Our guide to Mobile SEO
In the digital marketing industry, it’s not news that mobile is a booming field. In fact, mobile is booming in all of the industries which have relationships to mobile. The mobile experience now forms an integral part of search marketing, and getting it right is pivotal to the success of a campaign.
Google’s motto is to provide users with the best search results and experience, and there are no exceptions for mobile and tablet versions. Due to a steady increase in mobile usage, Google has introduced best practice guidelines and is slowly introducing more ranking factors to reward well-optimized mobile sites.
There is still a staggering amount of websites that have not capitalised on this opportunity. A recent study shows that under half of Fortune Global 100 companies’ websites are optimized for mobile. Of course, every business has to have sufficient justification for creating a mobile platform, weighing up the cost of doing so against ROI and KPIs. However, the usage of mobile in every sector is apparent. You can find stats about mobile usage here, here and here.
If you have a mobile site or are looking to create one, the following checklist may come in handy in order to ensure that your website is following best practices in an SEO perspective. This post will also look at how to decide which mobile option is the most suitable for you, best practices and how to avoid common mistakes.
1. Choose the most suitable mobile site
There is no one-size-fits all solution when choosing the best mobile option. The decision process generally involves understanding what your website does, how it should function and most importantly, what your mobile audience’s user intention is. There are other questions you can ask yourself such as, ‘What are the best and worst engagement metrics for mobile users compared to desktop users?’, ‘What are the popular mobile devices used on your site?’ and ‘How well is your site currently engaging with users, without a mobile site?’
With a better understanding of your mobile audience and how they tend to operate around the site compared to your desktop users, you can gain a better understanding of the different types of mobile options and how they best suit your website and its audience.
Each mobile site option requires specific methods of technical implementation, which are very important in order for mobile and desktop sites to work as equivalents. Here are the three different types of mobile site which you can choose from.
Option 1: Responsive design
The responsive design uses the same code across desktop and mobile versions, with each URL serving the same HTML and simply using CSS to change how the page is rendered on different devices.
Option 2: Dynamically serving
Dynamic serving is a setup where the server responds with different HTML (and CSS) on the same URL, depending on the user agent requesting the page. The user agent will determine which code to use and responds to the content as requested.
Option 3: Separate mobile site
The separate mobile site is the equivalent of the desktop site which serves different URLs. This can be done by m.mobile.co.uk, for example. However, Google does not favour any particular URL format, as long as they are all able to be accessed by their Googlebots.
Which is the right option for you?
Here is a diagram created by Distilled on the questions you should ask yourself when deciding what mobile site you should choose.
As demonstrated in the table below, the most suitable mobile option greatly depends on what industry you are in and your mobile site’s intentions. There are cases where a site has a combination of responsive and separate mobile sites. Expedia and HSBC’s sites are good examples of this. This is useful to help cater for complex developments.
2. Mobile SEO best practice
- App indexing – You can now have app indexing and deep linking directly on SERPs to your Android app. This will provide visitors with the option to visit the app page for the related search result they are looking for. The click through rate may not directly benefit search traffic, because the traffic goes to the app as opposed to the website. However, this approach will benefit sites with a holistic digital approach. Providing the best digital experience for your target audience will essentially increase overall goal conversions. Read more about the technical specifics and considerations for app indexing here.
- Fast smartphone site load – Site speed is a very important ranking factor for search engines. This aspect also applies to mobile sites. According to Google, the average mobile page load speed during August 2013 was more than 7 second. This is not a good experience for users and Google is all about keeping users happy with their search experience. You can test your mobile site speed with PageSpeed Insights or Pingdom, which will then provide suggestions for any speed improvements which need to be made. Google will reward your site with fast site speed.
- Rel canonical and alternative tags – If you have a mobile site that serves different URLs, it is best practice to tell Google which one is the desktop site and which one is the mobile site. This will help Google understand the relationship between the equivalent pages targeting different devices and help them to crawl the different sites better. Help Google help you! Here is an example of rel canonical and alternative tags for your desktop and mobile sites:
- Mobile sitemaps – The purpose of a sitemap is to provide the search engine with metadata about specific types of content on your site and make it easier for search engines to crawl the site. For a mobile sitemap, you should only include mobile content URLs. Read more about technical specifications here.
3. Avoid common mobile SEO mistakes
- Faulty redirects – Faulty redirects are a common mistake for separate mobile sites. A faulty redirect is when a mobile search result is not redirected to the most relevant mobile page. For example, a product page redirected to the equivalent mobile product page is the most relevant result. Redirecting a product page to the homepage or blog page is not relevant, and this will therefore be deemed as a faulty redirect. Having faulty redirects means that visitors are not getting the best results, which can subsequently have a direct impact on your mobile search rankings. I have written a post in which I conducted an experiment to demonstrate the negative impact of rankings for pages with faulty redirects.
