Mobile SEO has historically taken a back seat to desktop SEO, but that began to change this summer when Google’s Matt Cutts spoke about the importance of mobile SEO at SMX Advanced. Google later confirmed on its Official Webmaster Central blog that it would focus on promoting websites in organic search that offer positive experiences for mobile visitors. Google’s changes could roll out by Halloween – just in time to impact holiday shopping.
Google usually remains fairly quiet about upcoming algorithm changes, but they’ve been vocal on mobile SEO and shared some of the most common errors that companies make when designing websites for mobile devices. Here are a few of those errors and some tips on how to prepare your website for mobile SEO.
Under Google’s new guidelines, sites could be penalized if a full web page redirects mobile visitors to an irrelevant page on the mobile-optimized website. In the example below, mobile visitors who navigate to www.example.com/bears or www.example.com/sharks are redirected to the homepage of the mobile site, instead of to information about those specific topics. This makes it harder for users to access the content they want, which can be frustrating and ultimately lead to site abandonment. Since in Google is in the business of rewarding positive user experiences, it frowns upon improper redirects.
Fortunately, there is an easy fix: simply redirect visitors from the desktop page to the corresponding mobile-optimized page. If the full web page doesn’t have a mobile-optimized equivalent, consider using no redirect at all and serving the full desktop page. It’s better to keep visitors on the full web page than to redirect them to an irrelevant page.
Do this. Not this.
Another issue is embedded videos or interactive graphics, which often aren’t accessible to all mobile users. Flash, for example, will not work on iPhones or Android versions 4.1 and above. Either create these elements using native HTML5 elements or eliminate them from mobile pages altogether.
Test your mobile site regularly to make sure your mobile-friendly pages work and do not result in errors or blank pages. Again, if your content is not available in a smartphone-friendly format, it’s better to serve the desktop version of the page than an error or blank page.
Incorrectly handling the Googlebot-Mobile crawler can also affect a site’s search engine ranking. According to the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog many sites make the mistake of creating infinite redirect loops by redirecting Googlebot-Mobile for smartphones from full web pages to pages optimized for feature phones, which then redirect back to the full pages. This should be easy to avoid as long as you’re not over thinking things – Googlebot-Mobile crawlers will identify themselves as the mobile devices they represent. Treat them as such, and you’ll be fine.
Interstitials & Overlays
Promoting your smartphone app on your mobile site isn’t a bad idea, but be mindful how you go about it. Methods such as interstitials – an intermediate page that interrupts the path between two related pages — or overlays can cause indexing issues for smartphone-optimized content and may be too disruptive for visitors. If you must advertise your app to users, Google recommends using a simple banner in line with the page’s content.
Page Load Speed
Page speed is equally important for mobile websites as desktop sites. Mobile users often have slow data networks and less tolerance for slow sites. Pages should load on smartphones in less than one second. Any longer than that, and users begin to disengage. Google Analytics reported last year that the average web page takes more than 10 seconds to load on mobile devices.
How can page speed be improved? Two of the biggest considerations are page weight and the number of requests needed to render a page. By ‘requests’ we mean things like images, scripts, style sheets and other assets required in order to render the page. Some things to keep in mind:
- Content – The less content that is presented, the lighter the page. Take a close look at the elements on a page – are they all necessary, or can some be removed? For example, if the page includes five ads are they really generating that much income? Try two ads and see how that affects page speed.
- Images – Images can dramatically add to the weight of a page. Only use images if they are absolutely necessary and make sure you optimize the images.
- Social sharing tools – Be judicious in the use of social sharing tools like AddThis or Sharebar, which are notorious for slowing down page loads. In a recent RepEquity project, including just four social sharing buttons added 400kb of page weight and 40 requests. When using these tools, be sure to monitor user engagement. Omit them from the mobile site if visitors are not utilizing them.
A recent study revealed that only 6 percent of the top 100 Fortune 500 companies have websites that comply with Google’s mobile requirements. Two-thirds of these websites could see a drop in search rankings because they don’t serve mobile versions of many indexed pages. Taking steps now to make your website accessible to people using smartphones and other mobile devices will save you headaches, increase customer loyalty, and – most importantly – help you outrank your competitors in search.