The “Mobilegeddon”, as people have been more than eager to call it, started rolling out on April 21st, and officially introduced “mobile friendliness” as a ranking signal in mobile search. If mobile search is an important part of your marketing strategy and brings a lot of conversions for your business, Google's mobile friendly update should be enough reason to start taking mobile SEO seriously, set things straight and get your mobile friendly website.
One of the things marketers need to keep in mind is that mobile SEO is all about context. About thinking like the user, determining what behavior users have on the mobile version of their site, and how that differs from the desktop site. Moreover, mobile SEO has to be about what you want users to do on your mobile site, and how you might want to influence their behavior in order to move them down the conversion funnel.
In this guide you will find out all there is to know - and everything you need to do - in order to get a mobile-friendly site and start ranking well in mobile searches.
Beware though that the chapters below will take you through the entire mobile journey, from choosing a mobile configuration to enhancing UX and SEO for mobile apps. If you've covered some of these aspects already, or simply need to be selective with your information intake, just jump to the chapters that interest you.
Choose a Mobile Site Configuration
You have three options when it comes to designing your mobile site: use a responsive design, opt for dynamic served sites or create a separate mobile site. This is an important decision you need to make and it should be based on:
- your business model and goals, and whether they differ on mobile
- the kind of website you run and the content you publish on it
- the type of actions/transactions you want users to take on your mobile site vs. your desktop site.
Keep in mind that if you're not a developer or have no programming skills, you will need to hire someone with experience in mobile web design to do the job right.
Here are the options, broadly presented:
Responsive design is easy to implement and consumes fewer resources
To find out more about responsive web design and what it entails:
- Check out this thorough beginner guide to responsive design created by Treehouse, or take this free, actionable Udacity course on responsive web design fundamentals presented by Google own Brian LePage and Cameron Pittman.
- See what Google has to say about using responsive design and why they favor it.
- Use this reponsive web design tutorial from Feedthebot to learn the steps for implementation.
What are the benefits of a responsive website?
- Page speed is not affected because you're not dealing with any redirects.
- It is easiest to implement for developers and requires the fewest resources.
- You avoid both keyword cannibalization and content duplication issues.
- Googlebot only needs to crawl your website once.
Dynamically served sites allow for tailor-made content
A dynamic serving site uses two pieces of HTML for a single page/URL: one for the desktop site, and another for the mobile site. Depending on the user agent requesting the page, the server sends the appropriate information and format to the device used.
Although Google recognizes this type of setup, they don't particularly recommend it, because if implemented without care, it could lead to indexing errors. Dynamic serving sites do have some extra benefits, but they require more work and resources and could cause slower site speed.
Here is what you need to do if you opt for dynamic serving:
- Have your developers write new code for setup.
- Use the Vary HTTP Header so user agent detection is done properly (it makes sure that mobile users get the mobile version of the site, and desktop users end up on the desktop pages). It also helps Googlebot crawl both versions of the site, so both get a chance to rank in searches.
- Consider creating separate (even completely different) content for mobile to increase conversions and keep mobile users engaged, or adapting it (make content shorter, more actionable or to the point) to fit mobile searches better and help users achieve their goal.
What are the benefits of dynamic websites?
- Better control over user journey on mobile.
- URLs remain the same for both desktop and mobile, so internal linking and backlinks are easy to manage.
- You can create separate content that is better suited for mobile “attention span” and moves users down the conversion funnel.
- You can specifically target keywords people use on mobile.
A separate mobile site will allow you to customize the user journey
While this was the popular choice for many webmasters a few years ago, having separate URLs for mobile (m.yoursite.com next to www.yoursite.com) requires a lot more maintenance, could lead to duplication issues, bad redirects, or affect mobile rankings.
Google doesn't particularly recommend separate URLs because they would need to crawl your website twice, whether the mobile site is a subdomain or a subfolder of the main desktop site. There is also the risk of applying bad redirects, which makes for poor mobile UX.
In order to set up a separate mobile site, you need to:
- Have a developer write separate code that serves mobile pages when accessed from a mobile browser.
- Apply the rel=”alternate” tag from the desktop page to its corresponding mobile page.
- Apply the rel=”canonical” tag from the mobile page to its corresponding desktop page.
What are the benefits of using separate URLs?
- You can customize user journey.
- You can create separate content, special for mobile.
- You can target keywords that people use on mobile.
- You can add click-to-call buttons to improve conversions.
Link juice and insights on how to choose a mobile configuration
Link juice is gathered from both desktop and mobile versions of a site and applies as a whole for both of them. It is not divided, even if your desktop site receives two backlinks, and the mobile version three. This applies to all three mobile configuration types, as long as you:
- apply the correct tags and redirects;
- target the same keywords on desktop and mobile equivalent pages;
- let Google know that X mobile pages correspond to Y desktop pages.
Although Google recommends responsive design, there are advantages to choosing one of the other two mobile site variants. In this article from Finance Yahoo, COO Scott Darrohn is quoted as saying:
Depending on the type of business you own, it might make more sense to highlight different information or services on your mobile site, rather than copying the same content from your desktop site.
Before you decide what type of website you need, you must determine user behavior on the mobile version of your site. Ideally, even without a mobile site, you should have some visits from mobile devices. Using Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, see what keywords users use to reach you, and what pages they're interested in the most. When you offer some kind of services, like selling products, insurance, offering support, or if you are in the hotel or restaurant business, you need to determine how users would react to the content you offer, therefore serving content that leads to conversions.
For instance, a car rental company might be better suited with a dynamic serving or separate URLs mobile site because these configurations allow it to serve better aimed content. The logic behind this could be that a user searching to rent a car on their mobile phone is already away from home (and thus a desktop), so they have done their research previously and are ready to move on to more actionable steps. Thus, instead of providing them with lengthy information about why you're the best choice for car renting, allow them to contact you directly for a quote or customer support, show them an offer of cars and prices, go directly to payment plans, and so on.
If you offer services or transactions that can be just as well completed online, then you might choose dynamic serving, which allows you to maintain the format of your website pretty much the same, yet with different content that makes research or purchasing easy for users. If you run the type of business where the actual transactions have to take place in person, such as hiring a construction firm, you might use a separate mobile site (that even looks different from the desktop site) and which makes it easy for users to check out prices and contact you via calls, emails, or sms.
But when you work with the type of website that people come to for content consumption, like a news site or blog, responsive design is ideal because you don't need to make any changes to the content; just make sure each page is mobile-friendly and renders text and images well on mobile screens, and optimize sign-up to gain email subscribers.