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In today’s world, almost everyone you see on the street is looking down at their smartphones. Whether they are answering calls, looking at the time, reading the news, taking pictures, or checking social media, smartphone users are hooked!

Let’s look at the facts:

  • More than 70 million people in the USA regularly listen to music on their phones.

  • According to Photofocus, 90% of people take photos with their phone’s camera.

  • A study by Statista shows that at least 45% of the population in most countries use their smartphones to access their Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms!

As a business owner, you need to leverage this smartphone habit to understand consumer behavior and market your products and services. Search engines will reward you for it.

In 2015, Google released an algorithm that deemed mobile-friendly web pages to be a ranking factor for search engine results. Having your business going mobile is an absolute necessity considering these changing trends in search behavior. If not implemented, you’ll lose out on sales opportunities that can help you grow your business. But where do you start?

The answer is simple: start with a mobile SEO audit of your site. But before we get to that bit, let’s take a look at Google’s deal with mobile optimization.

Why Google Loves Mobile Optimization

So, here’s what’s changed. Prior to the mobile-first index update, Google used the desktop version of the web as their primary search engine index. But with the growing number of mobile users, Google has decided to implement a mobile-first index instead. Most of your potential customers out there are making purchase decisions based on on-the-go searches using mobile devices, and consequently, making purchases.

In a study conducted by Google, at least 50% of the respondents were found to be smartphone users who conducted local searches and visited a store, and 18% of these people made a purchase. Now, websites and web pages that are tailored to be mobile friendly are more likely to rank on search engine results than those that aren’t. Although, Google says that if your site is not mobile optimized, it will crawl the desktop version instead even if the user is browsing on a mobile device.

Types of Mobile Devices

Today, any mobile device can get access to an internet connection, and they’re all not smartphones. Google considers this factor when it comes to mobile optimization, and categorizes them as follows:

  • "Mobile" refers to any smartphone running on an Android, iPhone or Windows operating system. Mobile browsers in these devices are similar to the desktop counterparts as they will render a broader set of HTML5 specifications despite any differences in screen size. In any case, the default orientation is always vertical.

  • Tablets, according to Google, don’t fall under the mobile device category, and are set apart as their own class. Owing to the large screens in tablets, websites not optimized for mobile will see the desktop version.

  • Multimedia Phones are ones that will render pages coded with XHTML, support HTML5 markup, JavaScript. In simpler terms, this is the browser you see in 3G ready phones.

  • Feature Phones are not built to render desktop versions of websites that are coded using normal HTML. They only render cHTML (iMode), WML, or XHTML-MP.

There are three common structural characteristics for mobile websites on any of these types of phones that involves search engine optimization. Ideally, there are three types of mobile structures you can use to optimize your site for a mobile-first index. When you’re doing this, you are focusing on user experience, performance, and content. Here’s how they are categorized:

  • The Responsive Web Design essentially uses CSS3 Media Queries and a fluid grid with relative units to display a flexible design that automatically fits the dimensions of the device of the user. It could be mobile, smartphone, tablet, or desktop. This design is best suited for your site, because it is what Google prefers.

This means that you will have a single URL for all device versions, without the need for any redirection. As a matter of fact, it is easier and cheaper to maintain. Although if you have an existing site, you’ll need to do redesign your entire site’s UI and UX. Buzzfeed, for example, has a responsive web design. The site will adapt seamlessly onto any device’s interface with all its contents placed well within the given dimensions.

Buzzfeed's Mobile Design

Buzzfeed's Desktop Design

  • Dynamic Serving websites/web pages use one URL for any device that is conducting a search on your website, the representation of the HTML structure will vary between desktop and mobile devices. It means that the content shown on the desktop version will not be the same for the mobile or tablet version.

For example, if the content on the website version has large quality images or videos on the desktop version, it will not appear on the mobile interface. So, you can specify what type of content can be consumed across these devices. However, it is expensive compared to the web responsive design as you’ll need to build individual websites for specific devices.

In addition to this, you may require a Vary HTTP header which will determine whether future request headers need a cached response as opposed to requesting a fresh response from an original server. If this is not implemented, your mobile users will be redirected to the desktop version which will slow down the loading time, and contribute to the dreaded exit rate for your site. Adobe Typekit uses this structure for its website.

Typekit Mobile Design

Typekit Desktop Design

  • With the Parallel Mobile Site approach, you are essentially creating a mobile site URL structure that is specifically target mobile device users. In simpler terms, your regular URLs look like this - www.RegularURL.com/somecategory. But the mobile version will have a "m" subdomain that will look like this. “m.RegularURL.com/somecategory”. So, when a mobile user tries to access “www.RegularURL.com/somecategory ,“ they will be redirected to “m.RegularURL.com/somecategory.”

This layout is easier to implement with a better capacity to distinguish mobile content from desktop content; it also provides a better user experience.

