Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Mobile SEO: Optimizing Your Website for Mobile Devices

Mobile web usage is growing at an extremely fast rate; so fast that most organizations are lagging behind their mobile browsers by not optimizing their websites for mobile access. In the UK, 20 million people accessed the mobile internet during July 2008. This has increased by 25% from July 2007. With the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007, we can see a sharp increase in the UK of people accessing the internet from their mobile phone. A very important aspect to consider is that mobile search is an extremely new area and currently there are many unanswered questions. I envisage that mobile SEO is the next big thing and it’s essential to get ahead of the game. If you consider that the normal search engine results page will show around 10 links and a couple of sponsored results, contrast this with a mobile search results page showing 1 sponsored link and no more than 4-5 search results due to the size restrictions of a mobile phone screen. In order to obtain a high traffic volume from mobile users, high search engine rankings are extremely important. Now from the facts and figures presented above, I don’t believe it was necessary for me to explain the importance of mobile SEO, but rather to inform you when optimizing for mobile devices, what is required and how to do it. This is very similar to normal SEO service, still involving the researching and selecting of keywords for each page, optimizing the title meta tags and description meta tags. One big difference to regular SEO is that the content must be designed for the mobile user. For example, you would not display a 1000px fixed width website on a mobile phone requiring the user to scroll in both the x and y axes. This is because fixed width content does not reflow (alter its layout to fit the width of the device accessing it). You should start by editing the CSS of the page layout so that it is based on a percentage width and not a fixed width. For example, change #content {width:1000px} to #content {width:90%}. This will make the width of the content 90% of the screen width, adapting to the width of the device. Changes to the content layout may also be required, depending on how the division of the content was laid out, as certain divisions may need resizing for a better-looking layout. Now the optimal way to serve the mobile user would be using the same URL as your normal website and detecting the user agent (mobile browser) and serving the mobile CSS and content from the same page. Redirecting to a mobile subdomain brings about duplicate content issues and is not recommended. It is then essential to get links from other mobile sites into this mobile content. This will build PR for the mobile content and cause the overall site PR to flow into the mobile content. Step one to optimizing for mobile search is increasing search engine spider mobile content accessibility. Step two is improving the search engine rankings of the mobile content.

Importance of Mobile SEO

Another factor driving the importance of mobile SEO is the rapid increase of mobile web usage. The graph below shows the trend of mobile web usage increasing year on year compared to desktop internet usage. Current numbers put around 1.2 billion people using mobile web around the world, this is sure to grow as smartphones become cheaper and mobile internet infrastructure improves around the world.

Recent studies have proved that mobile search spend is increasing year on year. Currently, for example, in the UK, £28 million is spent on mobile search ads, and the UK is only the 3rd largest mobile search market; the US and China take the bigger share. This in itself shows the importance of mobile SEO, and this is even before you consider how much companies are spending on developing mobile sites and apps. Not only that, the fact that people are actually spending money means that companies and individuals with websites are going to want to ensure people can find their mobile content.

The internet is undergoing a fundamental change. People are increasingly surfing the web using mobile devices, and this trend is poised to explode over the next few years. In fact, many experts believe that mobile web usage will surpass desktop usage by 2014. As we witnessed the change from WAP sites to mobile versions of regular websites, one thing has remained constant: the importance of search. With more web content being accessed on mobile devices, there is an increasing need to ensure this content can be found via search engines, and recent data shows that search is the primary way people discover mobile content. This can be a complex task as mobile sites are very different from their desktop brethren, and even a lot of the technology and best practices of mobile SEO are a black art.

Benefits of Optimizing for Mobile Devices

In a recent report from Google, 48% of mobile users said that they feel frustrated and annoyed when they get to a site that’s not mobile-friendly, and 36% said they felt like they’d wasted their time. Compare this to the 61% that said they’d leave a non-mobile friendly site if they didn’t find what they were looking for right away, it’s abundantly clear that positive mobile experiences are valuable for consumers. In the future, all of our mobile SEO related resources will be easily accessible from the mobile optimization section of the menu.

On its own, optimization for mobile devices offers a great ROI. Reasons for investing in mobile optimization can include higher conversion rates, as users are more likely to make a purchase after a positive mobile experience, usability being a ranking factor in mobile search, and the user value of the desired information is high. Most importantly, mobile optimization can affect the personal well-being of its users.

