One of the most frequently asked questions about the mobile web is around the topic of mobile SEO.
What does this mysterious activity entail? What should you do to rank high in mobile searches? And how are search engines responding to the trend of ever-growing mobile web usage? You’ll find answers to all of these questions below.
But let’s start with the basics!
Mobile SEO describes the activity of doing search engine optimization to increase your website’s visibility in mobile searches.
There’s one very good reason to dive into mobile SEO; search is the number one web-based activity on mobile devices, and the smaller number of search results delivered in mobile search are increasing competition to get to the top.
Fortunately for marketers, mobile SEO is based on very similar principles to general SEO. A website which quickly and easily resolves a user’s search query will always rank higher than one that doesn’t — regardless of what platform the user is browsing on. So already having a decent SEO strategy in place puts you in a good position to be successful on mobile.
However, there’s something you should consider before you breathe a giant sigh of relief and cross out ‘figure out mobile SEO’ off of your to-do list:
Google and other search engines have started to actively favour smartphone-friendly websites above those that make mobile browsing difficult.
To better serve mobile searchers, search engines have included a number of new factors and requirements for ranking websites on mobile.
How does this affect your SEO strategy? Well, in addition to providing great content to mobile visitors, you also need to consider your technical setup, site speed, and more.
In this post, I’ll outline a couple of mobile SEO best practices that are likely to make the fastest impact on your rankings — and if it’s something you’re interested in learning more about, check out our recent deep-dive into Google’s new technical requirements for websites, The Decision Maker’s Complete Guide to Mobile SEO.
A Little Refresher on General and Mobile SEO Principles
Google and other search engines create an index of the Web by crawling website pages. They check each page for ‘signals’ that define the context of the page, so they can better match it to different search queries.
Each signal is only part of the sum that makes up a page’s overall ranking for a particular search term.
Publishing high quality content remains one of the most important signals you can use to create a successful SEO strategy across any platform — your website has got to be filled with relevant content that people want to interact with, and you should make it easy for them to interact with it.
That said, there are additional signals you’ll want to consider to be successful on mobile.
For example, if a separate mobile site exists, does the desktop and mobile versions of pages link properly to one another? Is location relevant to this search? Will the site load fast enough on mobile devices?
Four Common Mobile SEO Best Practices
1. Remove mobile popups that block access to the rest of the site
If you’ve ever loaded up a site on your phone only to be faced with full page interstitial asking you to download an app or go to the desktop version of the site, you already know that this is non-user-friendly practice.
The only metric to go up in this case is your bounce rate.
And because users aren’t happy, Google has begun explicitly discouraging this practice.
2. Remove all Flash elements
Avoiding Flash has been a general mobile best practice for years, since most mobile devices don’t support it.
However, it’s something that is still being overlooked by many companies. A large number of banners, videos, audio, and even full-fledged websites remain unaccesible to mobile visitors.
Despite the fact that Google is able to crawl Flash content, the majority of your mobile visitors won’t be able to see or interact with it, so it’s better put that content into HTML.
3. If you redirect users to a mobile site, make sure you redirect them to the right place
If you have a separate mobile site (e.g. m.example.com), you need to make sure that it, and the desktop site (e.g. example.com), have bi-directional redirects set correctly. From Google’s updated best-practices guide:
Google updated annotation requirements for websites that use separate mobile URLs (including almost all proxy-based mobile websites). They now require two-way (that is, “bi-directional”) annotation. For any large website, being fully compliant with these annotations is a significant, yet important, undertaking.
If you have a separate mobile URL, 100% compliance with these requirements means modifying the page markup for every page on both your desktop and mobile websites.
It’s hard work: over half of the websites in the Internet Retailer Top 500 fail to set their canonical tag for pages other than the homepage. And 95% fail to set the corresponding desktop annotation.
4. Provide the same content to both mobile and desktop visitors
Marketers and designers have spent a huge amount of time trying to define ‘the mobile context’ and to adjust mobile content and site features to match this mystical use- case.
This has resulted in many sites paring down the desktop web experience into a ‘light’ version for mobile users.
However, your customers (and now Google!) expect to be able to do anything on their devices that they can do on a desktop. And this doesn’t mean simply providing a ‘go to desktop site’ alternative either — it requires total content parity between the desktop and mobile sites.
If you’ve already invested time and resources into creating a killer SEO strategy, chances are that you also want to dominate on mobile as well.
The good news is, most of the optimizations you make to your content are likely to have an all-round positive effect, no matter the platform.
You just have to remember that there are other factors that go into mobile search, and a lot of them have something to do with the way your site is set up!
If you’d like more information about the technological approaches to getting the most out of mobile SEO, don’t forget to check out our open HTML resource ‘The Decision Makers Guide to Mobile SEO‘.
Have a question? Leave me a comment below!