Mobile SEO optimization guide
- May 2016: Google increases the strength of the mobile friendly ranking signal. 1
- Feburary 2016: AMP pages go live in Google results. 2
- January 2016: Mobile becomes part of the Google guidelines. 3
- April 2015: Google began using mobile friendliness as a stronger ranking factor that "significantly" affects rankings worldwide. 4
What makes a site mobile friendly?
A site is mobile friendly when it...
- presents content well on a phone
- does not need pinching / zooming
- is easily readable on small screens
- is easy to navigate with a finger
- is helpful to someone using a phone
- is understood properly by Google
This guide will discuss the steps to making your site mobile and improving your mobile SEO from the perspective of Google documentation.
Getting to your best mobile ranking
The quicker you can make your site mobile and ensure Google understands it, the quicker Google can rank you appropriately.
Mobile SEO means "mobile search engine optimization". Even if you already have a mobile site, it may not be recognized as mobile by Google and this can affect how your pages are ranked.
This page will explain how to get your pages optimized for mobile and how to make sure Google understands your mobile solution well.
- Get mobile friendly now
- Ensure Google knows your site is mobile
- Tweak and optimize
Google does not rank you on where you plan to be later, it ranks your site the way it is today. Mobile is important right now.
Optimizing your site for mobile
This article will cover each of these steps:
- Choosing a mobile method
- Updating website code
- Verify mobile friendliness
- Tell Google
1. Choosing a mobile method
There are four main ways a website becomes mobile...
- Responsive design
- Dynamic serving
- Mobile URLs
Google recommends responsive design. 1
The reason both webmasters and Google like responsive design is because it is the simplest and least risky method.
For SEO purposes responsive design is a wise choice.
- It is recommended by Google
- It has no SEO risks
- It is the easiest to implement
- It is compatible with other methods
2. Updating website code
Often this is much easier than you might expect. In fact with Wordpress and other such content management systems it is as simple as getting a new theme. If you are running a static site, there are many responsive html templates out there.
Good places to buy responsive mobile ready themes and templates...
3. Verify mobile friendliness
The way Google determines if a site is mobile friendly depends on several mobile usability issues that are easily tested (the tool at the top of this page tests for all of these factors).
The mobile usability issues are...
Make sure to check your pages using the official Google mobile friendly test.
4. Tell Google
Likely the most important step of mobile SEO is ensuring Googlebot understands your page.
If Google does not understand your mobile solution, it may not credit you for having a mobile site at all.
This is bad.
Making sure that Google understands your mobile configuration is essential to how your website will rank in Google.
The four ways of going mobile (responsive, dynamic, AMP and separate urls) each have their own way of letting Google know that your site is mobile.
When your site uses responsive design, Google can understand it without any hints or extra code. The main thing that Google suggests when it comes to responsive websites is how to set the viewport. The viewport will typically already be set when you get a responsive theme or template.
Google recommends that your viewport has the following content:
The viewport is simply the size of the window your webpage will display. In responsive design, the the size we want is whatever the size of the device screen is. By declaring a viewport, your web page can render correctly on any device.
When a site is using dynamic serving it is providing different content to desktops users than it is to mobile users.
Google can not detect automatically when content is being dynamically served, so we have to tell Google specifically what is happening.
The way we tell Google is called the Vary HTTP header. It looks like this.
The Vary HTTP header tells Google that the content it is crawling may look different depending on who is looking at it. By declaring the Vary: User-Agent header you are telling Google your pages have a mobile alternative. Not using this header when your site is being dynamically served can hurt your rankings because Google will not know your site is mobile.
When a site is using different urls for mobile users than it is for desktop users, many things can go wrong as far as SEO goes.
Google will not detect automatically that your mobile pages are different versions of your desktop pages and because of this we must tell Google what is going on.
The way we tell Google about our separate urls requires some work.
- On the desktop page, add a special link rel=”alternate” tag pointing to the corresponding mobile URL. This helps Googlebot discover the location of your site’s mobile pages.
- On the mobile page, add a link rel=”canonical” tag pointing to the corresponding desktop URL.
Let's look at that a bit deeper:
When you have two different urls, one for mobile, and one for desktop Google needs to know when each page is appropriate to use.
The desktop page with the above rel=alternate code tells Google that that if the screen is less than 640 px it should refer to the alternate mobile page.
The mobile page with the above rel=canonical code lets Google know that the page is a version of the desktop page listed.
Mobile optimizations for the purposes of this article refer to optimizations for users, search engines and avoiding search engine penalties.
Mobile page speed
Page speed is a Google ranking factor and nowhere is speed as important as it is for mobile.
Mobile networks are much less fast and reliable than our home internet. The mobile seo tool at the top of this page will let you know if you have page speed problems on your pages.
Learn how each of the three mobile methods affect speed.
Examine your pages for speed using the mobile seo tool at the top of this page or the Google pagespeed insights tool and get a list of what is affecting your page speed.
Once you know that, refer to the page speed section to learn how to fix those speed issues.
A slow website will make an even slower mobile website.
Blocked page resources
Blocking page resources can give Google an incomplete picture of your web site.
This issue often happens when your robots.txt file is blocking access to some or all of your page resources.
This happens often.
To check for this problem you can use the mobile seo tool at the top of this page. To learn more my page resource article is here
Interstitials / popups / modals
Having a window pop up to request you subscribe to a newsletter or download an app are irritating enough on desktops. On mobile devices they are a nightmare and sometimes can not even be closed.
Any offers, requests or any other reason you would open a window to a desktop user just will not work for mobile users.
Google suggests using an information bar or simple banner instead.
Google further warns that mobile interstitials can cause indexing issues and says it disrupts users.
Make sure mobile redirects are not hurting your page speed.
Redirects on mobile networks are very slow and you may find that some of your redirects are not even needed in the first place.
Learn about reducing mobile redirects so your users will get their pages faster.
Mobile SEO Articles
In depth articles about mobile challenges and optimizations.
Resources from Google
Provides the Google overview of their mobile seo options for a general audience.
The official Google mobile friendly test which evaluates if a website meets the minimum requirements for viewing on mobile devices.
The official Google mobile SEO overview page linking to many articles about mobile seo problems and solutions.
The Google overview of multi-device website best practices. A guide to doing things right responsively.
Mobile specific pagespeed overview of the challenges of mobile networks.
Site design guidelines, recommendations and articles for mobile websites.
In a crowded market, how does an app attract new customers, gain loyalty, and deliver value? With great design for a delightful app experience.
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