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How to do a Mobile SEO Audit: Identifying and Maximizing your Website Mobile Potential

31 December 2013 BY

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Originally posted on January 21 2013, a post Aleyda Solis.

Thanks to a highly anticipated explosion in 2012 and an expected growing trend, mobile is meant to be one of the top priorities for online businesses this year.

Although I’ve already written a guide to get started with mobile SEO and spoke about the main criteria to identify mobile SEO opportunities and specify a strategy, I would like to share the different steps to perform a mobile SEO audit.

The goal of the mobile SEO audit is to provide a full vision of a site present organic mobile activity allowing to give recommendations to improve its mobile search visibility, traffic and conversions. To achieve this goal I divide the mobile SEO audit process in the following phases:

1. The Mobile SEO Need – Why it’s important 

Let’s make sure we’re on the same page and start by understanding –if you still haven’t– why Mobile SEO is so important now. Despite smartphones and tablets technology advancements a specifically targeted approach towards SEO for mobile devices is needed due to:

  • Mobile search activity: Answering to specific needs of users on the go, more locally focused that might need specifically targeted content offering.
  • Mobile platform characteristics: With different formats, speed and technology support that can restrict the correct visualization a site content.
  • Mobile browsing behavior: Mobile users browse sites and consume content differently with their mobiles and need mobile websites ready to answer these needs.
  • Mobile users growth: The highly expected explosion of the mobile ecosystem has started and Google has introduced specific search bots for smartphones to make sure they effectively identify mobile related content, giving a better search experience.

Google has also published a guide to build mobile optimized Websites and launched a Web to help you build a Mobile site, so really, what are you waiting for? You’re lucky today… this is a great place to start.

Google Mobile Search Growth

2. Choosing a Mobile Organization – The Architecture Alternatives

The next step is to learn about the distinguishing structural characteristics of Mobile Websites that affect their SEO processes.

Although Google recommends to use responsive Web design to develop smartphone optimized sites, it’s not always necessarily possible because of the site unique characteristics or technical restrictions.

In general, there are three main approaches to develop a site targeting mobile devices (feature phones, smartphones and tablets):

Mobile Site Alternatives

All of these have with their own characteristics, pros and cons:

2.1. The Responsive Web Design Approach

Responsive Web Design is a Web design approach that uses CSS3 Media Queries and a fluid grid with relative units in order to display a flexible design that automatically adapts according to the device used by the visitor: mobile, smartphone, tablet, desktop, etc. without redirecting or referring to another page.

Some of the sites that feature a responsive Web design are StarbucksMashable or The Next Web:

Responsive Web Design Example

The pros and cons of a responsive web design approach from a mobile SEO perspective are:

Responsive Web Design Pros & Cons

With a responsive Web design approach you won’t split link popularity among many URLs targeting the different devices and will avoid any content duplication issue, maximizing and reusing the same information by changing its format based on the device.

Nonetheless, this approach would require a possible site redesign and won’t provide a highly targeted, differentiated user experience and content offering based on the used device.

2.2. The Dynamic Serving Approach

With dynamic serving your Web server needs to respond with a different piece of HTML on the same URL depending on the user agent requesting the page: Mobile users and bots should see a mobile specific page version served on the same address than the desktop one, that should be only accessible to desktop users and search bots.

Some of the sites that feature a dynamic serving mobile site are ZillowTumblrCNN:

CNN Dynamic Serving Site

The pros and cons of a dynamic serving approach from a mobile SEO perspective are:

Dynamic Serving Pros & Cons

This approach gives you the alternative of creating a specifically targeted page for each type of device if you need to (desktop, feature phone, smartphone or tablet), giving a highly targeted user experience without splitting link popularity since they’re all going to be shown through the same URL, based on the identified user agent. Nonetheless, the maintenance costs and implementation complexities can be high.

2.3. The Parallel Mobile Site Approach 

With a parallel mobile site you will create an additional mobile site URL structure targeting users accessing via mobile devices, that will be shown under the “m” subdomain. In this approach visitors and search bots that end-up in the wrong site version are 301-redirected to the correct one.

For example, if a mobile user or googlebot mobile try to access the yourname.com/category page, they will be 301-redirected to the mobile version of that specific page: m.yourname.com/category. The same will happen the other way around, with desktop visitors and search bots 301-redirected to their correct desktop page version.

Some of the sites that feature a parallel mobile site are EbayThe HuffingtonPostFlickr:

Flickr Parallel Mobile Site

The pros and cons of a parallel mobile site approach from a mobile SEO perspective are:

Parallel Mobile Site Pros & Cons

This approach is similar to the one of the dynamic serving in the sense that you can create independent and specifically targeted pieces of content, that can be totally differentiated to give the best user experience, nonetheless, in this case the pages will be shown through different URLs which can cause a link popularity split and a content duplication risk if it’s not correctly optimized (with redirections and the use of tags that will be covered later).

