Mobile search engine optimization
In essence, mobile optimization is a combination of regular SEO, technical optimization, local optimization and the understanding of your visitors’ intent. Luckily, essentially all of these things are optimized in the same way for all users, regardless of device.
Mobile users want answers and they want them quickly. In general, you can think of mobile users as less patient with things such as: slow loading times, poor navigation, having to scroll to the relevant part of the content and/or having too many steps in a purchasing path.
Key points of mobile SEO:
- Responsive design and scalability is a must
- Page loading speed is even more important now
- Location is key in many cases
- Design should focus on what users want to see
- Minimize the use of distracting elements
- Avoid interstitials (on-page pop-ups)
- Streamline the process from query to action
- Mobile users are more than twice as likely to share content in social media
- Links and PageRank are less important
Since essentially all SEO efforts are aimed at improving your results in Google, it’s always advisable to read what they have to say on a topic. They have released a set of guidelines for mobile optimization, which is a great place to start.
For further reading, you can delve in to the Mobile Playbook by Google: http://www.themobileplaybook.com/
To test if your site is mobile friendly, you can use this tool by Google: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/
Why is mobile SEO important?
In 2015, mobile search surpassed desktop search in volume for the first time – and it’s still increasing. At the same time, the percentage of the global population that has access to the internet has increased greatly due to the arrival of cheap smartphones. We can now carry the internet in our pockets at all times, which leads to more and more diverse searches.
As these portable devices become more powerful, the average user has less and less need for a separate desktop equivalent. If your smartphone is powerful enough and you can simply have wireless connections to a larger screen and a keyboard/mouse (or other peripherals), why buy a laptop as well?
The trend so far has been:
- Pre-2007: Mobile web browsing was slow and limited
- 2007: The mobile web truly emerges with Apple’s Mobile Safari browser
- 2015: Mobile compatibility is of much greater importance
- 2016: Mobile optimization is virtually a requirement
- 2017: Say goodbye to standard web results
One of the main concerns with these trends towards instant and mobile results is that the regular search results are dropped in favor of snippets, knowledge graphs, maps and other quick answers. If you ask Google when Leonardo da Vinci was born, you don’t need to see a list of different pages with the answer somewhere inside of them, instead you will get an information box with just the answer.
This, of course, means you spend more time within Google and less time on other websites. In some cases, this can be seen as censorship and in worst-case scenarios, the answer provided will be flat-out wrong. Still, you should do your best to make YOUR answer the one at the top!
With all this is mind, mobile optimization is clearly important. A site with poor mobile optimization may be demoted in search results or be displayed with a warning. In the near future, they might be excluded completely – since Google is creating separate indexes.
Google switches to a mobile-first index
It was first mentioned back in 2015, but it wasn’t until at Las Vegas Pubcon 2016 that Gary Illyes of Google officially announced that they are splitting their index in to two; one for desktop/larger devices, such as laptops, stationary computers, smart TVs and tablets, and one for mobile/smaller devices, such as smartphones. There are multiple reason for this, such as:
- Mobile users may want different products/services than desktop users
- They often want the result (such as a café) closest to them
- They tend to leave if it takes more than 2 seconds to load a page
- Results can include app content and links to in-app screens
The mobile index is now the MAIN index and will take priority in terms of refreshing and being updated. The mobile index will be used to determined which pages to rank where, even for desktop devices. If AMP markup language is used, the entire piece of content will be indexed by Google’s mobile index.
What does it mean for you? Well, the mobile-first index will most strongly (and negatively) affect websites with different versions for mobile and desktop users. A responsive web design that passes most speed/responsiveness tests with flying colors is strongly recommended.
Responsive web design
Having a responsive web design means that the user is being served exactly the same code, URL and content despite which device they are using, but the page adjusts (or responds) according to the device’s screen size and resolution.
“Google recommends using RWD over other design patterns.”
While Google fully supports several different mobile site configurations, they strongly recommend using a responsive web design instead, because of the inherit benefits: single URL, doesn’t require redirects, there’s only one copy of each page for crawlers to crawl (less resources used), helps Google accurately index sites, etc. Another benefit is that you never have to manage more than one version of your site, and you’ll have less code in total. Apart from simply using a responsive design, you should also keep the following design aspects in mind:
- Ensure that clickable elements are far enough apart
- Mobile users prefer accordion menus over traditional navigation
- Use only UTF-8 encoding
Streamline the purchasing process
Like many things in mobile SEO, there is a great deal of crossover with regular optimization. Reducing the number of steps it takes to perform an action typically helps with conversion rates in general, but it has an even bigger impact on mobile users. Ideally, it would work as in the example by Google:
- Customer searches for a product/service
- Customer makes their selection
- Customer checks out/performs wanted action
Thus, you need to ensure that your visitors land on the correct page, that the correct information is clearly displayed and that the preferred action can be taken easily – whether it’s a newsletter signup, buying a product, making a call or anything else.
- Compare users’ behavior on different types of devices
- Target mobile users specifically with opening hours, location, click-to-call, etc.
