Five absolutely vital elements for mobile SEO success

Is your website mobile-friendly? 2016 marks the first year that mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic, yet many businesses have still neglected to take mobile devices into account.

Their websites aren’t optimized for mobile search, and simply don’t look good on phones and tablets. Not only does this cause frustrated users to leave the site, it’s a big problem for your SEO as well.

As of April 21, 2015, Google unleashed “mobilegeddon” which punishes websites that aren’t mobile-friendly, and announced that mobile-friendliness is now one of their most important ranking signals.

How do you know if your site is mobile friendly? The first step is to check Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Enter your website’s URL, and Google will let you know if your site is mobile-friendly.

Here are five areas you must look at, if you want to succeed at mobile SEO

#1: Mobile site types

There are three types of mobile sites: responsive, dynamic serving, and parallel mobile site. Choosing the right model from the get-go is the most important decision you can make regarding your mobile site.

Responsive site: Responsive Web Design is a technique that allows you to show the exact same website, with the same website code, but the site conforms (or morphs), depending on the size of the screen. Sites like Starbucks, The Next Web, Mashable, Boston Globe, Drive Me Safely, and Hot Jobs Myanmar use responsive design.

Many businesses choose responsive website for its convenience, lower cost, quick turnaround, and the ease of maintenance. This approach is recommended by Google. The cons are the less differentiation for mobile UX, and it is harder to apply on big-scale web platforms.

Parallel mobile site: a parallel mobile site is a separate version of your website created specifically for mobile users. A few sites using parallel mobile site are Home Depot, eBay, and The New York Times.

Creating a separate mobile site (e.g. m.yourwebsite.com) will allow you to offer the best customized mobile experience for users without affecting your desktop website. This is most appropriate for large-scale websites.

However, it may double the cost for implementation and maintenance. And it takes advanced SEO expertise to handle the complexity of backlinks and content between web and mobile versions with proper redirects.

Dynamic serving site: In a dynamic serving site, the web server detects and serves custom page that match the visitor’s device in the same URL. A few sites that use this method are CNN, Zillow, and Mico Equipment.

This approach provides a great custom mobile experience and uses the same web URL for web and mobile. However it requires advanced technical expertise and high costs to structure, implement properly, and maintain. It can also confuse users who notice different content on the same page (with different devices).

dynamic website example

Dynamic serving website – Mico Equipment

#2: Mobile content

User engagement has a big influence on search rankings, so optimizing content for mobile experience is very important. This includes headlines, copy, images/videos, forms, and call-to-actions.

This is critical if you are using responsive websites. In responsive design, the same page content is used on both web and mobile screens. So you should create your web copy with both web and mobile experience in mind, to make sure the content can communicate effectively with users on across multiple screens.

  • Write short headlines that convey your core message
  • Summarize your key points on top of each article
  • Break up content into small paragraphs for easy consumption
  • Use mobile-friendly images: Don’t let mobile users download large images that are meant for bigger screens.

responsive web site

Responsive web design for Drive Me Safely

#3: Mobile Speed

Regardless of the type of your mobile site, it is critical to optimize for mobile loading speed. Today, Google considers loading speed as an important ranking factor. Slow speeds will impact user experience greatly.

There are a lot of techniques available to improve mobile speeds, here list a few:

  • Enable compression: Use Gzip, a software application for file compression, to reduce the size of your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript files that are larger than 150 bytes (Moz)
  • Minimize all your CSS and JavaScript files. If you have multiple CSS or JavaScript files, consider combining them into one before compressing them. You can use CCTidy to minify your CSS code, and JSMin to minify your JavaScript.
  • Reduce HTTP requests. Use Google Chrome’s Network Panel to check how many HTTP requests your site currently makes, and get rid of as many of those requests as you can. Remember to load visible content first, and defer everything else.
  • Avoid loading blocking external JavaScript and CSS before the initial render. This causes a delay in rendering your page. Inline just the JavaScript/CSS needed for the initial render and delay or async load any unnecessary JavaScript/CSS file.
  • Avoid bad requests from broken links.
  • Use CDN to cache static content to enhance loading speed

#4: Mobile SERP display

In mobile, the SERP real estate is precious and the competition for clicks is fierce. Due to the portrait landscape of mobile devices, only the top two Google results will be above the fold in SERPs. Furthermore, Google often shows maps, algorithmic answers to queries, or related apps directly below (or even above) the first result.

Optimizing your SERP listings using relevant rich snippets and rich cards can help you gain a competitive edge and capture more user attention and clicks.

Meta content

You should write the meta title and meta description tags for web pages that can also fit nicely in mobile SERPs, to improve mobile click-through rate.

Rich snippets

Using rating, review and breadcrumb snippets for keyword “adult art party nyc”

rich snippets

Using Event snippet (keyword “kids art classes nyc”)

Rich cards:

Beside snippets, the rich card is an interesting markup to make your website more outstanding on search results. With rich cards, results are presented in carousels that are easy to browse by scrolling left and right.

Pages that are marked with rich cards are displayed at the top of SERPs, which increases the chances that the website will be clicked.

According to Google, currently rich cards are available for 3 content types:

  • Article (AMP)
  • Movie
  • Recipe

rich cards

#5: Mobile local search

If you have a brick and mortar business with a physical location, you want to be found by people searching for your services in your area. Local SEO is the practice of optimizing your content to get more of these users who are close to you.

Using local SEO, it’s possible to get found for keywords that you thought were too competitive to rank for. Your site might not be ranked within the top ten results for a certain keyword, but still rank #1 in the Google maps results.

Since the maps results are listed above organic results, and have contact information readily available, this is actually better than being #1.

If your business has a physical location, go verify your Google My Business listing, and make sure your name, address, and phone number are correct. This is your main business listing on the web, but you should still submit your site to as many online business directories as possible.

Then, make sure your name, address, and phone number are correct and consistent across the web, on all business listings and all your social media accounts. Make sure your city and state are displayed in many areas on your website, create a rich contact page with an embedded Google Map, and ask your customers to write as many reviews of your business as possible.

If your business has multiple locations, create separate sections on your site for each location. Include Geo tags, apply business-related rich snippets, and optimize meta tags and page content for local keywords.

local seo example

Example: Local SEO listing, check with keyword “kids art classes nyc”

Our new report, DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site Part 2: The 12 Pillars of Mobile Design, looks at each of these pillars in great detail, containing tips for improvement, and contributions from Home Depot, Somo and more. 

Mike Le is the Co-Founder and COO of CB/I Digital, a digital agency in New York that offers digital marketing and digital product services for clients. You can connect with Mike on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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