Mobile SEO for Search Ranking in a Mobile-First World
What percentage of traffic to your website are mobile visitors? For the majority of companies, the analytics will reveal that more than 50% of your visitors are on phones and tablets.
According to Hitwise 2016 mobile search traffic, for all but three of 11 major industries, exceeds 50%, with an average of 58% of traffic coming from search.
Leading the pack in mobile search traffic are Food & Beverage (72%), Health (68%), and Sports (68%). The remaining industry segments, News, Lifestyle, Automotive, Retail and Travel still experience a whopping 50%+ in mobile traffic from search engines.
Three segments that had not yet reached the tipping point (as of this 2016 survey) are Banking (39%), Entertainment (42%) and Real Estate (48%). However, we can be sure they will in the near future.
The conclusion is obvious: mobile SEO matters.
Two years ago in February of 2015, Google announced they would begin more heavily weighing mobile friendly websites in their search index.
They offered new mobile friendly tools so web teams could check how well their pages were optimized. Then, in April 2015, as promised they began to adjust their algorithm to favor sites that met their mobile standards.
This past November, Google announced yet another move toward favoring mobile friendly sites when they announced “Mobile First Indexing”.
What this means is that Google will use the mobile version of a website to determine its overall site rankings. Read that last sentence again and think what that means for your business.
Your mobile site can no longer be of secondary importance, because it will entirely inform your position in the search engine ranking pages, even when someone is searching from an ancient desktop computer.
This is why all businesses need to re-assess how their mobile sites are configured and how search engines index their content.
Mobile SEO Critical on Mobile (M.Dot) Subdomains
Some business sites were initially set up on separate m.dot subdomains - which separated mobile traffic from desktop traffic and served a lightweight, slimmed-down version to smaller mobile browsers (and search engine crawlers).
These versions usually have fewer pages with less text content, shorter headlines and abbreviated product descriptions - which means when Google performs a crawl, any information that’s not on your mobile website will not be indexed. This is why Google urged publishers to, "Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version,” in their announcement on Mobile First Indexing.
Structured markup is often handled by the CMS in the background, but must be configured by SEO and engineering teams to apply that markup through properly identifying specific content types and critical site structure elements.
This Schema.org markup and meta data applies to breadcrumbs, page titles, descriptions, products, prices, categories, video, images and site elements which search engine bots look for when indexing sites, and later parse to help determine rankings in search results.
Additionally, sites that are using separate m.dot strategies need to be certain all internal pages are linked via both HTML and XML sitemaps so that every page is accessible to search engine spiders. That’s because simplified mobile navigation may leave some pages un-linked and isolated. Canonical link elements must reference the desktop version of the site from m.dot mobile versions.
The Importance of Page Load Speed
For businesses that have already transitioned to mobile responsive sites, there’s still work to do. Due to the needs of phone browsers connecting via weak cell signals or slow wi-fi connections, improving page load speed is critical.
When a site page loads too slowly (and this is especially true on mobile), users bounce and return to the search engine results to click another link. When that happens too often, Google eventually downgrades that page’s rankings.
That’s why on mobile, it’s especially important to optimize your images, eliminate form fields and disable calls to third-party APIs or scripts used in desktop functions, but not necessary on mobile.
It’s also been long believed by SEOs that slow-loading pages mean search engines are able to crawl fewer pages using their allocated crawl budget (the number of pages Google will crawl on your site on any given day). That means pages of your website can be missed during the indexing process.
Structured Markup for Mobile Sites
As mentioned previously, Google has specifically stated that structured meta data is crucial to mobile visibility in search. This applies strongly to elements that are not displayed on smaller screens, such as breadcrumbs. Responsive pages may show the breadcrumb hierarchy by displaying categories, sub-cats and leaf pages for desktop in a breadcrumb list - and although that breadcrumb doesn’t display on mobile pages, breadcrumb schema can still be seen by mobile focused search engine spiders.
This means Google can still understand site structure and hierarchy to effectively rank a mobile page. The same is true of dozens of possible elements that offer enhanced display of search results, like displaying images, video thumbnails, review stars, recipe ingredients, prices and more, which results in higher click-through rates (CTR) from search.
A high CTR from search results is among the most important ranking signal, and can make the difference between appearing within the first page of that tiny available mobile screen real estate, and dropping to the second page of results.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
AMP is a Google initiative designed to serve lightning fast mobile pages from sites that have implemented special coding to facilitate rapid page loading for mobile sites.
The simplest explanation is from Google itself: "AMP is a way to build web pages for static content that render fast. AMP in action consists of three different parts: AMP HTML is HTML with some restrictions for reliable performance and some extensions for building rich content beyond basic HTML. The AMP JS library ensures the fast rendering of AMP HTML pages. The Google AMP Cache can be used to serve cached AMP HTML pages.”
Sites that have implemented AMP are emphasized in Google search results with a lightning bolt symbol and “AMP" beside each result. AMP clearly has the biggest and most obvious effect on page load speed.
Using AMP requires site-wide code updates, but is highly valuable for large sites that are able to include the AMP cache, which renders pages with no perceptible lag time from search results. If you’re familiar with Facebook Instant Articles, you’ve seen first-hand how eliminating the lag changes the mobile phone or tablet experience. Before you’ve even lifted your finger, the content appears.
Standard Desktop SEO Still Applies for Mobile
It’s important to note that current SEO standards and best practices still apply for mobile pages. But because Google will now rank sites with based on your mobile site rather than your desktop version, mobile should become the primary focus in prioritizing SEO projects.
How Crownpeak Helps
Customers who use Crownpeak Digital Experience Management are in an ideal position to benefit from Google’s imminent shift to mobile-first indexing. By making it easy to develop responsive and dynamic serving websites and preview how they look on mobile devices, there’s no need for separate mobile and desktop sites. Which means there’s no need to do anything in order to comply with the new standards.
For Crownpeak customers that have opted for a pared down mobile version of their websites, separate markup is needed for mobile-first indexing, which can be easily served within the platform.
Additionally, Crownpeak Digital Quality Management scans websites and flags issues to help improve performance on mobile, including identifying large images across your site that are contributing to slow page-loading issues.
Mike Valentine is a 17 year veteran enterprise SEO consultant with deep enterprise publishing background from top 20 ComScore properties, who also has a passion for start-up SEO. Mike founded RealitySEO in 1999, working with clients nationally and internationally.