Mobile is taking over the search world. More people are using their mobile devices to perform searches, mobile searches are gaining popularity over desktop searches, and search engines like Google are stepping up their efforts to provide the best possible mobile experience to the greatest number of users. Mobile devices, like smartphones, tablets, and the upcoming plethora of smart watches, are starting to take over the realm of online experience, and if you want to survive in the business world, you’ll need to stay ahead of the curve.
In the early days of smartphones, there were critics who claimed that smartphones were just a fad, or that people wouldn’t rely on them to perform searches due to small screen sizes and difficult interfaces. But the trends of the past several years have proven the naysayers wrong: smartphones are here to stay, and creating a mobile experience that suits those mobile devices is imperative:
Optimizing for mobile isn’t complicated, but it isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. There’s no single patch of code or button you can push to magically alter your site to be compatible with mobile devices. However, you do have several options.
Responsive websites are optimized for mobile at a design level. They are created in such a way that allows the components of the page—such as the banners, blocks of text, headlines, and so on—to organize themselves on the page based on the size of the screen that’s accessing the webpage. These components may flex or stack to accommodate a smaller screen size, so a desktop user and a mobile user would both be able to easily navigate the site (even though the layout might be different).
There are a number of advantages to responsive websites. Since the design is flexible enough to adjust to any screen, every type of mobile device will have a customized experience. However, the “responsive” element only needs to be built once. There is only one URL for your website, which makes it easy to develop and easier to manage over time, and it’s relatively simple to implement. The loading times for responsive sites tends to be slightly slower than the other options, but that’s generally a small price to pay for a universally adaptable website.
Mobile URLs are exactly what they sound like—they’re separate, customized URLs that exist for the mobile version of a webpage. For example, if your traditional website was www.example.com, your new website could be www.mobile.example.com. Whenever a user accesses your site using a mobile device, you can automatically re-point them to the mobile version of your site (and provide a link to toggle between these versions, just in case a user wants to switch).
Mobile URLs are starting to become antiquated, but they’re still useful for some businesses. They take more time to create than a responsive design, since they require an independent creation, and require more extensive ongoing upkeep. They’re also vulnerable to fault points in the redirect system—if you accidentally direct a mobile user to the desktop version, they may have a poor experience.
The third option for mobile optimization is closer in theory to responsive design. Like with a responsive design, dynamic content structures require a single URL to house both a mobile version and a desktop version. The difference is, in a dynamic content setting, you’ll have twin versions of your site—the desktop and mobile versions—ready to display based on the type of device and screen size trying to access them.
This is an improvement over mobile URLs, since you’ll only need to manage one URL, and you won’t have to worry about creating and sustaining a redirect. However, there are some flaws that may prevent you from achieving the best results. Creating one mobile version can be problematic, since there are hundreds of different mobile devices that could theoretically access your site.
Google doesn’t care how you optimize your site for mobile, as long as it is optimized in some way. Whether you choose responsive, mobile URLs, or dynamic content, Google will consider your site optimized for mobile, and you’ll rank accordingly. Your users likely won’t care what type of mobile-optimization strategy you use either, as long as you’re giving them the best possible experience.
That being said, your decision should come down to your own personal preferences. From a technical standpoint, responsive designs are generally the cleanest; they only require one redesign to be complete, and the ongoing maintenance is pretty much nonexistent, at least compared to dynamic content or mobile URL strategies. Plus, you’ll eliminate the vulnerability of failing to accurately judge the type of device being used to access it.
After optimizing your design and structure for mobile, there are a handful of ongoing strategies you can use to boost your rank in mobile searches, even beyond the strategies of a traditional SEO campaign:
Aside from ongoing SEO updates and minor tweaks to the design and functionality of your site, mobile optimization really is a one-time process. With your one-time investment, you’ll instantly gain more favor with your user base, gain more visibility in search engines, and get an edge over your competition. If you haven’t yet optimized your site for mobile, now’s the time to get it done.