- Unplayable videos and images – Having a mobile site does not mean your mobile visitors won’t want to watch videos or see images. Eliminate your customer’s frustration by making sure that the videos and images on your mobile site are compatible and give your users the best experience possible. Of course, there are different mobile user intentions, but we should ensure our site serves the best it can to all segments of our target audience. Due to the natural constraints that come with today’s mobile devices and software, Google recommends using HTML5 standard tags to include videos and avoid content in formats such as Flash, which are not supported by all mobile devices. Achieving this may be more difficult for a responsive site, as the content served on mobile and desktop sites are identical.
- Irrelevant cross-linking – If your mobile site is a responsive or a dynamically serving site, you do not need to worry about this, as the URLs for both mobile and desktop sites are the same. This common mistake only applies to separate mobile sites, where a desktop site has internal links to the mobile site and vice versa. The obvious reason why this shouldn’t happen is because it is not appropriate to direct users from their desired platform to an undesired platform. Irrelevant cross-linking may decrease the visitor’s engagement and impact upon goal conversions.
- Smartphone-only 404s – A mobile site may not serve the same content as the desktop site. If the mobile site does not have an equivalent mobile page, rather than redirecting the result to a mobile-only 404 page, Google recommends redirecting the result to the desktop page.
4. Other mobile site considerations
When creating a good mobile site, there are other considerations that may not directly impact SEO, but can influence performance holistically.
- Know your mobile audience – In comparison to a desktop site, a mobile site has a much smaller screen, which subsequently restricts how effectively a site can function. Providing a mobile device-appropriate functionality is vital in order for a mobile site to perform well. Like any site, a visitor objective varies between searching for information to actually converting, whether it’s making a purchase, signing up etc. Understanding who your mobile audience is and providing the most compatible site will improve engagement and overall conversions. A high level of return to search is a negative signal which Google doesn’t like and it’s important that your site provides engaging content to avoid this negative impact.
- Conversion rate optimization and focus – Understand what your mobile goals are and consider creating alternative goal conversion paths on your mobile journey. Your mobile traffic will follow different paths to conversions compared to your desktop traffic, so make sure to segment your users and plan your funnels accordingly. Here is a list of CRO considerations for a mobile site:
- Click-to-call – Make the most of the unique mobile functionality and apply a click-to-call function, which allows visitors to directly call the contact number on a website. More than 40% of mobile searchers use Google’s click-to-call function. If your mobile sites have more than one page that contains a click-to-call function, using software can help you track where the clicks are coming from. Alternatively, you can use Google Analytics to track this metric through events tracking. Learn more about Google click-to-call.
- Mobile Coupons – Encourage mobile users to convert by offering mobile only coupons. In many cases, a mobile user may only want to use their mobile as a means to research, rather than to actually make a purchase. Incentivising users with mobile only coupons may increase the mobile purchase rate.
- Store Locator – The Our Mobile Planet survey (Ipsos and Google, May 2013) found that 94% of smartphone users had conducted a search for local information, and 84% had taken action as a result. Another survey, Mobile Search Moments (Nielsen and Google, March 2013), found that 63% of people who take action following a mobile search do so within an hour, while 84% do so within five hours. These figures demonstrate the importance of localising your site and how this can effect conversions for mobile users.
- Sign-up and registration – Make it simple and easy to sign up. Perhaps consider introducing social media sign-ups and logins.
- Make it social – In the digital world, sharing is a fundamental way of reaching out to a wider audience and gaining popularity. Make sure that if your desktop has a sharing functionality, your mobile also has the same.
- Localise your website – Localising your websitecanmassively benefit your mobile search results, depending on the type of website you have. A study has shown that 78% of local-mobile searches result in offline purchases. If your site is not localised, you can follow a local strategy from this local strategy article.
- Mobile Content – Content is king, and this still applies to mobile. There are many examples of dynamically serving and separate mobile sites that contain less information in comparison to the desktop site. Limiting information is limiting your users on what they may be searching for. The repercussions of limiting content are obvious. It may result in a higher bounce rate, lower time on the page, higher exit rate and fewer conversions. It can also cause Google to decrease your rankings negatively for keywords that result on a page that does not exist on the mobile site and redirected to a less relevant page.
As mobile continues to grow and establish its importance within the digital world, it’s important to stay ahead of the game. If you have a website that has any type of search engine relations, it is never too late to optimize your website to cater to the search engines for your mobile users.