A Definitive Guide to Mobile SEO

A Definitive Guide to Mobile SEO

Written bySEMrush AcademySEMrush Academy

Mobile phones have become an integral part of our everyday life.

Whenever you need to find any question you don’t know the answer to, or get more information on a certain matter, you pull out your phone, pop open your browser, and do a quick search.

Google research has shown that mobile searchers have a higher buyer intent – that means that users who search on a mobile device are much more likely to buy than users who search on a desktop.

Sounds like those are the users you want to target, right?

If you want to convert those mobile searches, you need to be sure your site is visible when mobile users are searching.

In the past, Google’s index was built on desktop sites – so even if you were doing a search on your mobile device, the results were based on what Google indexed from the desktop versions of websites.

Now, Google has switched to a mobile-first index, which means that the spiders are indexing the mobile versions of websites. When you’re doing a search on a laptop or desktop, the results are based on Google’s mobile index.

That’s why mobile SEO has become a vital strategy for continued success.

In this guide, you’ll find out how to make your mobile site rock by leveraging crucial aspects of mobile SEO: from content to UX to technical features and site speed.

1. Mobile SEO vs. Desktop SEO: Similarities & Differences

Mobile SEO and desktop SEO have similar approaches, and the goals are usually the same.

Content is a major focus for both types – you’re not destined to rank for a keyword if you don’t have relevant, helpful content related to that keyword.

User experience is also important in both types of SEO – you need to be sure that users can easily navigate your content and find what they need quickly.

Performance is also a universal focus – no one’s going to buy from you if your site loads like you’re on AOL in 1995.

A Definitive Guide to Mobile SEO

With desktop SEO, you’re typically focusing on the web at large – the general public.

You’re optimizing for particular keywords, but there’s no geographic focus.

Mobile SEO, in turn, usually focuses on local search, since mobile searches are inherently local.

Google knows your customers’ location when they’re searching, and with mobile devices, you’re trying to reach them at the right time.

2. Responsive Site & Content

The type of mobile site you’ve got is important.

You need your site to play nicely with the mobile spiders.

Google recommends a responsive site – and that’s definitely the way to go.

A responsive site means that the code is written so that the site structure is fluid. It’s just one site, but it readjusts its content to look one way on mobile and another on desktop.

Since you’ve only got one set of site files, you don’t have to do any additional SEO work or worry about missing content on the mobile version of your site.

But still, everyone designs their pages for desktop users – whether we’re talking about layout, graphics, videos, or content creation – and no thought is put into what the page looks like on a smartphone screen.

Flip the direction in your head, think mobile first!

When you’re designing content for your site, you should make sure that it looks good on mobile screens.

Check your Google Analytics – almost every site gets more mobile traffic (up to 80%) than desktop. And if most of your traffic is coming from mobile users, that means most of your conversions happen on a mobile device.

Instead of simply relying on the responsive code to rearrange contents for you, learn CSS – it’s really not hard at all – so you understand how the responsive code works and can get the page rocking on mobile.

A Definitive Guide to Mobile SEO

“Mobile SEO has become a vital strategy for continued success. In this guide, you’ll find out how to make your mobile site rock by leveraging crucial aspects of mobile SEO.”

3. Technical Aspects of Mobile SEO

Now let’s look at the technical aspects of mobile SEO.

When you optimize the SEO elements on a page, you should start with title tags, H1 headings, content, image alt text, URLs, and meta descriptions, just as you would doing standard SEO on your desktop site.

Pay special attention to your title tags and meta descriptions.

Mobile search results pages don’t display as much information as desktop SERPs, so your titles and descriptions will be truncated to a much shorter length.

Use those marketing skills to write shorter, more compelling titles and descriptions, so you’ll make a better impression when you show up in mobile searches.

It’s critical that you don’t block CSS or JavaScript. Older devices didn’t support CSS or JavaScript, so it was common practice to block them – less code ensured faster load speeds.

Now, Google’s spiders want to crawl your site as humans see it. And if CSS and JavaScript are blocked, Google can’t see what your page actually looks like, so you might experience visibility problems.

Make sure you don’t have any popups on your mobile site – they’re incredibly annoying.

Think about what you do when you’re browsing the web. When you get to a site and a giant popup appears, you get frustrated and close it immediately.

Your customers do the same thing.

A Definitive Guide to Mobile SEO

Make sure you’re using schema markup. You should be using schema anyway, but it’s even more important when you consider the size of mobile screens.

