates, marketers and web developers need to optimize their websites for mobile users.


In this guide, we will share everything you need to know about Mobile SEO and how to effectively optimize your website for mobile users.




Contents

CHAPTER 1: What Is Mobile SEO?

CHAPTER 2: How To Achieve Higher Google Search Ranking For Mobile?

CHAPTER 3: How To Mobile Optimize Your Website?

CHAPTER 4: How To Optimize UX Design For Mobile?

CHAPTER 5: Expert Mobile SEO Tips And Best Practices

CONCLUSION: Start Mobile Optimizing Your Website



CHAPTER 1: What Is Mobile SEO?


In this chapter, we will help you understand the basics of Mobile SEO and why it is important for your website.


In the subsequent chapters, we will provide step-by-step instructions on how to implement advance Mobile SEO strategies and techniques.


What Is Mobile SEO?


Mobile SEO is the technique of optimizing of websites for viewing on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Mobile optimization also includes making website resources accessible to search engine web crawlers.



Why Is Mobile SEO Important?


Over 56% of all Google searches are done on mobile devices. That's 144 billion more queries performed on mobile than desktop!


Not surprisingly, Mobile SEO is the future of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). And that is why Google enhanced its algorithm for mobile search.



Why Optimize For Google Mobile SEO?


In this guide, we will focus on Mobile SEO for Google search. Why Google? In 2017, 95% of all mobile searches are done on Google.


Given that more users are searching for information on their mobile devices, Google has to constantly optimize its mobile search algorithm to give users a good mobile experience.


In 2015, Google launched its Mobile Friendly Update (or Mobilegeddon).


What is the Mobile Friendly Update?


An algorithm that will penalize websites that are not mobile-friendly (for searches performed on smartphones).


Then in 2018, Google launched its Mobile First Indexing in 2018, to prioritize the indexing mobile webpages over desktop versions.



What Is Google’s Mobile-First Indexing?


Google’s Mobile-First Indexing ranks the search results based on the mobile version of your webpage first. And this occurs even if users are searching from a desktop.


Before this update, Google looked at the desktop version and ranked webpages based on content and relevance to search queries.


As the name suggests, “mobile-first” indexing is not "mobile-only" indexing. If a website does not have a mobile-friendly version, the webpage will still be indexed using the desktop index.


That doesn't sound too bad. Right?


But, the lack of a mobile-friendly design could negatively impact your website's search ranking. And given that most users today use mobile devices, having a mobile optimized website is definitely a benefit.



Will Google’s Mobile-First Index Impact You?


Well, it depends on your website.


If your website has a mobile responsive design or a dynamic serving website where the primary content and markup is the same across both mobile and desktop version, you will not need to make any changes.


Your website is good to go if,

  • the layout and content adapts to the screen size of all devices (mobile responsive)

  • webpages load quickly on both mobile and desktop versions

  • content is not hidden from mobile version

  • webpages have working internal and external links

If your website does not have these features, your search rankings might decline with Google's Mobile-First Indexing.


The following chapters are dedicated to helping you optimize your website for Mobile SEO, identify and fix existing issues.




CHAPTER 2: How To Achieve Higher Google Search Ranking For Mobile?


For businesses to succeed today, they have to use Mobile SEO techniques to optimize their website for mobile devices.


As more customers use mobile devices to search for products and services, you cannot afford to give a poor user experience by showing a small version of your desktop website.


Fortunately, implementing a mobile website can be easy. In this chapter, we will compare a few different ways you can implement your mobile website.



3 Techniques For Implementing A Mobile Website

There are three main techniques for implementing a mobile website that is mobile responsive. Here is a comparison of the three methods.



1. Mobile Responsive Web Design


Using a mobile responsive web design is the best method for building a mobile website. This method uses the same HTML code and URL regardless of your users' device (e.g. desktop or mobile) and can optimize page layout and content based on screen size.


Responsive design is Google's preferred technique by being the most SEO-friendly option. The method provides a great user experience, allows users to easily share links, minimizes duplicated content and does not require redirects.


2. Dynamic Serving


When you show content dynamically, you use the same URL regardless of device but generate different HTML codes for each device.