Ebay Mobile URL

Ebay Desktop Design

Find the best suited organizational structure for your website based on your advantages. But that brings us to the mobile SEO audit. Once you decide what your current position is with your mobile audience, you can go ahead and implement the best website design. Let’s look at the steps you need to go through to conduct a technical mobile SEO audit:

1. Mobile Search Activity - Your Site and Your Audience

There are two things you need to start off with: measuring the mobile activity on your site and understanding your audience. It is important to understand the mobile user activity on your site: this involves measuring your visitors, site traffic, search activity, and voice search. Compare it to your general organic traffic in terms of search volume and search trends to understand how much of an effort you need to put in.

Website Traffic Analysis

You can do this via Google Analytics. Add a segment on your dashboard by selecting mobile traffic under the "Default Segments" option, and you’ll see all the mobile data distinguished from the desktop traffic data. Here’s what you need from this bit of data:

  • Find the amount of organic traffic coming from mobile users, and the rate at which it has increased.

  • Find the most used mobile devices as you can decide which mobile organization structure you can use.

2. Mobile Keyword Optimization

Google distinguishes search results that come from desktop devices and mobile devices because the searches conducted on smartphone/tablet devices are different from the searches done on desktops. This is because users interact differently with certain devices while conducting searches. With voice search and search bots at the disposal of any smartphone user, you have to make sure you are running a mobile keyword research as well.

Here’s what you need to do differently from your regular keyword research:

  • Mobile searches involve shorter keywords as compared to the long-tail keywords we use on our desktop devices. So, make sure you’re optimising your campaigns, content, title tags etc, with shorter keywords.

  • Most mobile searches are conducted with a local intent, so you need to make sure that your keyword strategy is optimized for Near Me searches as well.

  • Think in terms of non-text based searches as well. Optimize your keyword strategy to suit searches conducted on bots like SIRI, the Google Assistant, Cortana; the searches are more informal and conversational and need long-tail keywords in this case.

3. Optimize Website with Local SEO

In order to make sure that your website is enabled with local SEO, you need to make sure that your business has accurate NAP (name, address, phone number) information. Make sure that you include your city’s and state’s name in the meta description and title tags of your information.

If your business is not yet listed on the necessary directories, you can either do it yourself or find a directory citation/listing management service to do it for you. In case your business is already listed, make sure that your business’ social and directory profiles don’t have any inconsistent information. A strong online presence will contribute to a better chance for ranking on SERPs anywhere, on any kind of device.

[Pro-Tip: Make sure that your the local SEO for your business is in place. Use this checklist to decide if you are fully optimized with local SEO.]

4. Content Audit

It goes without saying that content consumed on mobile devices is different from how it is on desktop devices. So, it is crucial to make sure that your content is in place in order to optimize your site for mobile. By conducting a content audit, you have better chances of increasing your quality and domain authority. Here’s the brief version of conducting a content audit:

  • Make an inventory of all your content.

  • Make sure all your URLs are crawlable and indexable. You can use a tool like Screaming Frog. You can make a list of URLs using XML Sitemaps, Google Analytics or Google Search Console and decide what content you want the crawlers to consider and the content that doesn't need to be crawled. (Read more about Screaming Frog’s crawl configuration to understand what you need to do.)

  • Consider metrics such as titles, meta descriptions, alt tags for images, and word count to gauge the quality of your content before you further optimize it. In addition to this, you’ll need to consider original content, external links, and website traffic.

Once you’ve considered these things, analyze your content and make the necessary additions or removals. Make sure you keep track of all the changes for further referencing.

5. Mobile Site Architecture and Design

We already spoke about the different kinds of website organization structures. But how do you decide which would be the best choice for you? Here’s what you need to consider:

  • Do you need the same content/offer in the mobile and desktop versions?

  • Does a majority of your user base use mobile devices and tablets to view your content?

  • Can you afford to redesign your site?

If you answer yes to these questions, you’re ready for a responsive website, and you will have to opt for either the dynamic serving website or the parallel website design. Aside from this, make sure that your website is has optimized the following as it should be:

  • Make sure that your not blocking JavaScript, CSS, or Image Files in any way.

  • Remove any traces of unplayable content.

  • Make sure your desktop sites are redirected to the respective mobile site counterparts, without any room for faulty redirects.

  • Make sure that your redirect doesn’t serve a 404 error page. You can use Google Search Console to sort out your redirects.

  • Avoid adding interstitials to your mobile site as they will slow down the page speed, and even obstruct a smooth user experience.

6. Page Speed

Something that is absolutely essential and makes all the difference to a mobile optimized site is page speed, or the time it takes your site to load. You can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to build the performance of your site. When you analyze your URL, you will receive a report of your performance for both mobile and desktop versions that scores your page speed out of 100 points. Just keep in mind that with page speed, faster is always better.

In order to keep your page speed in check, you’ll need to improve the following factors:

  • Make sure that your images are of an appropriate size. If you’re using a WordPress website, you can choose between multiple sizes. Using smaller sizes will reduce the loading time. You can use tools like ImageOptim or PunyPNG to reduce the size of your images.

  • Make sure you have some quality hosting partners.

  • Minify your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript

  • Reduce the presence of ad servers

After you run an audit, and make the necessary additions and changes, make sure that you index them with Google Search Console. The opportunities to optimize your site for search is vast. Once your site is optimised for the mobile-first index, you won’t just gather ranking opportunities, but you’re stocking up for the foreseeable search oriented future.