And if you manage to get a rich snippet in search results, you’re even more likely to stand out when people are searching for you.

And finally, never, ever use Flash on your website! If you want your site to have animations or special effects, use HTML5 instead.

4. User Experience

It’s more convenient to search on a mobile device, but because of that convenience factor, user experience is critical to success.

So let’s talk about the things you should optimize to make your user experience stellar.

One of the most important UX issues on mobile sites is click size.

Whether it’s a menu button or a clickable element, you need to make sure the clickable area is large enough for finger taps.

Along the same line, pay attention to the distance between clicks. If your clickable areas are too close together, users will get frustrated when they can’t click what they’re trying to click.

Frustrated users are bad for business – they’re probably going to bounce.

Make sure your phone number is easy to see and is coded with a click to call link. Far too often, we see sites with unclickable phone numbers.

Why do you have your number on your site?

Because you want customers to call you!

So make things easy for them – add the click to call link.

A Definitive Guide to Mobile SEO

Make sure your mobile menu is easy to navigate. If you’ve crammed a bunch of buttons into your menu, they’ll stack vertically on mobile, and might not fit on the screen – users will have to scroll to see them all.

If it’s too hard for users to find what they’re looking for, they’re going to bounce and find the answer or the product elsewhere.

Another massive mobile UX headache is forms. Most business owners and marketers don’t put much thought into their mobile forms, thinking that the responsive site solves everything.

The forms need to fit well on the screen, and they need to be easy to use. If the fields are too small, it’s tough to click them to select them.

But the biggest issue of all is the keyboard you use for your forms. There are several mobile keyboards available, and it’s important to connect the right keyboard to each field.

If a user needs to type in their name, you’re cool with the standard keyboard. When the user needs to type in a phone number, set that field to pull up the number keypad instead of the standard keyboard.

It’s a simple code change that will drastically influence the number of form completions you’ll see on mobile.

Font size is also important. Pull up your site on your phone – is it easy to read? Is there enough space between lines?

Don’t try to use a smaller font to squeeze in more content on the smaller screen – in fact, you most likely need to do the opposite. Make it easy to read and your users will be happy.

Make sure you’re serving different image sizes on mobile.

A full-screen image on a desktop is much larger than a full-screen image on a mobile device, so use your website code to serve up different images based on screen size.

Don’t load in huge images that you don’t need to. If you’ve got a slideshow, serve mobile-specific images for it, making sure they fit on the screen of a mobile device.

5. Mobile Site Speed

Page load speed is a Google ranking factor – and since it’s using a mobile-first algorithm, we know that mobile load speed is what matters.

It’s important, but note that your page load speed is really only going to affect your rankings if you’re in the bottom range.

The extremely slow sites get penalized – but once you’ve got a site that’s loading within a few seconds, shaving another half second off your load time isn’t going to help you rank any better.

It will help you convert more customers, though.

When you’re browsing sites on your phone, there’s nothing worse than going to a site that loads so slowly you feel like you’re going to die.

If that’s the case, your users will bounce and go to your competitors instead.

Most business owners and marketers have heard of Google’s Page Speed Insights tool. It shares incredibly valuable insights into how you can speed up your site, but it doesn’t really tell you how long your site takes to load.

Use it for the suggestions it provides, but opt for another speed testing tool to tell you the actual load time.

Now, we’re going to share eight tips that will help your site to truly rock in terms of page load speed.

A Definitive Guide to Mobile SEO

  • Find quality hosting. Server response time has a massive effect on your page load speed, so get your site on a host that’s optimized for fast performance. We’ve seen WordPress sites get moved to a better host and the load time is nearly cut in half immediately.
  • Be careful with your site plugins. It only takes a few, especially chat and social media, plugins to slow down your site drastically. If you have any, try disengaging them and testing your “naked” site speed.
  • Prioritize the loading of above-the-fold content. In other words, load what the users see first. Make sure you’re not render-blocking anything above the fold.
  • Optimize your images before you load them. A 3-megabyte PNG file could be converted to a 210-kilobyte jpg image that looks the same on your users’ screens. Imagine how much faster your site will be if you could do that for every image. It’s also important to use responsive code to serve the right image size for the screen being used to view your content.
  • Be careful with redirects. Too many redirects can slow down your site – and so will redirect chains. Only use them if they’re absolutely necessary.
  • Optimize your site code. Make sure your HTML, CSS, and Javascript are clean and without any bloat. Minify the code to compress the files and reduce file size.
  • Use site caching. If you’re unfamiliar with caching, you set the browser to basically remember the site in its final configuration. That way, it can simply display the page without having to load the HTML, apply the CSS, load the images, and then fire off the JavaScript.
  • Use a CDN. CDN stands for Content Delivery Network, and it’s a collection of geographically different locations that serve your content. When a page is requested, its assets are served by the CDN server that’s closest to the user’s location.

