We use our phones for everything. From work emails to texts with loved ones, posting on social media and building a brand, or figuring out who won the World Cup in 1990 (I’ll save you a search – it was Germany), smartphones have had a significant impact on our day-to-day lives.
So far in 2021, there are approximately 3.8 billion unique smartphone users worldwide – roughly 50% of the world’s population. This is a 1.3 billion increase from 2016. And these numbers are projected to continue to rise, with as many as 7.5 billion unique smartphone users anticipated by 2026.
The prevalence of smartphones has also had an impact on SEO. Implementing mobile SEO tactics is not only recommended, but absolutely necessary when developing an effective SEO strategy for your business. Since the Mobilegeddon update in 2015, Google’s prioritization of mobile users has made the mobile-friendliness of your site a key factor in determining where your website ranks in results.
Here, we’ll define mobile SEO, how mobile search impacts Google results, and what you can do to improve your own mobile SEO strategy.
What is mobile SEO?
Mobile SEO is about optimizing your website for smartphone and tablet users to improve the visibility and user experience of your site. Effective mobile SEO requires that you structure and format your website to be mobile-friendly to improve on-page user experience, as well as give your website a better chance of ranking in search results.
Why is mobile SEO important?
As more and more people use smartphones, businesses must establish a mobile SEO strategy. The number of smartphones in use is currently growing at a rate of 7% per year, with an average of more than 1 million new smartphones coming into use every day.
Mobile Accounts for a Majority of Website Traffic
Mobile traffic is starting to overtake desktop traffic. Since 2017, mobile traffic has accounted for roughly half of all website traffic – and it’s rising. In 2021, mobile accounts for nearly 55% of all website traffic worldwide. With more websites receiving traffic from mobile devices than desktop, your website must be mobile-friendly.
Google Prioritizes Mobile Experience
Over the past few years, Google has configured its algorithm to prioritize mobile experience. Between the Mobilegeddon updates and the more recent Mobile-First update, how your website performs on mobile devices can have a significant impact on your rankings.
Ranking High in Mobile Search Results is Matters More
The #1 results in Google receive an average of 19.3% of desktop users’ clicks. Let’s compare this to mobile users: the #1 results in Google receive 27.7% of mobile users’ clicks. This is a major increase, and indicates the greater importance of the #1 spot for mobile users.
Even further, there is a greater dropoff in CTR between results #1 and #2 from mobile users than desktop users, with the second result receiving only 9% of clicks. This means that the #1 result is 3 times more valuable than position two for mobile.
Mobile Search Significantly Impact Sales
People are using their devices more and more when it comes to shopping online, with 40% of users reporting they prefer to use their phones for the entire shopping process. According to Google, smartphone users have a higher buyer intent than desktop users, and searches for product reviews have increased by over 30% over the last two years.
Additionally, mobile e-commerce sales have increased significantly since 2016:
Not Prioritizing Mobile Users Can Hurt Your Site – and Your Reputation
Websites that do not prioritize mobile user experience – that have slow loading times, are not formatted for mobile users, are difficult to navigate on mobile, etc. – will not only experience higher bounce rates from visitors to your site, but can also be penalized by Google, leading to lower ranking in search results. This can significantly harm your visibility to potential customers.
Negative experiences on your site can also impact user opinions of your business. Over 50% of users report that they are less likely to engage with a company again after a poor mobile experience, and users who have had a poor mobile experience are 62% less likely to purchase from that brand in the future.
How is mobile SEO different from desktop SEO?
Although the goals of mobile and desktop SEO are similar – to increase your website’s visibility in search results and keep users on your site once they’re there – there are key differences between the two. Optimizing your site for mobile users requires many of the same tactics as desktop SEO, but also requires mobile-specific considerations due to mobile results being influenced by additional factors, such as user location, screen size, and operating system.
For the same search query, it is likely that you will see different results in search depending on whether you are using a desktop or mobile device. This means that a website that ranks well for a desktop search may not for mobile.
Google and Mobile SEO
Google consistently updates its algorithm to help users find better and more relevant results for their queries. A more recent focus of Google’s updates has been the mobile experience. Let’s take a look:
- Mobilegeddon, 2015: also known as the Mobile-friendly Ranking Factor Update, this update was a response to the increasing number of mobile searches on Google. The update gave a boost to mobile-friendly websites, and penalized those not well-formatted for mobile searches.
- Mobilegeddon 2.0, 2016: nearly a year after the first Mobilegeddon update, Google released Mobilegeddon 2.0. This update gave a ranking signal boost in mobile search to mobile-friendly sites.
- Intrusive Interstitial Penalty, 2017: in 2017, a few months after Mobilegeddon 2.0, Google released an update penalizing websites that utilize disruptive pop-ups that could negatively impact mobile user experience.
- Mobile-First Index, 2018: although Google initially announced mobile-first in 2016, the update was officially released in March of 2018. The Mobile-First Index prioritizes mobile sites over desktop sites, meaning that Google determines rankings based on the quality of the mobile version of a website opposed to the desktop version. The release of this update cemented the importance of mobile-friendly sites to overall SEO strategy.
- Mobile Speed Update, 2018: later in 2018, Google implemented the Mobile Speed Update, making page speed a ranking factor for mobile results. This update could penalize websites with slower page speeds, though page speed does not necessarily outrank quality content and the relevance to search query.
