Mobile SEO has been a major focus of marketers for the past few years, as the rise in popularity of mobile devices has caused some significant changes in the optimization industry. Mobile traffic has now overtaken desktop traffic in total numbers, and major players like Google have made their stance on the issue clear—earlier this year, Google released a “Mobilegeddon” update that penalized any site that wasn’t properly optimized for mobile devices.
Optimizing a site for mobile devices is important to rank well in search results, but unfortunately, a handful of myths have arisen about mobile SEO as a strategy. I’d like to take a moment and clear some of these up, to make the mobile SEO world just a little less confusing for all the well-intentioned marketers out there:
First, I want to take mild issue with the term “mobile SEO.” It implies that traditional SEO is “desktop SEO,” and that “mobile SEO” is a wholly separate entity. There are definitely some differences between them, but there are a greater number of similarities. Basic SEO best practices like proper coding, sitemapping, meta text writing, content optimizing, ongoing content, and several dozen other “basic” ranking factors I won’t take the time to list are relevant to both desktop and mobile SEO. There’s only a handful of differentiating strategies, which mostly revolve around offering seamless mobile functionality for your site, that distinguish the two (and these factors affect both desktop and mobile ranks!)
There’s a persistent idea that mobile search and search results are totally different from desktop counterparts. First, people like to claim that mobile queries are shorter, or that they’re more conversational due to voice-based search. Even a few years ago, this wasn’t the case. Now that voice-based search and apps have advanced further for both desktop and mobile devices, user queries have certainly changed—but they aren’t very different between devices. Similarly, mobile and desktop results have different layouts—but as evidenced by Google’s recent switch to a local 3-pack ranking system for local results, these are getting closer and closer together in form and function.
The separation of “desktop” and “mobile” SEO is probably to blame for this myth. For a time, mobile-specific URLs were one of the best and most efficient ways to set up a mobile site. Mobile sites were comparatively rarely accessed, and mobile URLs were an easy way to make sure your site was properly formatted for mobile. Today, responsive design is a much more popular means of optimizing for mobile, thanks to its easy implementation and flexible parameters.
Responsive design is fantastic, easy, and effective to make a site mobile-compliant for practically any device—that being said, it isn’t necessary. You can still have a mobile-specific URL or subdomain and suffer no ranking penalty. As long as your mobile users don’t notice the difference, Google won’t either. Personally, I recommend a responsive design for any modern site since it’s the easiest to manage and least time-consuming when it comes to testing, but the choice is yours.
Even before it announced its landmark Mobilegeddon update, Google was more than willing to help webmasters get their sites ready and functional for mobile devices. It has, and still does offer a mobile compliance test to let you know exactly how your site stacks up for mobile devices—even letting you know if there are specific pages of your site that aren’t functional. The problem is, this is a pass/fail test that only covers the basics—if you pass, that’s a good start, but it doesn’t guarantee that your site is user friendly or that it will rank well in mobile search results. Check all of your content to make sure it loads properly, work to reduce loading times, and put mobile users in priority consideration when it comes to designing interactive elements.
If you have a mobile app, it’s possible to give it more visibility for certain user queries. Accordingly, having a mobile app can boost your brand’s overall visibility in search engines on mobile devices. That being said, a dedicated app is not necessary for every mobile SEO strategy—you’ll suffer no penalty by not having one.
This myth stemmed from a recent statement by John Mueller that mobile-only sites are completely fine—that having no desktop equivalent will suffer no ranking penalty. This is definitely true, and it’s fine if you want to go mobile-only, but don’t misconstrue this information; mobile-only isn’t inherently better in any way. Instead, it’s tolerated. If you have any desktop traffic at all, it’s worth considering it in your UX design.
Don’t buy into these all-too-common mobile SEO myths. Yes, having a site optimized for mobile devices is important, and yes, mobile and desktop search results do have differences, but you’re better off sticking with the strategies you know work for sure and avoid overcomplicating things. As always, keep watch for new updates as they roll out and listen to what Google is telling you—there aren’t many buried secrets about how to improve a site or how to rank well, regardless of what devices you target.