Mobile-Friendly Design

This example shows how the content is set out using the most recent standard for CSS media queries, which is more flexible with how you identify what content is aimed at certain devices. By using responsive web design, you can save resources and reduce the possibility of on-page SEO errors from using mobile websites.

/* For desktop */

/* For tablets / iPads: */

/* For mobile phones: */

Mobile-friendly design is the practice of making all aspects of a website consistent when viewed on smaller devices such as mobile phones or tablets. With over 50% of internet users browsing on mobile devices, it is crucial to consider mobile-friendliness when developing your website. There are four primary design methods to make your website mobile-friendly and optimize it for mobile devices. The first method is using responsive web design. Responsive web design is a method of designing a website so that the content, images, and structure remain the same on any device. This is done using CSS to change the appearance of the website on different devices. Although there are some benefits to using a separate mobile website to aid mobile-friendliness, according to Google, the best method is using a single URL and the same HTML regardless of the device, and using CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device. This is because it makes it easier for Google to crawl, index, and organize content and eliminates the chance of on-page SEO errors. Using a single URL makes it easier for users to interact with, share, and link content compared to content that is found on a separate mobile site. Another benefit is that it helps Google to discover your content more efficiently as there is only one URL to crawl. Finally, using responsive web design will save Google resources when crawling your site, which will result in a boost in search engine rankings.

Responsive Web Design

This is very important in regards to the mobile market. It is predicted that by 2015, over 50% of the internet users will be mobile and tablet users. What this means is that a mobile user will no longer be the minority. In this prediction, it can be assumed that a desktop user will be the minority, but the fact is: the minority will still want to view your website. During the transition phase, only a minority will want to view your desktop website on a mobile or tablet. With most mobile users, most likely searching for a product offering on a mobile, it’s completely necessary for your website to be mobile optimized.

Responsive web design (RWD) is a web development approach that creates dynamic changes to the appearance of a website, depending on the screen size and orientation of the device being used to view it. RWD is one aspect of mobile SEO that is recommended by Google and it’s also the industry best practice. A responsive website dynamically resizes the content to the device screen so that consumers can view the product offering.

Mobile-Friendly Navigation

Google feels that one URL for both desktop and mobile sites is the simplest for their crawlers to understand, but it will be difficult for users to configure the site to display on their device. However, Google supports any mobile configuration – be it responsive, dynamic, or mobile-specific, as long as it is set up correctly. If you are using a different URL for your mobile site, make sure that you redirect your mobile users to the appropriate page. This helps Google discover the location of your mobile site. If you are using the same URL for both desktop and mobile sites, be sure to use the vary HTTP header when delivering the content based on user agent. This will minimize the possibility of the wrong content being served to the wrong user. Do not use any mobile URL schemas such as “m.” or “mobile.”, as this will cause Googlebot to treat the mobile site as a duplicate of the desktop site. In general, we recommend using a single URL for both the desktop and mobile sites. This makes it easier for users to interact with, share, and link to the content, as well as for webmasters to manage the site. Other configuration methods are also viable, so it is important to use the configuration that best suits your site.

Fast Page Load Speed

One of the most important aspects of mobile-friendly design is ensuring that visitors have the ability to load pages quickly and view the content in its entirety. The majority of mobile internet users around the world are still using 2G or a similarly slow connection speed. A lot of mobile websites are built using a ‘full’ version and a ‘mobile’ version. However, users are often redirected to the ‘full’ version on their mobile device. The reason this is a problem is if the website does not have a mobile alternative, it will take a considerable amount of time to load if it is not supported by a fast connection. Using a responsive design is a much faster and easier approach to loading pages on mobile devices than having separate mobile and full websites. This is because it’s more efficient for Google to crawl the site and then Google only has to crawl one URL and can then index your content that is located at that URL. Google’s algorithms assign the indexing properties to the content rather than to a set of URLs, so there is no need to maintain a mobile version of the site. This is an example of fast indexing in which page load time is crucial. If your mobile site functions with a different URL than its full version, Google has to crawl and index both versions of the site. This adds an extra step for Google when looking for content that may eat away at your crawl time.

Optimized Images and Videos


– Try to use CSS3 for effects like drop shadows, rounded corners, or animations. Many of these effects no longer require images and can be achieved through code.

– Resize images with mobile in mind. The physical size of an image is not always indicative of the size it will take up on a page. A 500×500 pixel image will take up far less space than the same image resized in HTML or CSS to 300×300 pixels. Choose image sizes that are appropriate for their display dimensions.