Although the dynamic serving technique is better than using separate URLs, it is still prone to errors. For example, showing your desktop website to mobile users. You can avoid this by having vary HTTP headers.


We DO NOT recommend using the dynamic serving technique as it is tedious to maintain and create different headers and versions of your content for all devices.


3. Separate URLs


This technique serves different HTML codes for different user devices and on separate URLs. It is done by detecting the user's device and redirecting them to the page optimized for that specific device.


Separate URLs have declined in popularity because businesses had to maintain separate URLs for each page. In terms of SEO, having multiple URLs requires complicated “rel=canonical” and “rel=alternative” tags to redirect users.


We DO NOT recommend using the separate URLs technique. It is tedious to maintain all URLs and the least Mobile SEO-friendly technique.




CHAPTER 3: How To Mobile Optimize Your Website?


Now that you have a mobile website, it’s time to start with your Mobile SEO.


In this chapter we will show you how to optimize your mobile website for Google and other search engines.



Use Google’s Mobile Usability Tests


Use these free Google tools to evaluate the mobile usability of your website. Identify any errors and rectify them.


1. Google Search Console's Mobile Usability Test


Go to "Search Traffic" > "Mobile Usability"


The mobile usability test allows you to find out if mobile users are having trouble viewing your mobile site. For example, the tool will let you know if you are using Flash or fonts that are too small for mobile users.



2. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test


Go to this website and enter your website URL.


Googlebot smartphone will access and evaluate your webpage for mobile optimization.


Google will also identify any issues for you to take corrective action.


With Google's Mobile-First index, any issues could affect your webpage's search rankings. Google's Mobile-Friendly test is a great tool to help you mobile optimize your website.



Don't Block Web Crawlers


Do you block web crawlers from accessing JavaScript, CSS or any part of your website's code? If Google can't fully crawl your webpages, they can't tell if its mobile-friendly or not. And this may affect your mobile search rankings.


How do you identify issues?


Firstly, check your robots.txt file. A robots.txt file tells Google's web crawlers not to crawl or index certain parts of your website. The file is usually found at yourdomain.com/robots.txt.


Go to Google Search Console > Crawl > robots.txt Tester


Next check if you are blocking Google's web crawlers from any part of your website. If you don't have any blocked resources, you are good to go.


Go to Google Search Console > Google Index > Blocked Resources


Avoid Annoying Ads


Everyone hates annoying ads and pop-ups.


And so does Google. Google recently announced its commitment to following the Better Ads Standards. Publishers that do not comply will have their violating ads removed and it may affect their website search rankings.

Increasingly, Google has been focused on providing users with the best user experience. If a huge pop-up blocks your webpage content, it might increase your bounce rate and reduce your search ranking.



How Does Google See Your Webpages?


Although it's good to see a list of potential Mobile Optimization issues, actually seeing how Google views your webpage can be much more useful.


Go to Google Search Console > Crawl > Fetch as Google > Select "Mobile" > Click "FETCH AND RENDER"


Compare what the Googlebot sees with what your visitors will see. You can even scroll down the webpage to check that all content (e.g. images, videos) were crawled by the Googlebot.



Show Mobile Users Everything


In the past, web designers would block certain content from mobile users. For example, they might hide content to improve the mobile experience and reduce clutter.


Should you use "Read More" buttons and tabs to hide text? Web designers commonly use these features to summarize content and make webpages visually appealing to mobile users.


But with Google's Mobile-first index, hidden text may not have the same weight in search ranking. Either show all the text on your mobile site or use focus keywords in the summary.



CHAPTER 4: How To Optimize UX Design For Mobile?


As SEO evolves, optimizing your website is less about title tags and meta descriptions and more about user experience.


In fact, Google's algorithm specifically looks at user signals (e.g. bounce rate) and page speed as search ranking factors. And if Google thinks that your website is frustrating mobile users, they will decrease your search rankings.


In this chapter, we will share some simple tips on how to optimize UX design for your mobile website.



Mobile Page Speed


How fast should my mobile pages load? Google recommends that mobile pages load in under a second.


Although it might sound easy, but it is incredibly tough to achieve. Fortunately, there are some free tools that will help you increase your page speed.


