How to Optimize Your Mobile Website

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These days, offering consumers a mobile version of your website isn’t just a nice perk—it’s an absolute “must do” in a world of ever-increasing smartphone usage and market penetration.

If you haven’t yet taken the time to build a mobile website version or if you’ve circumvented the process by installing a bland mobile template on top of your existing site, now is the time to undertake this process using the tips below. In addition, even if you already make use of a responsive mobile design, then you’ll still want to review this information, as mobile SEO best practices are constantly changing.

Here’s how to build a mobile website that’s appealing to both users and the search engine spiders:

User Experience Tips

Tip #1: Understand How Mobile Consumers Interact with Websites

Your absolute first step in the mobile website development process should be to put some serious thought into how on-the-go users will interact differently with your mobile website than with your desktop version.

For example, suppose you’re a New York City restaurant who’s building a mobile website version for the first time. While your desktop version may (and should) contain beautifully executed pages describing your chef’s culinary background and inspiration in detail, this information is worse than useless on a mobile site.

A mobile visitor is accessing your website via smartphone or tablet with a specific mission in mind. Maybe he needs to know when you’re open or maybe she wants directions to your location. These visitors aren’t on your site to browse—they’re there for immediate information. As a result, it’s important that you begin the mobile design process from this mindset to ensure that the elements you choose to include on this limited website version serve your user’s needs, not your business’s ego.

Tip #2: Declutter Your Mobile Interface

Assuming you followed the process described in Tip #1, your mobile website version should contain only the features necessary for immediate access from a smartphone or tablet. Even still, it’s best to follow the timeless wisdom of Coco Chanel and “take off one piece of jewelry before leaving the house.”

When it comes to the tiny screens of the mobile world, white space is your friend. Include one fewer feature than you think your viewers actually need, and their eyes will thank you!

Tip #3: Maintain Consistent Branding

Considering Google’s recent emphasis on brands, it’s obvious why making use of stock mobile templates is a bad idea for your business website. Instead, a far better approach from both an SEO and user experience standpoint is to invest in a custom mobile design that’s able to carry your brand’s colors, fonts, images, and styles to mobile viewers and the search engines.

Tip #4: Kill Any Flash or Javascript Files

Though the caveat about Flash files on mobile devices used to apply to Apple users only, even Android recently made the announcement that it would stop supporting Adobe Flash installs for new device users as of August 15, 2012.

The lesson here is obvious. If you install Flash or Javascript files on your mobile website version, there’s a good chance your users won’t be able to access them. Solution?  Don’t install them in the first place!

Tip #5: Eliminate Pop-up Windows

Similarly, get rid of any pop-up windows that may have carried over to your mobile website version from your desktop site. Really, anyone who’s ever had to close down a mobile browsing window because he’s unable to accurately click the teeny-tiny “Close” button in the corner of a frustrating pop-up ad understands why this is so important.

But for the uninitiated, I’ll keep it simple … Pop-ups are a pain in the ass on mobile devices, and even if they somehow manage to improve your mobile conversion rates, I guarantee that they’re doing significantly more damage to your brand’s image. Do everyone a favor and get rid of them!

Tip #6: Include a Link Back to Your Full Website

Finally, no matter how you build or structure your mobile website version, make sure it includes a link back to your full website.  Although 95 percent of mobile viewers will access your site to obtain specific pieces of information only, you may still wind up with a few who want to interact with features you’ve left out of your mobile interface. Don’t frustrate these users by keeping them stuck in a mobile website redirect loop. Instead, make it obvious how to navigate back to your main site if viewers so desire.

SEO Tips

Tip #1: Use Responsive Web Design to Serve Up the Same HTML with Separate CSS

The following recommendation on how to best handle mobile website design comes straight from Google’s mouth:

Google recommends webmasters follow the industry best practice of using responsive web design, namely serving the same HTML for all devices and using only CSS media queries to decide the rendering on each device.

If you can’t use responsive website design for some reason, Google will still support serving different HTML content, either on the same URL or separate “mobile versus desktop” URLs (though you may need to take additional steps to ensure that the Googlebot can index these instances appropriately).