- Page Experience, 2020: the Page Experience update put more importance on user experience of a website, prioritizing sites with high-quality user experience and penalizing those with low-quality user experience. This was a significant change, as Google introduced a new set of ranking factors – oriented to user experience – with this update.
Google’s updates and decisions regarding rankability have a huge impact on what we see in search results, and its focus on mobile experience in recent years has made mobile SEO a vital element of an effective SEO strategy.
Thankfully, Google has created several tools to help you assess how mobile-friendly your site is, helping you improve your site and, thus, your overall SEO strategy.
- Mobile-Friendly Test: this tool allows you to input your website’s URL to check if it is considered mobile-friendly by Google. This tool will tell you whether or not your site is mobile-friendly, as well as give you insight on what factors may be affecting the overall quality of mobile user experience.
- PageSpeed Insights: this tool allows you to input your website’s URL to check the page’s speed. You will receive insight on your page speed for both mobile and desktop, as well as opportunities to help your page load faster.
- Test My Site: this tool gives you a rating for your site’s loading time on mobile, and lets you know how your site compares to the ideal or goal loading time. The page will also provide you with advice on how to improve mobile user experience.
- Google Search Console (GSC): GSC can help you with several different aspects of your website, and is a vital resource when it comes to developing a strong SEO strategy. GSC has several features that can give you insight on how your website is performing for mobile users, and what the problems are so you can fix them.
Site Configuration for Mobile SEO
When it comes to configuring your site for mobile, there are three options: responsive web design, dynamic serving, and separate URLs. The purpose of this configuration is to ensure that your website is viewable and accessible across all devices – desktop, mobile, tablet, etc.
There are pros and cons to each option when you are choosing a route for how to configure your website for mobile, regarding the impact of the change and the effort it will take to implement the change.
- Responsive Web Design: the HTML remains the same across all devices, but will display differently depending on the size of the device. This is the configuration that Google recommends, as it is “the easiest to implement and maintain.”
- Dynamic serving: the URL stays consistent regardless of the device, but there is a different version of the HTML for different devices.
- Separate URLs: the URL and HTML are different cross devices, and redirects you to the appropriate page depending on the device you are using. Many websites that use this method will include an “m” in their mobile URLs.
To learn more about which is the right mobile configuration for your site, Google has published a guide to help you put your best foot forward in search results.
How to Improve Your Mobile SEO
The first step towards improving your website’s mobile SEO should be configuring it for mobile users, as we talked about above. However, configuring your site is not all you need to develop an effective mobile SEO strategy.
Remember SEO Best Practices
Although mobile SEO and desktop SEO are not synonymous, as we mentioned earlier, SEO best practices are still relevant to your mobile SEO strategy. Make sure you adhere to these key guidelines:
- Prioritize Website Performance: from Google rankings to user experience, a poor-performing website will only harm your business. Make sure your website loads quickly, is easy and intuitive to navigate, and does not contain broken links or pages.
- Ensure Positive User Experience: Traffic to your website isn’t worth much if users don’t stick around. Just as poor website performance can penalize your website, sites with high bounce rates can also experience a hit to their rankings – not to mention their reputation. Think about the user when designing your website – after all, nearly 80% of users report that they are more likely to revisit and/or share a mobile site if it is easy to use.
- Publish High-Quality Content: often, content is what brings users to your site from a Google search. Content that is low-quality, too promotional, or isn’t actually relevant to the query can all result in high bounce rates, and can cause users to question your credibility. Create high-quality content relevant to your business and industry that addresses the pain points that users are trying to fix, and give them the information or resources they are looking for.
Maintain Quick Page Loading Speed
We’ve touched on it a lot, but page speed is one of the key factors in rankability on Google. Websites with pages that take too long to load risk being penalized and seeing a drop in their rankings in results. What’s more, over 50% of website visits are abandoned if the site takes more than three seconds to load.
Thankfully, with the Google PageSpeed Insights tool, you can assess your website’s load time and make the necessary adjustments.
Focus on User Experience
SEO strategy that prioritizes users, as opposed to only prioritizing search engines, tends to lead to better results. This is very true for mobile SEO, as bounce rates tend to be higher on mobile than on desktop.
As such, think about your users when designing your mobile pages. Avoid intrusive pop-ups – or forgo pop-ups altogether. Remember that most mobile users are using a finger to navigate on their mobile devices, so don’t overcrowd your mobile pages and make sure that any links or buttons are clickable. Use fonts and font sizes that are clear and readable without requiring too much scrolling.
Optimize Your Social Media
3.92 billion social media users access social media on their mobile devices. This is 99% of all social media users. Although you won’t need to consider page speed or other factors related to the structure of social media platforms, ensuring that your social media profiles are identifiable, linked, and include your target keywords can have a positive impact on your mobile SEO. Here is our social media guide to learn more about optimizing your social profiles.
Check for Yourself
As you improve your website for mobile users, don’t forget to check it out for yourself. SEO is an iterative process that requires consistent attention and change. Staying up-to-date on how your website performs on mobile and checking on it firsthand will help you understand your audience’s experience and help you determine what changes you need to make to your site.