3. Research & Analyze – The Mobile SEO Audit Checklist

Let’s continue by understanding the specific mobile characteristics of your site in relation to its mobile organic audience, visitors, devices, search engine activity and competition, through a research and analysis:

3.1. Your Mobile Users 

Identify the behavior of your present mobile users coming from organic search results and how does it relate to the general organic traffic and overall traffic trend by answering the following questions:

3.1.1. What’s the volume & trend of your site organic traffic coming from Mobile devices?

Organic Mobile & Tablet Traffic in Google Analytics

Use Google Analytics mobile and tablet traffic advanced segments along with the organic search reports to identify:

    • The amount of organic traffic coming from mobile devices: How high is compared to the site general organic traffic (desktop included), general mobile traffic (paid and other sources included) and total site traffic?
    • The trend of mobile organic traffic: What’s the growing rate of the organic traffic coming from mobiles and tablets? How does it relate to the general organic traffic (desktop included), general mobile traffic (paid and other sources included) and total traffic site growth?

Organic Mobile & Tablet Traffic in Google Analytics

3.1.2. What Mobile devices are used by your site visitors?

You can also identify with Google Analytics which are the most used mobile devices –if feature phones, smartphones or tablets and which brand and screen resolution–with the report located in the Audience > Mobile > Devices option.

Mobile Devices

Verify if there’s a difference in the volume and trend of the mobile devices used by visitors coming only from organic search and the overall mobile users (including other traffic sources).

3.1.3. What keywords and pages are used by your mobile users to visit the site?

Check the mobile and tablet traffic with the Google Analytic’s Organic traffic report –under Traffic Sources > Search > Organic– identifying most popular keywords and landing pages used to access your site from mobile devices.

Remember to compare them with your general organic keywords and landing pages:

    • Are the keywords and landing pages used different?

Compare them also with the previous months or years of activity and check:

    • What’s the difference from a traffic volume, trend, behavior and conversion perspective on the site?

Organic Mobile Keywords & Landing Pages

3.1.4. How is your site seen from relevant mobile devices?

Use Mobile emulators such as Mobile Phone Emulator or Opera Mobile Emulator to verify how your site is seen from those mobile devices that are used by your visitors:

    • Is all of your content –text, menu, images, videos– correctly displayed and usable?
    • Is the most important information shown above the fold?

Mobile Emulator

3.2. Your Mobile Search Visibility 

Identify the visibility and popularity of your present site in the mobile search results:

3.2.1. What queries and pages are giving visibility from the mobile search results?

With Google Webmaster Tools you can verify the top queries and pages shown in Google’s mobile search results. Go to the Traffic > Search Queries report where you can select a Mobile  filter and in the Top Pages tab see which  are the ones receiving visibility and the queries triggering them.

Mobile Search Queries & Pages

You can also directly check how your pages are showing in Google’s mobile search results –for those keywords and landing pages you had already identified with Google Analytics– by using Firefox extension User Agent Switcher and detect:

    • How are the titles, URLs and meta descriptions visualized in the mobile search result pages.
    • The differences between the Titles, URLs and Meta Descriptions with the desktop search result pages.
    • The rankings you’re already achieved with the mobile search results and how they relate to your desktop search rankings.
    • The mobile search rankings and the mobile traffic you’re receiving with those keywords and landing pages.
    • The relevancy of the mobile competition who are ranking for these keywords.

Mobile vs. Desktop Search Results Pages

3.2.2. How is your site crawled & indexed by mobile search engines?

In Google Webmaster Tools you can also go to the Health > Crawl Errors report and choose the Mobile tag to identify which of your site pages are giving errors to googlebot mobile.

Mobile Site Errors

Stay in Google Webmaster Tools, go to Health > Fetch as Google, select the smartphone option from the menu and verify how Googlebot mobile is accessing to your site pages information:

Fetch as Googlebot Mobile

To have a much better understanding on how the Googlebot Mobile crawls your whole site and identify which architectural aspects and elements need to be improved (titles, meta descriptions, URLs, internal links, redirections, canonicals, meta robots, images, videos, etc.) you can use Screaming Frog‘s Spider User Agent Configuration, select to customize one to add the Google bot for Smartphone as specified here.

Crawl your Site as Google Mobile Bot with Screaming Frog

You can additionally verify the speed of your pages with mobile search results visibility and receiving mobile traffic with PageSpeed Insights, by choosing the Mobile option in order to identify which are the aspects that can be improved to make sure your site content can be accessed without issues.

