Two weeks ago, the news broke that Google's starting the "mobile-first indexing of the Web", meaning that they are beginning to index the mobile version of websites, when available, as opposed to the desktop version. The less obvious — but perhaps even more important — implication of this change is that Google will now also analyze mobile pages against the ranking signals to determine how a site should rank in both mobile and desktop search results.
That literally means that the information about your mobile site (such as page speed, content, meta tags, structured data, etc.) will determine both your mobile and desktop rankings in Google.
If you think about it, it makes sense. Google's previously said that over half of search queries globally come from mobile devices; a report from Hitwise suggests that mobile searches in the US amount to 58% of all queries. The research is based on 11 key categories and covers hundreds of millions of online search queries across PCs, smartphones, and tablets. Interestingly, the ratio of desktop to mobile searches can vary significantly for different categories. Here's the percentage of mobile searches Hitwise found in every category they looked at:
And — hang on — it looks like even more than half of all search traffic is at stake. Strikingly, if you don't rank in mobile search, you may be missing out on a disproportionately large share of sales — studies show that mobile searchers have higher buying intent, with over 50% of them reaching for their smartphones to make a purchase decision. With local mobile searches, the numbers are even more staggering — 78% of consumers who run a mobile search for a local business end up making a purchase.
So it's only fair that you should focus on mobile SEO no less, if not more, than desktop. But how exactly do you get to the mobile top, and how's the optimization process different from the desktop SEO we're used to? While a lot of attention has been paid to choosing a mobile-friendly solution (see Google's tips here), there doesn't seem to be a significant ranking difference between websites that use responsive design vs. some other mobile configuration.
Regardless of which configuration you use, let's see how you can make your mobile site error-free and get to the top in mobile results.
1. Take the mobile-friendly test.
First off, you need to check if your site's pages are mobile-friendly. Google's mobile-friendly test includes a selection of usability criteria, such as viewport configuration, use of plugins, and the size of text and clickable elements. It's also important to remember that mobile friendliness is assessed on a page basis, so you'd need to check each of your landing pages for mobile friendliness separately, one at a time.
The quickest (and free) way to run the check is with WebSite Auditor — Google's mobile-friendly test is incorporated right into the tool.
1. In SEO PowerSuite's WebSite Auditor, create or open a project for your site.
2. Go to the Content Analysis module, select a page you'd like to analyze, and enter your target keywords.
3. When the analysis is complete, look at the Page Usability (Mobile) section to see if any errors or warnings have been found.
If all the factors in this section have a Correct status, congrats! That means that Google believes that your page is getting every aspect of mobile UX right. If there are any factors with an Error or Warning status, click on the Recommendation tab for how-to-fix advice. Forward these tips to your web dev team, and re-run the test once the necessary improvements have been made.
Repeat the process for all pages that you target mobile visitors with.
2. Run a comprehensive audit of your mobile site.
Having all your important pages pass Google's mobile test is a good start — but there's a lot more analysis to do. A full site audit of your mobile site is a great way to make sure that all your important pages and resources are accessible to Googlebot and your mobile pages are free from errors.
The simplest way to conduct an in-depth mobile website audit is by running a site crawl in a tool like WebSite Auditor with custom user agent and robots.txt settings.
1. Run SEO PowerSuite's WebSite Auditor and create a new project.
2. At Step 1, enter your site's URL (if your mobile site uses a separate URL, make sure to enter it instead of your desktop URL), and check the Enable expert options box.
3. At Step 2, make sure the Follow robots.txt instruction box is checked; in the drop-down menu next to it, choose Googlebot-Mobile.
4. Still at Step 2, check the Crawl as a specific user agent box. In the drop-down menu to the right, pick the second user agent on the list:
Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 6.0.1; Nexus 5X Build/MMB29P) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2272.96 Mobile Safari/537.36 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)
That's the user agent Google uses when crawling mobile versions of web pages.
In a moment, the tool will conduct a full audit of your mobile website. Remember that any SEO issues you find can equally affect your desktop and mobile rankings, so do look through the traditional SEO factors like redirect chains, broken links, heavy pages, duplicate or empty titles and meta descriptions, etc. Beyond that, here are the most important aspects to pay attention to:
Avoid Flash. Flash is not commonly supported by mobile browsers (and desktop browsers are slowly following through). To make sure Google — and smartphone users — can access all content on your site, it's best to avoid Flash files altogether on your mobile pages.
To check if any pages on your site use Flash, go to Site Structure > All Resources in your WebSite Auditor project and click on Flash. If such files are found, you'll get a list of them on the right, and a list of pages that use them in the bottom part of the screen, under Found on pages.
