How To Optimise For Mobile SEO
An overlooked part of SEO is optimising the website for mobile devices and mobile search results. Whilst SEO in-general will optimise for everyone without having to pick out specific devices, mobile SEO is an especially important yet overlooked part of a website’s optimisation. In recent years, search engines such as Google have shown a huge swing to prefer mobile devices over desktop. This is not a random decision: since 2016, mobile phones have accounted for over half of all web traffic every year. With such a drastic change in audience, Google has released many different types of updates which has forced webmasters to put a greater focus on catering towards their mobile users. In this blog, we will highlight what you can do to improve the mobile SEO of your website.
Mobile VS Desktop
Firstly, we need to understand exactly what is different about SEO for mobile and desktop. Mobile SEO is far more focused on the on-page and user experience factors of optimisation, as opposed to thinks such as brand reputation or link building.
Research has shown that you are far more likely to have a different position in the SERP for the same search term on mobile than you do on desktop, as opposed to having the same position on both devices. This shows that there are very different ranking factors and weights associated with each factor will change depending on whether a search has been conducted on a mobile phone or device. For example, the location of the searcher is given a massive boost in importance for search results on a mobile phone, and is given considerably less weight for search results on a desktop. Other reasons why search results can differ is due to content: some websites will show different content to mobile users than they will to desktop users – this is a subject we will discuss in greater depth later on through the blog.
Through the years, Google has tried to bridge the gap between mobile and desktop through updates to their ranking factors and algorithms. The main examples for this is Mobilegeddon in 2015 and mobile-first indexing, which started in 2018.
Mobilegeddon was an update which penalised websites that did not work or display very well on mobile phones. During this time, it was very common place for websites to design two websites, a website for desktop users and a website for mobile users which would commonly be hosted as a subdomain (m.domain.com for example.) With the update of Mobilegeddon, these desktop websites would be penalised and lose their positions in the search results because they failed to cater to mobile phone users – even if these users were redirected to a mobile-friendly version of the website. As a result of this update, there was a greater demand for mobile-friendly websites with the use of responsive web design from Manchester: where the page could dynamically resize and reposition elements in order to fit the resolution of a user’s screen.
Mobile-first indexing is an update which originally started to rollout in 2018 and was originally scheduled to finish rolling out in September 2020, but has been pushed back to March 2021 – such a long time to rollout the update should already signify how big of a change this is (or was.) As part of the crawling process prior to this change, GoogleBot would crawl your pages with a Desktop crawler and a Mobile crawler, and give your page two different scores based on each device. The mobile-first indexing update would change this: if your website was moved into mobile-first indexing, then only the mobile version of GoogleBot would crawl your website: therefore how Google would see and rank your website would depend entirely on how the mobile version performed. Despite the mobilegeddon update, it was still a very common thing for webmasters to dynamically show or hide different types of content depending on the device of a user by 2018. For example, a desktop version could have 10 paragraphs but a mobile user would only be shown a fraction of this content to cater to their mobile users with small screens. If the Mobile GoogleBot were to crawl this page, then the majority of the content would be hidden and therefore simply wouldn’t exist in the eyes of Google: drastically reducing the quality and relevance of the webpage and ultimately the webpage would have far lower rankings than it would otherwise have. The rollout for this update has taken so long simply due to the amount of websites and pages that are not completely responsive, and will still hide/show different content for different devices.
The speed of a website has been a ranking factor since at least 2010. However, it wasn’t until 2018 that the speed of the website on a mobile phone became an important ranking factor. This update wasn’t necessarily about who had the fastest website, but would rather target and demote the websites that provide the slowest speeds.
The speed of your website is one of the most important factors to optimise your website for, and it’s even more important when you are targeting mobile users. Despite having less powerful hardware, mobile users are generally far less patient than desktop users. Therefore you are required to give mobile users a quicker loading time with less useful tools – which makes mobile speed a considerable challenge to conquer.
The final part of mobile SEO is to optimise your user experience. This is a general optimisation that everyone should consider when creating a website but is often overlooked: as a website will usually be developed with desktop first-in mind and mobile an afterthought.
However, the particular SEO aspect of optimising for user experience comes from a recent announcement of the Page Experience update. This is an update scheduled for 2021, and will be announced 6 months in advance with an official date. The Page Experience update will add at least three new metrics and score to optimise for. These three new metrics will measure the speed, responsiveness and visual stability of the page known as the Core Web Vitals. The most interesting part of this update is that these metrics are not collected by GoogleBot or any other type of bot: Google will actually gather this information through real-world data collected from users who visit your website on Google Chrome. Each metric is split for a separate score on mobile devices and desktop devices, so we can safely assume that the weight and important of core web vitals will vary for desktop search results and mobile search results.
The three specific metrics for Core Web Vitals are:
Largest Contentful Paint (Speed): How long the biggest element on your page takes to fully load.
First Input Delay (Responsiveness): The difference in time a user tries to interact with your page vs how long it actually takes for your page to become interactive.
Cumulative Layout Shift (Visual Stability): A measurement of unexpected shifts or changes in the overall layout of the page.
You can read more about Core Web Vitals and how to optimise for them here.
As it is with any part of an SEO strategy, content is probably the most important thing to optimise for. Specifically for mobile SEO, we will skip past the usual things about keywords, search intent and research etc. For mobile SEO, it is important to think about the formatting and length of your content. From my own personal experience, it is pretty quick to write good SEO-friendly content on desktop and completely misjudge how it will work on a mobile phone. You should make sure to break up long-form content with lists, bullet points, images and headings.
Another important thing to remember is your title and meta description. The search results on a mobile phone display slightly less characters than the desktop search results, so it is important to test your title and description to ensure the important parts of your title and description isn’t getting cut-off.
The final point for optimising content for mobile users is to consider voice search. All modern smartphones come equipped with a virtual assistant, such as Apple’s Siri as a common example. The best way you can optimise for voice search is to answer commonly asked questions within your content, which can be used as a featured snippet on normal search results and can be used in voice search results.
So there we have it, how to optimise your website for mobile SEO. The off-page generally remains the same, and the biggest things you should optimise for is to provide the best experience for a mobile user and re-think how your content is presented and digested.