Optimizing for mobile search is an unavoidavle task. It may not be fun, but it’s a must. Google is already rolling out its Mobile-first index, and you should be at the forefront of this development. If you cannot follow your users’ online behavior patterns, then you should simply trust what Google does, because they do know a thing or two about digital folks!
Why Optimize for Mobile Search?
Mobile search is already exceeding desktop search. This is a solid fact. According to Statista, by 2019 around 5 billion people will have a mobile phone, and half of them will own a smartphone. Obviously, some countries are more “mobile” than others. If you are targeting a global audience, then mobile friendliness is an utmost necessity. But you should also know the state of mobile affairs in your own realm, especially if you are at all interested local search. Let’s take a look at some raw numbers, if you still aren’t convinced. SEMrush has conducted extensive research on the top 10,000 queries across various countries, and here are some trends we spotted:
- In some countries (US, UK, Brazil, India) mobile search already dominates the web search market.
- Meanwhile, the rest of the world is catching up with mobile search at an incredible rate. In France, Spain and Australia the average annual increase in mobile search exceeds five percent.
Mobile Search vs. Desktop Search
If you are still hesitating, here are couple of things to take into consideration when thinking Mobile:
- Users are very quickly switching to mobile search. In 2013 only 24% of UK web surfers preferred mobile search to their laptops/PCs, by 2015 that number had doubled. And this trend continues growing at a progressive rate.
- In the past, mobile devices were considered to be a secondary dimension for web surfing. However, now mobile can offer way more than your desktop. Your smartphone is almost always optimized for geolocation, spotting location changes. It is also the most personalized device people possess, which means smartphones can provide lots of potential customer information, whereas desktop users do their utmost to de-individualize their PC or laptop – adblockers, incognito views, you name it.
- And, most importantly, mobile optimization is what Google wants! Look at these numbers: after the launch of Mobilegeddon in 2015, certain websites lost about 35% of their mobile rankings for their top-three keywords. That’s some food for thought!
- Another mobile aspect of your website that should catch your attention has to do with AMPs. Remember, a thing or two about them? Accelerated Mobile Pages, the cornerstone of any website that wants to rank higher for news, for local search, or with the help of Paid ads. After all, even if you don’t see an obvious correlation between Google’s ranking factors and AMPs, consider this: on average, they provide a better user experience, faster site speed and load time, and a boost inclicks, impressions and user engagement. And these things do affect SEO! Moreover, AMP-optimized pages naturally appear above the fold within SERPs.
The Question is Not Why or When but How
So now when you’re convinced that mobile-friendliness (or responsiveness as some call it) is the “it” thing, you have to start making sure your website is visible for all of the mobile folks. There are couple of ways to ensure your website is configured for mobile-friendliness. There is no good or bad approach, it really all depends on your goals, the size of your mobile audience, and, of course, your resources. Here’s a helicopter view of each approach:
1) Responsive Design
This is the most extensive way of mobile-optimizing for your website. The layout of each and every page of your website will adapt to the user’s’ screen size, depending on the device. Ups:
- No need to change HTML or URLs
- No redirects or device detection
- Lower chance of SEO errors (e.g., duplicate content can otherwise be an issue)
- More importantly, Google openly stated that this approach is very much preferred
- Potentially high page speed and load time for large pages
- Big investment in terms of resources (you’ll have to redesign your entire website)
2) Dynamic Design
This approach is especially recommended to those whose audience varies substantially across different devices. Dynamic design offers a customized webpage, depending on the device used. How does it work? You have one single page for a single URL, but multiple versions of content that display. Ups:
- More customized approach to various target groups
- Content optimization for different search queries
- Maintaining a single URL
- No need for a complete website redesign
- Needs constant maintenance = higher costs!
- Complex implementation
Tip: Start by using a Vary HTTPS Header to make sure you target various devices and let the crawler know there’s an alternative page optimized for a particular device. Don’t forget to read Google’s guidelines first.
3) Separate URL for Mobile Version
Basically, as the above header suggests, you have to create a separate URL for the mobile version of your webpage. Normally, it will be fetched as a subdomain “m.mymobilefriendlywebsite.com.” As easy as it sounds, this is an approach that’s pretty prone to SEO errors: duplicate content will be quite an issue for you and your webmaster. Ups:
- You can put your resources into optimizing only webpages that have the highest keyword volumes for mobile search
- No need to alter your already existing website structure
- Complex maintenance
- High likelihood of making SEO mistakes
- More redirects and cross-links
- Resources are needed regardless to adapt a webpage to a mobile device
Tip: Make sure you follow Google’s guidelines. Once you choose the most favorable approach, take a look at this list of the 10 Most Harmful Mobile SEO Mistakes and try to avoid them. But before you put your webmasters to work for a week or two, make sure you first run your whole website through Google Search Console.
Mobile-friendliness: Finishing Touches
Keep in mind that optimizng your website for mobile search does not imply adjusting its technical characteristics only. If you want to be mobile-successful, there are plenty of other factors to take into account. Just to outline some of them:
- Keyword Research
Yes, all your desktop search-oriented efforts count way less in the mobile world. People’s mobile search behavior often varies from the way they surf the web via desktop. Google has already mentioned that it is trying to move away from keywords towards questions, and that shift will be predominantly boosted by mobile search, where queries are mostly question-based.
- Content Optimization
The trend toward delivering even shorter, more concise and more easily digestible information will continue in mobile search. Things like a user-friendly design and layout will play a significant role, in addition to the quality of your content. Your titles and subtitles should be short enough so as not to take up too much screen space. All fonts should be of a readable size and buttons should match the average finger size so that there’s no need for zooming Moreover, keep in mind that mobile users are easily distracted. A call, a Whatsapp message or an Instagram notification are things you can’t really compete with. Thus, it is advisable that you say whatever you need to say in the first few sentences. A well-designed navigation is another way of providing the utmost user-friendly experience.
- Video and Image Optimization
Issues with your site’s speed and load time have even more effect on mobile search. First of all, a slow site speed and load time will generally downrank you in SERPs. But even if somehow you make it to the SERP’s first page, mobile users have even less patience than desktop users. This is where optimized videos and images play a big role. At this point, you should be fully equipped to get experimental with Mobile. Good luck and remember: it’s easier to get on a ship using the companionway rather than climbing up the anchor.