Optimize load time. Fun fact: 40% of mobile searchers will wait no more than 3 seconds before abandoning a site. Make sure to do all you can to improve the speed of your landing pages, especially on mobile devices.
To find pages that are too heavy and may be slower, go to Site Structure > Site Audit in your WebSite Auditor project and look at the Too big pages factor. If any heavy pages are found, you'll see a list of pages whose size (which is made up of the size of the HTML code and all resources used on the page) should be reduced for optimal UX.
Now that you've found the culprits, it's a good idea to look at them in-depth to see what exactly makes them slow. To do this, go to the Content Analysis module, click Add page, and analyze one of the pages you've just figured out was heavy (quick search can be handy to instantly find one of them).
Once the analysis is complete, look at the Page speed (Desktop) section of factors on the left to see which aspects of your load time can be improved.
Compress your images. Optimizing your images to load faster is the simplest — and perhaps the most effective — way to improve mobile UX and page speed. To see if there are any uncompressed images on a page, just go to Content Analysis > Page Audit in WebSite Auditor and click on Uncompressed images under Page speed (desktop). If this factor has an Error status, switch to Details to download a lighter version of your images, readily compressed by Google.
Finally, as you fix some of the mobile issues you find, it's a good idea to monitor your usability progress in Google Search Console. Just go to Search Traffic > Mobile Usability to see how well you are doing and whether there are any mobile issues left that need your attention.
3. Do mobile keyword research.
The keywords people use to search on mobile devices are different from desktop queries. This has to do with a number of factors; first, over 20% of mobile queries are voice searches. Second, mobile searchers typically have different, more urgent needs in mind.
Google calls these needs micro-moments of 4 types:
- I-want-to-know moments
- I-want-to-go moments
- I-want-to-do moments
- I-want-to-buy moments
A great starting point to see the nature of mobile queries in practice is looking at your Search Console stats. Go to your account and navigate to Search Traffic > Search Analytics. Check Clicks, Impressions, and Positions to be displayed, choose Comparison under Devices, and click on Queries.
This report is great on so many levels. First, it gives you a great idea on your keywords' search volume ratio on desktop and mobile, and helps you find keywords with lots of mobile searches to target. Second, it will show you the keywords that you rank for in Google Mobile but not on desktop (to do that, click on the Desktop Position column twice to sort it in descending order).
Use this report to compile a list of seed keywords you'll base your mobile keyword research upon. When you have your list, move on to dig out more valuable mobile queries with Rank Tracker.
1. Run SEO PowerSuite's Rank Tracker and create a project for your website.
2. Once the project has been created, switch to the Keyword Research module and click Suggest Keywords.
3. Select one of the keyword research methods — such as Google AdWords Keyword Planner or Google Related Searches, click Next, and enter your list of seed keywords.
A handy hack for conversational and voice queries that doesn't require a seed keyword list is repeating the process with Google Autocomplete:
Just type in keywords with wildcards that have to do with your industry — these can often be questions. If, say, you're optimizing a blog about SEO, these could be some good terms to enter:
Why * SEO
How * Google
What * search engines
4. Consider AMP.
Accelerated Mobile Pages is a Google initiative to build a faster version of the mobile Web. AMP is a new way of building web content for mobile devices that results in a simpler, much lighter version of HTML. Apart from a mobile ranking boost, there's a number of other reasons for going AMP:
- Ultimate user experience. It's no secret that speed matters. Multiple research has shown slow loading time correlates with higher bounce rates. AMP pages were designed for lightning fast speed — their median load time is 0.7 seconds, while non-AMP pages have a median load time of 22 seconds. Yup, that's not just faster; that's 30 times faster.
The impressive load time of AMP pages is not just due to the lighter HTML and CSS. It's also due to the fact that AMP content is cached in the cloud and delivered not from your server, but from the Google-hosted cached version.
- More clicks from search results. In his presentation at this year's SMX East, John Shehata shared the results of his AMP research. He found that AMP pages tend to perform better in search not only in terms of rankings, but also in terms of their CTR.
So is there a catch? Currently, AMP is mainly for publishers, so if you (at the very least) don't have a frequently updated blog or news section on your site, it likely won't give you a significant SEO benefit right away, so you might want to let the dust settle before getting AMPed yourself.
However, if you feel like getting your hands dirty with AMP right now, the easiest way is to implement it on a WordPress website — all you need to do is install the official AMP plugin. With the plugin active, all posts on your site will have dynamically generated AMP versions, accessible by appending /amp/ to the end of the posts' URLs.
To make sure your AMP pages are free from errors, it's a good idea to keep an eye on them in a separate workspace in your WebSite Audior project.
2. Go to the Pages dashboard in the Site Structure module and click the "+" button in the upper right corner of your working area to create a new workspace.