Tip #2: Use a Mobile URL with Automatic Redirection

In the past, there’s been plenty of back-and-forth in the SEO world about whether or not mobile-specific URLs would split a site’s link equity or social shares. However, Google has laid this miscommunication to rest by explicitly confirming its support for mobile URLs (for example,

For complete details on how to establish user redirection between mobile and desktop URLs, take a look at the “Redirects and User-Agent Detection” article provided by Google. There, you’ll find instructions on how to setup automatic redirects using both HTTP redirection and JavaScript redirect protocols, as well as the code snippets needed to carry these changes out on your website.

Tip #3: Handle Mobile-related Canonical Tags with Care

One final mobile SEO misconception to clear up is the idea that canonical tags should be left off of all duplicate mobile URLs (with the common exception being a site’s home page).

However, as a result of Google’s clarifications on the subject, it now appears that the canonical tag should be used on all mobile pages—even if the content on these equivalent pages is slightly different. Doing so won’t prohibit your pages from ranking for unique keywords on the appropriate platforms, even though the canonical tag is in place.

The important lesson that webmasters should take from Google’s most recent announcements is that the world of mobile SEO is always changing. While it will always be important to understand the needs of your mobile users and to update your mobile interface design to best meet these priorities, keep in mind that the appropriate way to handle mobile website setup may change from time to time from an SEO perspective.

As a result, it’s imperative that your mobile website design do not become a “set it and forget it” type of thing. Make it a point to continually update your design and to implement any new recommendations that come out from Google or industry websites, and you’ll consistently see the best results when it comes to mobile performance.

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Reinhold Foeger

Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel has over 12 years of digital marketing experience and has helped hundreds of clients increase web traffic, boost user acquisition, and grow their... Read Full Bio
Sujan Patel
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  • Ron

    Nice article Sujan, how about the use of less copy on the mobile site to make it user friendly

  • Ros

    Some very good advice here. The visitor wants speed and clarity. They want to see the business name, what it does, contact details and probably a map, all visible on the front page. Of course, the inner pages can include more details, maybe a menu, price list or product choices but the information should still be succinct and clear. They can see more if they really wish to by swapping to the main site via a clearly visible link on the page.

  • Neal Stammers

    #Tip 1 – I really don’t think you should ever ‘assume’ what someone wants to do. Leave it to the user to decide.
    #Tip 2 – Cutting content is really frustrating – Who’s to say I don’t want ‘that’ piece of information. If it’s in the page you’ve deemed it useful for a user – regardless of the device they use to access it.
    #Tip 4 – Used correctly and with fall-back Javascript can, and should be used to ‘enhance’ a site.
    #Tip 6 – This becomes a pointless exercise if you utilise responsive design on the same content.
    SEO #Tip 2 – This really isn’t a good idea, there are multiple reasons why you shouldn’t redirect someone on a mobile device. Including the difficulty in reliably detecting a mobile device.

    There will always be edge cases where a separate mobile site is needed, but it shouldn’t be your first choice.

    Speed can be achieved by using correct coding methods and optimised delivery of content, there are plenty of articles by the likes of Ethan Marcotte, Bruce Lawson, Paul Irish, etc to support this.

  • Matt Coffy

    Thanks for sharing these pointers, Sujan. We’re always, always on the look out for ideas to try to keep things fresh and interesting for our customers and visitors. However we experiment though, it should not be forgotten that these mobile access are primarily for users, then again that’s not to say that SEO is taking the backseat.

  • Rahul

    Hi Sujan,

    Great piece of well organised information . One quick point will be to ensure that the contact details + trading hours of the information are easily visible on mobile device. This will help in the long run and will allow any frustuation for the user to go through all the menu to find a contact no ! and Also when clicked on the contact no it should pop up on the call screen, I have seen website which we have to zoom and pan in to copy the contact no.

  • Ignite Visibility

    Adding the canonical tag to the mobile site feels counter-intuitive at first, but that is how they want us to do! Funny how Google makes these little rules and exceptions for the SEO community. Nice post

  • Andrew Mooers

    Thanks for the A to Z on how to implement mobile sites and concerns, considerations to remember along the way. Very very helpful!