Page Speed Insights for Mobile

3.3. Your Mobile Search Popularity

Use the User Agent Switcher Firefox extension to emulate mobile search results along with the SEOmoz toolbar to identify the link popularity of your site pages that are already receiving visibility and compare them to your competitors popularity:

Result Pages Link Popularity

This is especially important in case you already have a mobile site implemented through a parallel architecture. If this is the situation you can go to Open Site Explorer and analyze the specific link popularity of your mobile subdomain, check where the external links to your mobile versions are coming from, compare them with your competitors incoming links and identify opportunities to create new links and which new potential sites you could additionally earn link from:

Mobile Site Popularity Analysis

3.4. Your Mobile Sector Audience

Use Google’s Keyword Tool to do a mobile keyword research, making sure to select the “all mobile devices” option from the filter menu. You can start by including those keywords that were already used by your visitors and the mobile queries that give visibility in the search results to your site.

Mobile Keyword Research

Are the given keywords ideas –the keywords used by your industry’s mobile audience– the same than the ones already used by your mobile visitors to access the site or the queries that make the site show in Google’s mobile search results?

Compare these keywords search volume and trends to identify the opportunities to grow with those you haven’t taken into consideration yet and answer:

  • Is the potential mobile traffic enough to compensate a mobile site development and the activities to improve all what  you’ve identified before?

If the answer is positive it’s time to identify which is the best option to enable or optimize your mobile site.

3.5. Your MobileSite Architecture 

To identify the best possible mobile site architecture based on your site characteristics, restrictions and requirements taking into consideration the previously described principles and findings you need to follow the next flowchart:

Mobile SEO Site Architecture

After you have selected the best mobile site architecture approach according to your Mobile SEO audit findings and site characteristics you can start developing or optimizing (in case you already have) your mobile site.

4. Improve & Maximize – The Mobile SEO Recommendations

As a result of the Mobile SEO audit you should create actionable Mobile SEO recommendations to improve the site mobile search visibility, traffic and conversions.

Use these templates I’ve shared before to create actionable SEO audit reports by formatting the recommendations in a easy to understand document that drives accurate implementation and facilitates the follow-up.

You can organize the report by including the findings from the mobile SEO audit along the following recommendations:

4.1. Mobile Site Architecture Recommendations

To make sure your mobile site is crawlable and indexable it’s fundamental you develop recommendations to take into considerations and fix all of the crawling errors and indexing issues found in the How is your site crawled & indexed by mobile search engines?” research and analysis, that also serve as an input to develop and optimize your new mobile site architecture, paying special attention to:

  • The mobile site  speed.

Make sure your mobile pages load fast, taking into consideration Google’s Web performance best practices, particularly those for mobile optimization, that take into consideration mobile devices limited CPU capabilities and the high round-trip times of mobile networks.

Among others, optimizing caching, defer parsing of Javascript, make landing pages redirects cacheable, minimizing round-trip times, payload size and browser rendering, etc. are some of the recommendations to have a fast site.

  • All page elements and content are effectively displayed in mobile devices.

Verify large images, javascript, videos, etc with mobile emulators such as Google’s Gomometer (or some of the others used in the previous analysis). Remember that some formats won’t be shown in most of mobile devices, such as Flash.

Flash Mobile Accessibility

Take also into consideration that mobile search results snippets showing titles, meta descriptions and URLs can be different and are usually shorter than for desktop. To make sure you make the most out of them with the mobile targeted keywords and you’re as concise as possible you can use the Firefox extension User Agent Switcher to easily visualize Google’s search results as a mobile device and verify how they’re displayed.

It’s also fundamental to reorganize your mobile page elements in order to fit well in your most popular mobile devices screens –the ones you identified in the “What Mobile devices are used by your site visitors?” analysis–, taking into consideration these Jakob Nielsen’s mobile usability guidelines.

  • Maintain a consistent user interface design through the Mobile & Desktop sites

Although is true that you will need to reorganize your content and eliminate some elements to fit well in mobile screens is important to keep the same design patterns and references between your Mobile and Desktop sites, that will help your users to identify and browser more easily through your mobile site.

Additionally, in dependence of the type of mobile site architecture you’ve identified as the adequate for your mobile requirements and restrictions in the previous “Your Mobile Site Architecture” analysis you will need to take also into consideration some of the following recommendations:

