Your Technical Guide to Mobile-First SEO
- In 2018, mobile technology was responsible for nearly 60% of all web visits.
- Mobile-first refers to the idea that sites are judged primarily on their mobile rather than their desktop versions.
- Mobile search and mobile-first indexing are having a huge impact on SEO.
- There are a few differences to take into account when designing with mobile SEO in mind and gearing your site towards mobile-first indexing.
With mobile access changing the way the world connects, every business wants a piece of the action. In 2018, mobile technology was responsible for nearly 60% of all web visits and 4.6% of the global economy (i.e., a massive $3.9 trillion), with those margins only set to grow with the widespread introduction of 5G and increasing consumer confidence in making everyday purchases over their smartphone.
So, before you cancel your summer trip to Hawaii in favor of researching mobile SEO, check out our complete guide to mobile-first SEO.
Finding Your Way with Mobile Search
Anyone who has been living their life by the unpredictability of desktop and mobile SEO for the last few years knows that it is an inexact science at best. However, like early explorers, the most successful mobile SEO navigators are the ones who use the best tools available, read pretty much everything written about the topic, and constantly monitor what works and what doesn’t.
Despite all the difficulties, we actually love setting off into the (relatively) great unknown of mobile SEO to provide our clients with success and prosperity, otherwise known as the Land of First Page Rankings. If you want to know how an excellent mobile search strategy works and are looking for a roadmap, here are a few of the more technical highlights.
Understanding What Mobile-First Means
Mobile-first basically refers to the idea that sites are judged primarily on their mobile rather than their desktop versions. It doesn’t mean that desktop versions have been rejected completely (that would be “mobile-only”), just that in site design, content layout, and desktop and mobile search, it will be the mobile site that is considered first.
Mobile-first indexing first came about when Google found that other methods for properly ranking mobile sites, e.g. through equivalent “m.” URLs or by getting webmasters to include ‘rel=alternate’ and ‘rel=canonical’ links to the HTML of desktop pages and their mobile alternates, was too resource intensive and time-consuming.
They figured the best way to account for the boom in mobile usage and to make sure users were getting what they were looking for was to start crawling everything from the point of view of a smartphone. Thus mobile-first indexing doesn’t discount what a desktop user wants, it just considers what works better for mobile.
Becoming Friendly for Mobile SEO
There are a few differences to take into account when designing with mobile SEO in mind and gearing your site towards mobile-first indexing.
One of the earliest warnings Google delivered about its gradual migration to mobile-first was to actively encourage site owners to upgrade their websites to include Responsive Design. Nowadays, it’s pretty much a standard for new sites. On WordPress, for example, it can be done as simply as installing a plugin. If you’re unsure about whether or not your site is responsive, enlist your web developer to join the adventure and make sure you’re sticking to the following rules (from Google) for responsive design.
Use a Mobile Search Friendly Language
Check Your Site is Mobile Search Ready
There are a number of tools available from Google that you can use to make a quick diagnosis of how prepared a site is for mobile SEO. Here are a few:
- One of the most comprehensive tools which will give you a rundown of issues with your mobile site is the mobile-friendly test from Google.
- To make sure the Googlebot can access the mobile version of your site, use the robots.txt testing tool.
- To see how your desktop and mobile versions of the same page are working out content-wise, you can use the structured data testing tool.
- To check on problems Google may have with crawling a page, go to Crawl, then Crawl Errors on Google’s Search Console.
Speed is Essential
Surprisingly for people who are generally just killing time, mobile users are surprisingly impatient when it comes to load times. Google’s stats suggest that over 50% of visitors expect pages to load within 1-2 seconds and that 53% of visits are abandoned once they start to go over three seconds.
To see how your site is measuring up to these quite lofty expectations you can use Google’s mobile speed test and if you need to start turbo-charging your page speed we’ve just written a great blog about it right here.
What’s on the Page
There are a number of factors which Google look at with regards to content and page layout which affect how it ranks for mobile SEO. These relate to both the site’s navigability and how easy it will be for someone using a smartphone to get the most out of the page. These factors include:
- Finger tapping: Fingers on a smudgeable screen are going to be less precise than a mouse pointer; space out clickable elements to take this into account.
- Mobile screens are smaller: This might seem obvious, but content should be designed and render appropriately to fit into a smaller space.
- Avoid overload: Having to do too much closing on a smartphone is incredibly annoying so avoid pop-ups and ads that cover up your content and make your visitors desperately scroll around trying to find the “x” without accidentally clicking something else.
- Embrace order: Configure your elements as much as possible through Critical Path Rendering (which Google is a big fan of) to optimize load time and avoid confusion.
Mobile search and mobile-first indexing are having a huge impact on SEO, even if your business model is not mobile-focused. As avid followers of all the twists and turns of the SEO world, this move towards mobile-first has excited us probably more than it should. If you’d like to find out how we can gear your site to put it in the mobile SEO fast lane, just get in touch with us here.