This way, you'll have an entire workspace for all your AMP pages' SEO data, like canonical URLs, status codes, robots instructions, broken resources, and so on.
5. Focus on location.
The impact of the searcher's location on the search results they get has been growing in the last few years. Not surprisingly, mobile searches are even more location-focused than desktop queries: Google says 80% of "near me" searches come from mobile.
Search engines want to show results located near the mobile searcher for queries with local search intent, such as "takeaway restaurants" or "bike repair".
This means that setting up your site correctly for local search is crucial for mobile SEO, especially if you run a local business. Here are some of the main factors to pay attention to.
- Google My Business page. Register with Google My Business and make sure all details are correct and up-to-date. Put up a long, unique description for your business, choose the right categories, and upload at least 5 photos.
- Reviews. The number of reviews is perhaps the most important ranking signal in Google's local search algorithm. Try encouraging customers to leave reviews by offering incentives to get reviewed. Consider setting up a reviews landing page. Never ignore negative reviews: on the contrary, respond to unhappy customers as fast as you can. Here's an example from Search Engine People of a customer who took the time to change their review because of the feedback they received from the manager:
- Photos. The number of photos on your business page also matters to Google a lot. Take the time to take the pictures, or even hire a photographer to do it for you.
- NAP consistency. The consistency of your business' NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) information is also essential for mobile local search. Make sure that you include these details into your mobile content, along with the type of business you run and its location. That way, when someone types the keywords "business" (read: restaurant, hotel, car dealer, etc.) + "location" (read: London, Reykjavik, Toledo, etc.) you will likely show up in searches without having been directly named.
- Schema markup. Utilizing microdata can give your site a local ranking boost for non-branded keywords. Make sure to list your business' geographic and contact information. The local section of Schema.org has a variety of categories you can use, including address, phone, fax, operating hours, and even accepted payment types.
6. Track mobile rankings regularly.
Finally, to see the effect of your mobile SEO efforts, it's only logical that you should be tracking your mobile ranks alongside your desktop positions. You can do it with SEO PowerSuite's Rank Tracker by adding the mobile versions of your target search engines to your project.
1. Launch SEO PowerSuite's Rank Tracker and create or open a project.
2. Go to Preferences > Preferred Search Engines, select Google Mobile under your country's folder, and click the little "+" button next to it. Feel free to also select Bing Mobile or Yahoo Mobile.
3. Back in your Rank Tracking dashboard, right-click the header of any column to enter the workspace editing mode, and add the columns for the newly added mobile search engines to your workspace. Double-click the name of the column in the list on the left to add it to visible columns. Click OK.
That's it — all you need to do now is simply hit Check Rankings whenever you'd like to see how you rank in mobile search.
7. Avoid common mobile SEO mistakes.
As you work on your site's mobile version, there are certain mistakes to avoid. Here's my list of the most common mobile SEO mistakes you should do your best to stay away from.
- Unplayable content. Some web pages include video or audio files that are unplayable on smartphones, e.g. if they require Flash (which is not supported by most mobile browsers). Avoid Flash and keep your media playable across devices to ensure a great user experience for all visitors.
- Hard-to-dismiss pop-ups. If you use pop-ups on your mobile site, remember to keep them unobtrusive. A few months ago, Google announced that in January 2017, they'll start punishing mobile pages that show intrusive interstitials when a user first opens a page, pushing the page down in search results.
- Slow mobile pages. Page load speed is one of the major user experience factors, especially for mobile users. Remember to always test your pages' load time and always compress your images and other resources.
- Faulty redirects (applicable if you have a separate URL for the mobile version of your site). Some mobile sites do not have the redirects from the desktop version of the site to the mobile version set up correctly — the redirects may be always taking the visitor to the mobile homepage, for example. Redirects from each desktop URL must be taking your mobile users to the respective mobile URL.
- Mobile-only 404s (applicable if you have a separate URL for the mobile version of your site). Sometimes websites may have a valid version of a certain page for desktop users, but throw a 404 for visitors accessing the mobile version of the same URL. Google strongly recommends redirecting mobile users to an equivalent mobile page instead.
- Irrelevant cross-links (applicable if you have a separate URL for the mobile version of your site). The recommended practice here is that all internal links within the mobile version of the site should lead to mobile URLs and not to desktop-optimized pages — especially when mobile versions of these pages are available.
With mobile-first indexing and over half of searches coming from mobile devices worldwide, mobile SEO is not something you can dismiss anymore, regardless of the type of business you run. Done right, mobile SEO can help you double your organic search traffic and result in an even more dramatic increase in sales.
What are your thoughts on the future of mobile search? Which mobile SEO tactics are working best in your niche?
As always, I'm looking forward to your questions and thoughts in the comments below.
By: Masha Maksimava