The Definitive Guide to Mobile SEO
As mobile devices like tablets, smartphones, and (now) smart watches start to overtake home computers in popularity, optimizing your site for mobile searches is becoming more important than ever. For years, optimizing the layout and presentation of your site for mobile devices has been an important factor in determining your domain authority and rank for specific queries, but now, “mobile SEO” is transforming into its own set of unique strategies.
Throughout this guide, we’ll cover the basics of mobile SEO and how you can maximize the visibility and appeal of your site on mobile devices everywhere.
Ensuring Google Approves of Your Mobile Site
Before you start trying to optimize specifically for a mobile experience, you have to ensure that Google approves of your mobile site. That means having your website perfectly capable of loading when accessed by mobile devices.
There are three types of mobile layouts that are considered the standard for modern websites: responsive designs, dynamic content, and mobile URLs. All three are viewed equally by Google, but some webmasters may have a preference for one over the others.
A responsive design is one that automatically detects the type of device being used to access it, and adjusts the layout of the site accordingly. For example, if your site is being accessed from a desktop machine, it may display traditionally, but if it’s being accessed from a smaller, vertical smartphone screen, it might “stack” some of the horizontal features to maximize the user experience.
Responsive designs use one URL and one design, which makes it very convenient and efficient for developers. It’s relatively easy to incorporate, and it consolidates an otherwise multifaceted development effort. The only potential drawback of the responsive web design is loading time—since mobile users will technically be loading the entire site, it may take longer to download than a specific mobile landing page. Still, responsive design is the most popular mobile option today.
Dynamic serving content is similar to a responsive design, since only one URL is used no matter what type of device is accessing the content. However, under dynamic content, you’ll actually be serving up totally different versions of your website. For example, you’ll have a “desktop” version of your site loaded up and a “mobile” version of your site loaded up, and you’ll serve the version that corresponds with the device trying to access it.
This allows you to serve each device more specifically. However, it takes much more work to develop, implement, and manage since you’ll need to create a version for almost every type of device that could access your page.
Mobile URLs are an old-fashioned way of getting your site optimized for mobile, but they still work fine for some businesses. Rather than trying to adapt on the fly the way responsive designs do, with mobile URLs, you’ll essentially be building a separate, mobile version of your site on a different URL. When a user access your site from a mobile device, you’ll automatically redirect them to the proper URL, usually a variant of your primary URL.
Mobile URLs are typically more difficult to manage. You’ll have to ensure that your desktop and mobile versions redirect appropriately, which can be difficult. Otherwise, your users will view an inappropriate version of your website, and they may be left with a terrible first impression.
Optimizing for Mobile-Specific Searches
Users searching on mobile devices, like smartphones, are searching using the same index as desktop or home searchers. That means, as long as your site is present on that index, both desktop and mobile users will be able to see you. However, there are a handful of specific ranking signals on mobile devices that will interfere with your rank:
- Desktop and Mobile Presence. Google tends to favor sites with both a desktop and a mobile presence. If you only have a mobile site, you aren’t going to rank as high, even if the majority of your searches are on mobile. Make sure your links are suitable for both desktop and mobile loading.
- Page Loading Times. Page loading times have always mattered—the faster your site’s pages load, the higher your site is going to rank. But on mobile, the preference for fast-loading web pages is even more extreme. Google recommends loading above-the-fold content in under one second. Optimize your loading speed for mobile as much as possible.
- URL Redirects. Redirects are an important part of many sites, and an unavoidable one in many circumstances. However, adding a redirect essentially adds more time to load the destination page, which means a lagging user experience, and a lower rank as a result. Avoid redirects as much as you can.
- Annoying Popups. It’s tempting to include an overlay page or a popup ad on your mobile site, especially if you’re trying to get users to download your mobile app, but Google has a firm belief that such advertising efforts are damaging to overall user experience, and as a result, you could rank lower if you feature one. You’ll have to make the call as to whether the increased conversion rate from the popup ad or the increased traffic from the higher rank is more important.
- Full Content. Your webpages can’t just be partially optimized for mobile. If there are any areas of your page that aren’t optimized for mobile—such as flash animations or a video that won’t play—your ranking for mobile searches could drop as a result. Be sure to check every nook and cranny of your pages for potential non-optimized content.
How to Adjust Your Current SEO Strategy
For the most part, mobile SEO is going to function the same as traditional SEO. You’re still going to function on user experience, onsite content, offsite backlinks, and the same navigational improvements that lead to higher ranks. In terms of your ongoing strategy, there isn’t much you’ll need to improve on as long as your strategy is currently in order.
To start things off, you’ll need to optimize your site for a mobile layout. The specifics are up to you, but you’ll need to ensure that your site loads appropriately and quickly—perform multiple tests on multiple devices to ensure that your site is loading the way it should, and don’t hesitate to consult Google Webmaster Tools to see if your site is registering as optimized for mobile. From there, you’ll need to do periodic tests for your page loading times and to ensure that the full content of your site is available on all mobile devices.
Mobile SEO is a big deal, and will only grow in importance over the next few years. The sooner you address any mobile issues with your current website, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits of ranking higher for mobile searches. Thankfully, mobile SEO is more about building and maintaining an active, mobile-optimized website than it is performing a series of ongoing changes and adjustments, but you’ll still need to keep an eye on your site to ensure it’s operating at its best. The faster it loads, and the easier it is for the user to view your content, the more likely you’ll be to show up above the fold in mobile searches.
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