Anyone who has been in the search game for a while has been warned repeatedly that it’s the Year of Mobile.
Time and time again, we hear how mobile is more important, and some could argue our phones are beyond “smart” at this point. However, search marketers have officially reached "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" territory.
What has really been happening over the past few years is a slow and steady movement to this elusive year of mobile. According to Pew Research, “64 percent of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, up from 35 percent in the spring of 2011.”
Digging a little deeper into the research, Pew discovered 10 percent of Americans who own a smartphone have no other form of high-speed Internet access at home beyond their phone’s data plan.
Search engines are also seeing this shift. Google announced earlier this month more searches on Google take place on mobile devices than computers. It’s finally safe to say 2015 IS the year of mobile.
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SEO in the Year of Mobile
At the beginning of 2015, Google announced “mobile friendliness” was now a ranking factor in the mobile SERPs (search engine results page). On April 21st Google pushed live a full-fledged mobile algorithm update, which had been pre-announced to give webmasters time to optimize their site before the major update.
As the countdown to Mobilegeddon approached, SEOs prepared for the worst (hence the doomsday name).
Google does provide a handy-dandy report in Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) to help keep a pulse on any pages that aren’t up to their mobile standards. Google breaks these out into the following areas:
- Viewport not configured
- Small font size
- Touch elements too close
- Content not sized to viewpoint
You can find this report under “Search Traffic” in Google Webmaster Tools.
Image via Google Webmaster Tools
Once you have identified what issues your site may have (this report includes the actual page), it is important to note that this update is at a page level and updated in “real-time.”
What this means is if you have a site that is generally mobile-friendly, but a few pages haven’t been converted yet, only the non-mobile-friendly pages will be hit. Google also mentions once you make changes to a page, it will be updated in real-time (ostensibly when the page is re-crawled).
SEO for Mobile: What You Need to Know
When optimizing a site for mobile, a site owner needs to understand what type of site they have. Is it responsive? Is it a separate mobile URL like m.example.com? See below for different mobile solutions:
Image via Developer Economics
SEO Tips for Responsive Design
The great news about using responsive design as a mobile solution is you only have to deal with one site when it comes to all device types. Changing a title tag for desktop means you are also getting the same title tag for mobile and tablet devices. Keeping that in mind, you should make sure you think of smaller screens when writing title and Meta data information. Try to stick to these guidelines when possible:
- Title Tag: between 10-60 characters
- Meta Description: under 120 characters
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SEO Tips for Dynamic Serving
Like responsive design, dynamic serving sites have the same URL for pages across all devices, making the need for redirects unnecessary. However, there is separate HTML and CSS code for desktop and mobile that need to be addressed.
Because of this, you should make sure your HTML is set up so that the Googlebot knows to look at separate HTML for the different devices. You can do this by setting up a “hint” to Google so they understand to use Googlebot for smartphones for a given page. See example below on how to set this up on the back-end.
Image via Google Developers
Once this Vary header is in place, Google should be able to crawl your desktop and mobile HTML correctly—and rank your pages accordingly.
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A third option for a mobile site is to have separate URLs for desktop and mobile. The most common setup is using an “M dot” version of your site (m.example.com). When managing separate URLs, you will need to manage the pages as separate entities, which is how they appear to Google.
For the most part your mobile page will have the same content as your desktop version — which means duplicate content issues can happen very easily. To combat this, Google recommends the following for both your desktop and mobile pages:
- 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.
General Mobile SEO Tips
No matter the setup involved, there are some quick tips we can take away in terms of mobile SEO. They are:
- Keep it short: Page titles and Meta descriptions should be short, sweet and to the point. Remember to include highly searched keywords relevant to the page.
- Load it fast: Make sure load times are quick so you don’t keep people waiting. (Pro tip: Google has a great free page speed tester)
- Proper CTAs: Are you asking someone to call instead of fill out a form? Find out what works best for different devices. Testing is always good.