– Use the correct image formats. PNGs are usually better for graphics with fewer than 16 colors, or images with text or graphics with sharp contrast. JPEGs are usually better for photographs.

– Animated images should be limited to the essential. Animated GIFs should be short and sweet. Any longer animations should be videos with sound off by default.

– It may be best to avoid Flash on mobile devices, as Flash has many compatibility and performance issues with mobile.

Just as large blocks of text can make a page seem overwhelming to mobile users, large, unoptimized images can make pages load slowly and use excessive bandwidth. And numerous videos embedded into a page can have similar effects. While it is not necessary to remove all images and videos from mobile pages, it is important to make sure that any media content is optimized for mobile. Here are some key points to consider:

Mobile Keyword Research

At present, there is insufficient information about what mobile searchers are looking for. Rigorous academic studies are of limited use because they aim to understand search behaviour in terms of its relationship to the searchers’ tasks and to the information retrieval system, rather than the search engine system. The search bloggers and marketing companies offer some insights, but the majority of it is speculation based on what people consider to be common sense heuristics. Although there is some merit in that, it skips over the fact that search engines (particularly Google) are designed to help searchers find what they are looking for when they don’t initially know themselves. As a result, search intent for mobiles will need to be understood indirectly by those that perform keyword research. While it’s obvious that mobile users are likely to be on the move when they search and looking for local information, this is not the extent of mobile search. People are increasingly using their mobile devices for entertainment and information retrieval tasks that were traditionally confined to the desktop. A resourceful person may have information seeking intent whether they are trying to kill time waiting for a friend in a restaurant, or whether they are trying to troubleshoot a technical problem whilst attempting to fix a broken appliance. Understanding the scenarios and contexts in which people seek your products, information or services is crucial to understanding mobile search intent.

Understanding Mobile Search Intent

Understanding the intent of mobile searchers is fundamental to mobile keyword research. Back in 2011, Google made the claim that 77% of mobile searches were carried out at home or work, places where desktop devices are likely to be present. Nonetheless, mobile search activity is spread across a wider range of contexts than desktop search, and it is defined by an even greater need for local information (we’ll come to that in a later blog post). This means that the very same keyword may have a different meaning (therefore different intent) when searched on a mobile device. For example, a search for “Italian restaurant” from a desktop PC at home is likely to be general research. However, when searched on a mobile device it is far more likely to be a request for directions to an Italian restaurant with a view to eating there and then. This represents a significant shift in search intent from the same person on the same keyword. To get to grips with mobile search intent, there is no one better qualified to ask than your existing or potential customers. If possible, ask your in-store customers about how and why they used their mobile devices to access your site. If you engage in any form of surveying or customer analysis, ensure that you include segments or questions which are specifically designed to capture mobile usage habits. This can provide valuable qualitative data about the different meanings that the same keyword may have between desktop and mobile contexts.

Identifying Mobile-Friendly Keywords

The most important point when it comes to SEO and mobile SEO is the understanding that the criteria that people use to search data in search engines differs on desktop computers and mobile devices. iCrossing reported that there is a growing trend in mobile users using shorter search phrases to find the information they want. They classified short search queries as 1-3 keywords and long search queries as 4-5 keywords. In the time period of January 2008 to December 2009, mobile users using 1-3 keywords only decreased by four percent whilst search queries using 4-5 keywords increased by three percent. This is in contrast to desktop users who in the same period dropped use of short search keywords by three percent and long search keywords also by three percent. This shows a clear trend that points to mobile users increasingly using longer search phrases in search engines which is opposite to desktop users. Mobile SEO should take this into account and adjust SEO strategies to meet mobile user criteria when they use search engines.

Long-Tail Keywords for Mobile SEO

Smartphone users find it much easier to speak than to type, so it is important to adjust mobile keyword strategy to account for the differences between a spoken search and a typed one. Long-tail keywords become more important for mobile SEO, as these are often the result of spoken searches. Longer, more specific search queries are easier to speak and can be said in a natural manner. This means that mobile users will tend to use longer search terms. It’s important to identify the differences between the long-tail keywords used on the mobile and desktop versions of the site. Create a separate list for mobile keywords and ensure that the content on the mobile site is tailored to these search terms. This will often involve the creation of new content, as the user intent may be different on a mobile device. For example, a user searching for information on a computer may be looking to extensively research a topic, while a mobile user may be looking for a quick answer to a question while on the go.