  • For Responsive Web Design
    • Allow search engines to crawl pages’ assets (css, js, images). Make sure you’re not blocking these elements with your robots.txt.
    • Use a CMS or Framework to facilitate the implementation, such as Bootstrap or Foundation and follow Google’s guidelines to use responsive Web design effectively.
    • Since you will be using the same page for both desktop and mobile purposes it’s even more important that you check those elements that could have problems to be shown in mobile screens and the site  speed.
  • For Dynamic Serving
    • Use the vary HTTP header “User Agent” when serving different content through the same address according to the user agent to help Googlebot discover your mobile-optimized content faster.
    • Since you will be automatically serving your mobile and desktop content through the same URLs it’s fundamental that you verify if you’re effectively detecting the user-agents (and avoid cloaking) by on one hand, always showing the same information to your mobile visitors and search bots and, on the other, the same to your desktop visitors and search bots. Use Google Webmasters Tools Fetch as Googlebot mobile option and Screaming Frog’s crawling capabilities as Googlebot mobile, as it was shown in the “How is your site crawled & indexed by mobile search engines?” analysis.
  • For Parallel Mobile Sites
    • Enable a consistent Mobile URL structure under an “m” subdomain that correspond to the same desktop version structure. For example, the mobile version of yourname.com/category will be m.yourname.com/category.
    • Use 301-redirects in all of the site pages to refer mobile users and bots accessing a desktop page version to its mobile version and viceversa. For example, a mobile visitor or search bot accessing to yourname.com/category should be 301-redirected to m.yourname.com/category, and viceversa with desktop visitors and search bots (they will be redirected to the relevant desktop page when trying to access a mobile page version).
    • Add a link rel=”alternate” tag in each of the desktop pages referring to their specific mobile versions and a link rel=”canonical” tag in all of the mobile pages referring to their desktop versions, as specified by Google, for example:

Link Rel Alternate Mobile & Desktop Versions Tags

    • Always include a link from the mobile versions to their specific desktop versions and viceversa, from each desktop page to its relevant mobile version. For example, you should include a link from the desktop site yourname.com/category to its mobile version m.yourname.com/category.
    • Create a Mobile XML Sitemap for feature phone or smartphone and submit it to Google Webmaster Tools through the Optimization > Sitemaps functionality.
    • Configure Google Analytics to show your full hostname, to make sure you can effectively track your mobile subdomain.

4.2. Mobile Content Recommendations 

Mobile Content Optimization

It’s important to create or optimize your mobile site structure with pages that target through their different elements (title, meta descriptions, URLs, etc.) and main information (text, images, videos, etc.), by featuring:

  • Relevant terms with the higher mobile search volume identified in the mobile keyword research you did in “Your Mobile Sector Audience” analysis  that are also attractive from a business perspective. These can be a bit trickier to optimize if you’ve chosen a responsive Web design alternative and your mobile keywords are different from your desktop ones. If this is the case, then you should identify which of your desktop pages are the ones that could be also especially relevant and attractive for your mobile audience.
  • Address and phone of each office or locality with geolocalized terms in your mobile optimized pages for local related businesses.
  • Structured data according to Google’s specification to include your business name, products reviews, events, videos, in order to display rich snippets in the search results. To verify if you’re correctly implemented structured data on your site you can use the Structured Data Testing Tool or go to Google Webmaster’s Tool and select the Optimization > Structured Data report.

Make sure to prioritize those keywords that you have already mobile visibility, traffic and conversions that you perviously  identified in the “What keywords and pages are used by your mobile users to visit the site?” analysis.

4.3. Mobile Popularity Recommendations 

If you’ve chosen the responsive Web design or dynamic serving alternatives then you won’t need additional activity from a  link popularity perspective since your mobile URLs are also your Desktop ones, which are likely already attracting links from ongoing link building campaigns (if not, make sure to start one now).

Nonetheless, with the parallel mobile site approach you will need to pay more attention to create links that increase –especially at the beginning– the specific mobile site structure authority.

To establish a strategy that will help you to increase your mobile site authority according to your present situation take into consideration what you’ve found previously in “Your Mobile Search Popularity” analysis, the volume, type, authority, sources and trends of your incoming links compared to your competitors.

A couple of good ways to do it, particularly for mobile and local services and products, are:

  • Earning citations and references from local media, events or organizations and your online community.
  • Creating a Google+ for Business page, that will also help you to earn more visibility in local related search results.

5. Measure and Improve the Mobile SEO Process

Remember that the ultimate goal of any SEO process should be a positive ROI and to effectively measure and validate what you’re achieving with the process it’s fundamental to identify and track your KPIs frequently from the beginning -organic mobile search visibility,  traffic, conversions, etc.-: Don’t forget to set and follow-up, you can’t improve what you don’t measure.

Are you ready now? Happy Mobile optimizing! 


Updated on 22/01/2013:

I’ve added an extra link in the XML Sitemap section specifically for smartphones Sitemaps. Thanks Pierre Far for noting this!

Additionally, if you’re interested on learning more about Mobile SEO and its possibilities, join me next February 12 at the Mobile SEO SEOmoz Mozinar! It’s free… you’re all invited :)

AUTHORED BY:
h

Experienced International SEO Consultant -service that she provides through her company Orainti- and a Moz Associate. She’s a frequent SEO speaker at international conferences & blogger.
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