1. Google's PageSpeed Insights Tool


Google's PageSpeed Insights measures how fast your website loads on mobile and gives you actionable recommendations.


2. WebPageTest.org


WebPageTest.org offers a comprehensive analysis of your mobile page speed.


By default, the tool will test your website on a desktop browser. Remember to select a mobile browser (e.g. Galaxy S7) from the menu.



The performance report shows insights such as:

  1. Key metrics like first byte time

  2. A speed load waterfall to identify bottlenecks

  3. A video showing how users see your webpage when it loads

  4. A list of suggestions to optimize your mobile webpage



Simple Layout & Easy-To-Read Content


Do users have to expand, pinch, scroll or squint to read your mobile content? Then visitors will leave your website in a heartbeat.


For example, you DO NOT want your mobile site to look like these.

Instead, you want your layout to be clean and simple with big, bold, legible fonts.

How to make your mobile content more readable?

  • Use font size larger than 14px

  • Use short paragraphs (1-2 lines per paragraph)

  • Between 50-60 characters for each line length

  • Ensure contrast between text and background

  • Ensure buttons and menus are large



Use HTML5 For Videos & Animations


Do you use rich media like videos to engage your audience?


Flash videos and animations won't work on mobile devices. Instead, use HTML5 for videos and animations.


With that said, rich media elements take time to load. Avoid excessive use of videos and animations to boost your page speed.



Use Mobile Responsive Design


As discussed in Chapter 2, having a mobile responsive design allows your mobile pages to be viewed on any mobile device.


Using a "Viewport Content" tag will change the size of your mobile pages to fit any device.


Viewport Content Tag:

<meta name viewport content "width = device-width, initial-scale =1">


Quick & Easy UX Design Tips


These quick and easy tips will help you improve your mobile user experience.


1. Make Header Images Small


When users search for information, they want their answer instantly. Which means they don't to scroll through huge header images.


Instead, use smaller header images or banners for mobile users.


2. Use White Spaces


Using white spaces or negative spaces between sections of text, buttons and images can improve layout and reduce clutter.


This is especially important for content you want to rank high on Google search. If a user has trouble reading your content, they will leave your page and head back to the search results.


Using white spaces will increase time spent on your website and reduce bounce rates.


3. Add Social Sharing Icons


Do you want visitors to share your content and follow you on social media?


Then add a social media bar at the bottom of your webpages. And avoid small social media icons in your header.


4. Adopt One Hand Usability


Research has shown that 49% of people use one hand to operate their mobile phones.


Designing your mobile site for one-hand usability can reduce frustrations and improve the user experience for your mobile visitors.



CHAPTER 5: Expert Mobile SEO Tips And Best Practices


Now that you have a mobile optimized site, we will help you boost your organic traffic.


In the last chapter of this Mobile SEO guide, we will cover some expert Mobile SEO tips, effective strategies and best practices.



Use Google Analytics To Identify Issues


With Google's Mobile-First indexing, Google will put more emphasis on mobile UX signals (e.g. bounce rate).


As such, digital marketers need to pay close attention to key UX signals for your mobile webpages.


Using Google Analytics, we can compare both Desktop and Mobile bounce rates and average session duration of each webpage.


Go to Google Analytics > Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages


Then Click Secondary Dimension > Device Category


If your bounce rate and average session duration are similar, we can infer that your webpage is mobile optimized.


What if there is a huge gap between your desktop and mobile? Then it's time to investigate further by viewing that webpage on your mobile phone.


You will probably notice some issues with the webpage (e.g. alignment issues). Remedy these issues then move on with the guide.



Boost Your Mobile Page Speed


In January 2018, Google announced the "Speed Update" that it will use speed as a ranking signal for mobile searches.


Here's how you can boost your mobile page speed.


1. Compress Images


High resolution images can make your website look professional, but can also make it incredibly slow. You need to achieve a balance between aesthetics and page speed.


As a quick guide, save images in .jpeg format (avoid .png), you probably won't need the extra detail.


Optimal web image size guide:

  • Fine art or photographs - Up to 100 KB

  • Full size banners - 60 to 70 KB

  • Web or blog images - 20 to 60 KB

  • Icons or logos - less than 20 KB


2. Minimize Heavy Fonts


Few would think that font type affects page speed.