6. AMP & Apps

We can’t talk about mobile page speed without mentioning AMP and PWAs, which are two alternative options for providing faster-loading content for your users.

AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, which are created with a special coding language that is based on a stripped-down version of HTML and CSS and loads almost instantly.

AMP tends to be mainly for news sites and wouldn’t make much sense for many businesses, as those pages don’t look as appealing as fully designed pages. Even worse, the AMP pages are stored on Google servers, and you get limited analytics data.

If you’re looking for a fast, streamlined user experience, apps are another option. Native apps allow you to do things that aren’t possible on a website.

There’s a bit of a barrier to entry, though – there’s no point in having an app if your customers and potential customers don’t download it.

You’ve also got to get the app approved by the App Store or Google Play.

A progressive web app, or PWA, gives you the best of both worlds. A PWA is a hybrid between a mobile website and an app.

You can download it directly from your browser without going to the App Store (or worrying about App Store approval).

It looks like an app on the user’s phone, but functions basically like a mobile website. PWAs are incredibly fast.

Thanks to data caching, once the PWA has been used one time, users can load and use the app without even being on a network. It can even send push notifications and access other functions on the device – just like native apps.

There’s even a newer hybrid combo of PWAs and AMP, commonly called PWAMP, which are progressive web apps built on AMP pages.

So, should you use one or the other, or any of the options at all?

Each business is different, so there’s no right or wrong answer.

It also depends on your customers and audience, on how users find you, and on how they engage with you once you’ve been found.

7. Optimizing for Local

Let’s finish up with talking about how to optimize your site for local.

Mobile searches are inherently local. Google knows you’re searching from a mobile device, and if that search has anything to do with local businesses, it’s going to show localized results.

A Definitive Guide to Mobile SEO

A Google study showed that 76% of users who searched for something nearby visited a related business within 24 hours of searching.

Even better, 28% of those visits resulted in a sale. If you haven’t heard of it before, Local SEO is going to be your new best friend.

You need to be sure your content is localized – it needs to reference the local area, and you should be including your city name in your content.

Don’t stuff the city name in, mention it conversationally. It’s also helpful to write locally focused blog posts – they allow you to talk about specific information about the local area.

You also need to be sure that your NAP information is displayed on every page of your site. NAP stands for name, address, and phone number. Make sure your phone number is click to call.

Your NAP information needs to be marked up with Local Business schema – a type of code that shows Google that you’re a local business.

You should also use local optimization tactics when you’re optimizing the important SEO elements on your pages.

Include your location keyword phrase in your title tag, in your H1, and in your image alt text. Don’t just add it to the end – try to make it conversational.

Most website platforms allow you to customize your URLs, so include your location keywords in your URLs wherever possible.

Finally, include your location keyword in your meta description. It won’t help you with ranking, but since it appears under your blue link when you show up as a search result, it’s helpful to include the location info to boost the likelihood of a clickthrough.

You’ll also want to shift your link building strategy and start targeting links from local businesses. Google’s local algorithm values links from local businesses, even if the authority metrics are lower than what you’re used to seeing.

You’ll need to be sure your Google My Business profile is claimed and fully optimized. It’s a direct interface with Google that allows you to supply specific details about your business, and it’s the first thing customers will see when searching for your business.

Reviews play a big part in the local algorithm as well, so if you haven’t been paying attention to reputation management, it’s time to start working on getting more reviews.

Citations are also important to the local algorithm. Citations are mentions of your NAP information on other websites. Basically, they’re your directory listings.

They’re a foundational Local SEO signal, and Google expects to see the same NAP listed every time it sees your information on another site.

Want to learn more about mobile SEO? Take this course at SEMrush Academy. You’ll learn how to start thinking mobile first and top the rankings in mobile searches!

Mobile SEO Course
with Greg Gifford

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The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor's own.

Mobile SEO Course with Greg Gifford