Let’s be real, here. A lot has been said about how important it is to optimize your company’s website for display on mobile devices, so I’m not going to repeat all of that here. If you want the Cliff’s Notes version, be aware that mobile usage is expected to account for as much as 50 percent of all Internet browsing by the year 2014.
Basically, it’s safe to say that, if you aren’t yet running a mobile version of your business site, this should become an immediate priority for your business.
That said, plenty of us aren’t taking the time to put a mobile optimization plan into place. According to a survey of 250 global marketers conducted by the CMO Council:
“Only 16 percent of marketers out of 250 global marketers surveyed have developed a mobile strategy aimed at building customer engagement.”
Even worse, of these marketers, only 14 percent of those surveyed counted themselves as being satisfied with the way their companies have been leveraging mobile marketing!
Whether this is due to competing priorities, the complexity of mobile optimization or some other factor isn’t clear, but what is obvious is that businesses need a simple, easy-to-understand framework for launching mobile-optimized versions of their websites.
So, while space limitations prevent me from turning this article into a complete guide to mobile optimization, the following step-by-step action plan should help you to make progress on this seemingly complex business operation:
Step #1: Understand Google’s mobile optimization preferences
As a website owner, you have several choices when launching a mobile version of your site. You can use a responsive site design that automatically detects when users are accessing your pages using mobile devices, you can control your site’s display using separate HTML and CSS files or you can create an entirely separate mobile website on an “m.yourwebsite.com” domain.
Here’s how Google feels about each of these options:
“Google supports smartphone-optimized sites in three configurations:
- Sites that use responsive web design, i.e. sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device. This is Google’s recommended configuration.
- Sites that dynamically serve all devices on the same set of URLs, but each URL serves different HTML (and CSS) depending on whether the user agent is a desktop or a mobile device.
- Sites that have separate mobile and desktop URLs.”
As a rule, the search engine supports all of these different options, though given how competitive the mobile world is becoming, most companies will benefit from working with Google’s recommended configuration.
Step #2: Create a responsive design
Given Google’s recommendations, it’s clear that the best path for webmasters who are interested in pursuing mobile optimization is to create a responsive website design that serves up the same information using separate CSS files that are triggered by mobile browsers.
In nearly all circumstances, there are two primary ways to do this:
- Purchase a website design theme with responsive options built in, or
- Coordinate with a web developer to have a custom responsive version of your existing website built.
The approach that’s right for you will depend on the size and complexity of your existing website, as well as your mobile marketing budget. Working with web developers or design agencies to have your current design coded into a responsive format will obviously be much more expensive to complete than purchasing a standard template, though this expense may be worthwhile if you’ve invested heavily in your corporate branding.
Step #3: Understand mobile design limitations
Whichever route you take, there are a few specific mobile design cautions that you’ll want to keep in mind throughout the design process:
Mobile users hate scrolling.
Scrolling can be challenging on mobile devices, which is why most users want to be able to log on and find the information they need without having to adjust their screens. If the content of your pages is too long to display correctly, consider breaking up chunks of text onto separate pages.
Feature timely information prominently.
If you’re a pizza parlor, it’s much more likely that mobile users are searching for your hours and address, not your company’s history. Carefully consider which pieces of information should be featured on your mobile homepage to avoid forcing your users to go hunting for the details they need.
Render images on a percentage basis, not an absolute pixel basis.
Rendering images according to a fixed number of pixels can disrupt mobile displays. To prevent images from breaking your responsive website design or otherwise mucking up your display, size them using percentages instead.
Allow mobile users to access your desktop site.
Although most mobile users are looking for quick pieces of information about your company, other readers may be looking to kill a significant amount of time on your site. To give these viewers access to your full site’s content, give them the option of switching from your mobile display to your desktop website.
Place mobile calls-to-action carefully.
Finally, if you’re going to include calls-to-action on any part of your mobile website, be sure that they’re obvious to device-based viewers. Instead of the standard bottom-right placement, consider putting these buttons and statements in the upper left-hand corner of your mobile website version.
Step #4: Cater to mobile SEO needs
For the most part, mobile SEO doesn’t differ significantly from standard desktop SEO. You’ll still want to ensure that all of the pages on your website have the proper title, meta description, and headline tags in order to rank well in the mobile search results, and you’ll still want to court backlinks to your site’s pages, as the URLs of your mobile site will be the same as those on your desktop website (just rendered differently according to responsive design principles).
However, there are a few key differences you’ll need to be aware of in order to make the most of your mobile optimization strategy:
Mobile keywords may be slightly different.
Users tend to enter different queries into mobile browsers versus desktop search engine pages. As such, it’s important to track the keywords used to access your mobile website using a tool like Google Analytics so that you can optimize your web pages for these queries appropriately.
High rankings matter more on mobile devices.
Few mobile users are willing to scroll through page after page of search results while accessing information via digital device. For this reason, your website needs to display in one of the Top 3 mobile search result listings, otherwise you risk a serious drop in your overall click-through rate.
Compact HTML or XHTML mobile files must be present on your site.
When the Googlebot indexes your site, it searches your Doc Type for these file formats in order to test your mobile-readiness. Though most responsive design templates should add these files automatically, it’s important to ensure that they’re available and unblocked in order to ensure proper mobile website optimization.
Following all of these recommendations might seem time consuming, but the reality is that they’re a must for all businesses that hope to capture a portion of the anticipated rise in mobile traffic. If you aren’t able to handle implementing these guidelines on your own, seek out people who can—mobile website optimization is just that important.