Think of each character as a small image. Stylish and thick fonts increase font weight. Heavy fonts like Gotham and Raleway will take more time to load and reduce page speed.


Font formatting can also affect your font weight. The use of bold, underline and italics will result in slower page speeds.


Does not mean you should avoid heavy fonts? Vary font types can enhance your branding and improve your user experience. Here are some useful tips:

  • Limit heavy fonts to titles and subtitles

  • Use light fonts (e.g. Arial, Times New Roman) for paragraphs

  • Use only 2 to 3 font types for your mobile website


3. Implement Browser Caching


Instead of fetching information from a network every time users open a page, caching temporarily stores recently download webpages and makes webpages load faster.


4. Utilize Content Delivery Networks (CDN)


What is CDNs? It is a geographically distributed network of servers and data centers.


The basic idea is that downloading information from a server near the end-user will reduce the latency (or time) taken to load webpages.



Optimize Titles & Descriptive Tags


Do you get most of your organic traffic from mobile?


Then you want to optimize your webpage titles and meta description tags specifically for mobile search results.


What's the difference between desktop and mobile search titles and meta descriptions? Well, Google gives you more title tag characters but shorter meta descriptions for mobile.


Although there is no fixed length for title and descriptive tags displayed on mobile SERP, here's a good guide:


Desktop

Titles: 70 characters

Descriptions: 150 to 160 characters


Mobile

Titles: 78 characters

Descriptions: 110 to 130 characters


What this means is that if your title tag has 70 or fewer characters, your title will NOT get cut off on both desktop and mobile devices.


But if most of your organic traffic comes from mobile searches, you may want to add more keywords and expand your title tag to 78 characters.


Although your title will be cut off for desktop searches, it's a small price to pay to increase your mobile CTR.



Use Schema Structured Data to Stand Out


Schema structured data allows you to display richer information in Google's search results.


Structured data is very effective in attracting attention and increasing your CTR, especially for mobile searches.


For example, rich data such as reviews, ratings and recipes can be displayed in Google's mobile carousel and search results.



Should You Implement AMP?


Accelerated Mobile Pages (or AMP) is a library to build fast and user-friendly webpages. AMP webpages typically load 2x faster than normal webpages.


Why AMP?


Firstly, the AMP project was spearheaded by Google to improve the search user-experience by loading webpages instantly. The assumption is that Google will give AMP websites higher search rankings.


Since July 2018, page speed has been a ranking factor for mobile searches. But it is not the only factor and will likely affect a small percent of the slowest webpages.

"The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content." - Google Blog

Other than higher search ranking, Google also shows an AMP icon next to mobile search results that may boost your mobile CTR.


But does it make sense? Probably not.


Firstly, AMP limits your webpage's design and functionality. By implementing AMP, you are giving up full control of your branding and advertising.


In order to help your website load faster, AMP has restrictions on CSS which will make your webpages look generic. You will not be able to customize the look and feel of your pages.


AMP is still lacks many functionalities (e.g. infinite scroll and light box) and that can affect the usability of your website.


Secondly, implementing AMP for your website can be detrimental to your link building efforts.


Why? When someone links your AMP pages, they will be directed to Google's domain (e.g. google.com/amp/mywebsite/). This will boost Google's domain authority but not yours.


Google has cited security and privacy concerns because AMP pages are cached in order to increase page speed.


Finally, in many cases, implementing AMP involves developing your entire website from scratch. Is it worth the development time, effort and cost?


As more internet service providers roll out mobile 5G networks, webpages will load instantly on mobile devices and will diminish the benefits derived from AMP.


Should you implement AMP? For most website publishers, the time, effort and costs required to implement AMP outweighs its benefits.




Conclusion: Start Mobile Optimizing Your Website


We have come to the end of our Mobile SEO guide.


Get started! Use our Mobile SEO techniques to optimize your mobile website and increase organic traffic.


We would love to hear from you! Post your comments and questions below. Or contact us directly if you need help optimizing your mobile website.


Thank you for reading!



Vorbly | Marketing Made Easy

Mobile SEO Services For Businesses


Recommended Article:

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): A Definitive Guide

A Beginner's Guide to Search Engine Optimization