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.
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.
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.
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, m.yourdomain.com).
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