Simply put: The faster your pages load, the better. A faster site will typically have a lower bounce rate, higher ranking, more pages viewed per session and a higher conversion rate. Google has confirmed page speed as a ranking factor and Amazon discovered that their conversion rate went up by 1% per 100 MS in reduced load time. Since mobile users are even less patient with slow-loading pages, this is more important than ever. General PageSpeed optimization tips:
- Use a fast web server, as close to your target market as possible
- Use a content delivery network (CDN) to host static content locally across the globe
- Use mobile markup language where applicable
- Don’t use flash
- Don’t use pop-ups
- Serve optimized, scaled images
- Minify the code
- Utilize caching + compression
Google’s PageSpeed Insights offers a warning if your server response time is over 200 ms and it should obviously be as low as possible as nothing can be rendered before it responds. A CDN can greatly increase the speed, both by serving your static content locally and by reducing your own server’s load.
Finally, you can gain massive drops in PageSpeed by simply reducing the size of your website. Minifying the code keeps all functionality, while getting rid of unnecessary formatting. Compressing any compatible resources with gzip will also speed up the delivery, while images can be pre-scaled and optimized without losing image quality. Finally, various types of caching can be utilized to stop static/non-updated content from being loaded over and over again.
Mobile markup (Google AMP, Facebook Instant Articles, Schema.org, etc.)
Markup language is meta content that instructs browsers and search engines what your content means and how it should be displayed, rather than what it says. Schema.org is a standardized, semantic markup language created in collaboration by Bing, Yahoo and Google. It can be used in a multitude of ways, for example;
- To display “rich snippets”, such as star ratings in the search engine results page
- To ensure search engines know what type of content a page has
- To preview the most pertinent part of your page
If your content is properly marked up, it can increase click-through-rates and even rankings. If a user searches for “titanic” and is specifically looking for the movie (as opposed to the historical event and/or the real ship), it’s helpful if your website about the 1997 movie is marked as such.
It is easy to see the benefit when you compare a result with markup with a result without markup:
Take help from Google’s own Structured Data Markup Helper to learn more and get usable HTML code: https://www.google.com/webmasters/markup-helper/
Facebook Instant Articles and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages
These are both markup languages made specifically for viewing a page without actually visiting it. Facebook Instant Articles allows people to read your articles directly in the Facebook app, while Google’s AMP serve a simplified version of your page in places such as search result, Google news or inside of other apps. You can still display your own ads in these simplified versions, so they won’t be directly stealing your revenue (though that will almost certainly happen indirectly, as more people jump back from an instant article instead of going to another page on your site).
Since these “accelerated” pages are likely to be more prominently featured in mobile search results, are cached by Google, and some people will look for them specifically, it is strongly advised to utilize this type of markup language despite the possible drawbacks.
App store optimization
If your business or website has a corresponding app, it’s important to optimize its page in the app store(s) as well. No one can use your app if they cannot find it. Just like you would optimize any page, video or post, you do this by including the most important keyword(s) in the title, as well as in the content. It’s also important to fill in as much information as possible.
Write a long, in-depth description of your app, business and what it/you offers. Place your app in the most appropriate category and enter in all the pertinent information, including the contact details of your company. After your app’s page has been optimized, its exact rank will be determined by secondary factors, such as the total number of downloads, social media signals, links and user review scores.
Local search engine optimization
This is especially important if your business has a physical location that you want people to find. With proper local SEO, users near your ice cream shop are much more likely to find yours, rather than ones that are further away or more poorly received.
Business type, rating, street name and opening hours are displayed.
In short, local SEO is a combination of several different factors, such as: on-page optimization, Google Maps, Google My Business, local directories, user reviews, social media signals and more. For example, if you have a store inside of a mall, it is commonly listed on the mall’s website. This could be seen as a strong signal for local SEO. Another one is to add the targeted city/region in your titles and content.
Google My Business
This is Google’s own business directory and they will generally favor businesses that are registered in it. You should place your business in the correct categories, provide multiple photos, enter all relevant contact details, opening hours, etc. and write a long description of your business. If your business has multiple locations, you need to add all of them as separate listings.
NAP: Name, address, phone number
It is recommended to have this information on every page of your website, and it should be exactly the same across all pages. Due to this, it is generally recommended to place this information in the footer. Additionally, it should be marked up with Schema.org markup language for local businesses, as such:
<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness”>
<p itemprop=”name”>COMPANY NAME</p>
<p itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<p itemprop=”streetAddress”>ADDRESS LINE 1</p>
<p itemprop=”telephone”>PHONE NUMBER</p>
<meta itemprop=”latitude” content=”LATITUDE” />
<meta itemprop=”longitude” content=”LONGITUDE” />
Local reviews and directories
There are many websites where you can rate businesses and leave a review, including on Google My Business entries. You might want to submit your business to other directories/online “yellow pages”, such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and Foursquare. That way your business also shows up in their apps. Having many user reviews with a high average score is a strong signal and testimony for your business.
Mobile targeting options
When it comes to paid ads, whether it’s via Google AdWords, Bing Ads, on Facebook or Twitter, or somewhere else entirely, you can target specific users. This includes showing ads for only a select age range, gender, location, interest, or type of device. This means you can run separate ad campaigns for different types of customers and optimize them individually. As an obvious example, you would want to target iPhone users with iPhone accessories, while excluding Android users.
Perhaps you would limit the age range to people below 35, or target only women with certain campaigns. You can block certain apps/websites from displaying your ads, either by the topics of their content or one by one, for example if they are irrelevant or if visitors from them simply don’t convert. You can find out where these “negative” visits are coming from and block them permanently.
Hopefully, you have learned something from this article. If you want our help with mobile search engine optimization, please contact us today!