Mobile SEO Best Practices

At the 2008 SMX advanced search marketing expo, Google’s Matt Cutts stated that a mobile version of a site is now considered another “page” of the main site and should be treated as such with regards to backlinks. This is a clear indication of what webmasters should do in order to harmonize their mobile site with their main site. By employing these best practices and taking into account the second two generations of mobile optimization techniques, sites can be effectively optimized and begin to earn a higher mobile search engine share of traffic and revenue. Step one in optimizing a page is accurately labeling what the page is about and then targeting the right audience, this comes in two forms: meta tag optimization and content optimization. Since meta tags are considered a shorter task, we will begin with mobile meta tag optimization. Mobile meta tag optimization is very similar to regular meta tag optimization, but in the mobile environment there are some technical restrictions and recommended tags which search engines have laid down. The first main technical restriction is the number of bytes allowed in a meta tag, since some mobile browsers do not display more than a certain amount of characters in a tag, search engine titles and descriptions have length limits. Ideal meta tag wise, the leading mobile search engines Google, Yahoo, and Bing have similar requirements; however, the easiest way to determine the required amount is to test it on a smartphone.

Optimizing Meta Tags for Mobile

Screen Size Discovery meta tags can be used to auto discover the screen width and the correct CSS to use, especially when serving mobile users a desktop page. By doing this, the website can automatically decide what will be the best viewing options for the user without changing URL or redirecting to a mobile site. The tag code is placed into the <head> of the page. This tag will detect the screen width and the CSS will apply. Although it’s more efficient, an alternative is to use CSS media queries in the style sheet.

Meta tags provide information about a given web page and are most often used to help search engines categorize and rank your web page. Mobile optimized meta tags are an important part of mobile SEO. Mobile device users rely on search engines to provide the most usable and efficient information for their small screen. Because of this, mobile users expect slightly different results than that of a desktop user. Use these meta tags to customize the experience and content delivered to a mobile phone.

Creating Mobile-Specific Content

Adaptive or websites are specially designed for mobile devices and can be a great way to present mobile-specific content. If an website is a standalone mobile site, the relationship between the mobile and desktop site can be indicated by adding a rel=alternate link from the desktop site to the corresponding mobile site and a rel=canonical link from the mobile site to the desktop site. This helps Google to understand the location of the preferred content for smartphone users. If a site uses responsive design, no changes to the URL structure are necessary and mobile content can be served on the same URLs as desktop content. Google recognizes the three different configurations (desktop, mobile site, responsive design) and says that these can be used interchangeably. However, Google has indicated a slight preference towards using responsive design where possible, primarily because it makes it easier for Googlebot to crawl the content and reduces the chance of on-page SEO errors.

Mobile-specific content is content that is optimized for mobile devices. This can be achieved by creating a mobile version of a webpage, using responsive design, or by dynamically serving different HTML on the same URL. Google has stated that it doesn’t matter which method is used and that webmasters can use any of the above methods as long as all Googlebot user agents are served the same content. This means you can dynamically serve content to Googlebot and mobile users depending on user agent. If done correctly, serving different content to mobile users can be highly beneficial to SEO. A common mistake with dynamic serving is when the content served is a pared down version of what is available to desktop users, e.g. showing an HTML5 video to desktop users and a static image to mobile users. In cases like this, it would be better for SEO to serve the same video content and use responsive design to scale the video for different devices. High quality, device-specific content can also be a great way to attract links from mobile users. This is particularly relevant for mobile-only apps with content that you want to appear in search results.

Implementing Structured Data Markup for Mobile

Structured data markup (or schema) is becoming important in the search marketing world. It is no surprise that just as the web is becoming more complex, so is the results returned by search engines. Implementing structured data will make it easier for search engines to understand the content on your site, which in turn can lead to more visible and higher quality search results; taking cues from your site’s structured data, search engines may create rich snippets, for example video carousels or event listings, which are based on the data they have been able to parse from your pages. There are many resources available here to understand structured data, however below are the best types of structured data to use for mobile SEO and how to implement them. Implementing Schema is about improving the manner in which search engines read and represent your page in SERPs. With the introduction of rich snippets and Google’s increasing usage of mobile first indexation, it is essential to implement structured data markup to make mobile search results better. Google’s Rich Results testing tool is the best way to check that your structured data is free from errors and is being used to generate rich snippets in its search results. On this tool input any URL and it will provide detailed information about what rich results can generate from structured data on the page.

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