Did you know that searching on mobile phones now brings in 27.8 billion more queries per year to Google than more traditional desktop searches?

If you’ve been wondering why there’s so much buzz around ensuring your website is mobile-optimized, the mind-boggling stat above represents just one of many reasons. With more than 58 percent of Google searches now getting conducted on mobile phones, your company can’t stand to lose out on this traffic.

Clearly, mobile SEO represents the future of marketing and sales. That means mobile optimization should be the number one priority for your website and digital content.

Read on for your complete guide to mobile SEO best practices.

Google Mobile SEO

Since April 2015, Google has made rewarding mobile-friendly sites with boosted rankings an important feature of its search engine results. Of course, this also means punishing sites that prove a hassle to view and interact with on mobile devices. Although this event was dramatically referred to as “Mobilegeddon,” your website was most likely unaffected by this update… in the beginning.

Why? Because at the time, Google only applied their penalization rule to websites that were not mobile-friendly yet saw a large slice of their audience base accessing their pages from mobile devices

Put another way, if the majority of your audience viewed your website from their desktop, you avoided the bloodbath. Fair enough, right? Well, things have definitely changed since then…

Ah, Those Google Updates!

As I’m sure you’re well aware, Google just loves tweaking its search engine rankings algorithm. Their engineers must enjoy watching digital marketers, website creators, and webmasters scratch their heads and sigh collectively in frustration, right?

Not really… In all actuality, Google’s just doing what it has to do to stay at the top of the leader board when it comes to everybody’s favorite search engine. After all, internet crowds prove notoriously fickle.

The moment Google stops providing us with the most useful, relevant answers to our burning questions, we’ll find a new search engine. So, if the vast majority of Google’s audience uses mobile devices, then Google sure as heck will adjust its rankings algorithm accordingly.

Too bad that our websites have to suffer in the process. But that’s life in the dog-eat-dog world of digital marketing and sales.

What Does “Mobile” Include?

Before delving more deeply into the craziness of Google’s mobile-first index, we need a solid definition of what “mobile” actually means. According to Google, this term applies only to your smartphones and NOT your tablets and other devices.

So, how does this granular treatment of “mobile” by Google affect your mobile SEO plans? Honestly, it shouldn’t affect them much at all.

Right now, it makes the most sense to optimize your site for any and all devices, and that’s what we discuss in this article. After all, the technological march of progress doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

What’s more, you can easily kill two birds with one stone as you work on creating updated, mobile-friendly pages. Why? Because they’ll also work on other devices.

Google’s Mobile-First Index

Alright, so what’s the deal with the mobile-friendly index? What’s changed, and why is mobile-friendly now so crucial to your website’s success?

According to Forbes, think of Google as a massive library, indexing millions upon millions of titles. But it’s not just about knowing which books are on which shelves. Google must also rank them by value to their readers.

Once upon a time, Google gave a user’s desktop experience primacy because that proved most useful and relevant to their customers. But what’s the point of doing that now when everybody and their best friend’s dog remains tethered 24/7 to mobile devices?

In its never-ending quest to provide more value to their customers, Google’s made the jump, ranking the so-called “books in the library” based on their mobile appearance rather than their desktop look. Yes, this requires an adjustment on your part, but it represents a stroke of brilliance in terms of Google’s user experience.

That means, regardless of how your audience searches for and finds your site, if it’s not mobile-friendly, you’re in trouble. Google’s mobile-first index looks at the mobile version of your page to do its indexing. And that’s what you need to keep in mind.

Desktop Takes a Backseat

So, your company can no longer skate by on its pretty desktop appearance. And no matter how your customers actually search for your pages, they will see the mobile version in their results.

Now, unless your head’s been stuck in the sand, you already have lots of experience surfing the web on your own mobile phone. You’ve seen websites that proved frustrating to navigate and probably some that you gave up even trying to get around. Hopefully, you’ve also seen content that works well.

It’s time to take the insights you have had from your personal mobile internet sessions and start applying them in the workplace.

Google’s New Criteria

To get you started, however, we’ve made a list of criteria Google now looks at when evaluating websites. Google looks at:

  • Your load resources across all device types
  • How quickly your site loads
  • Whether or not your pages feature internal links and redirects
  • Whether or not your site hides content on mobile versions
  • Whether or not your site has an optimized UX regardless of which devices your readers use to get there

If all of these elements are in good working order on your site, you should do just fine with Google’s mobile-first index. If not, however, get ready for your rankings to nose dive. To put it bluntly, your website must work on mobile devices.

But don’t fear! We’ve got the mobile SEO checklist to get your site up to snuff and ready for the brave new world of mobile SEO.

Desktop SEO vs. Mobile SEO

Fortunately, the same key points for desktop SEO also apply to mobile SEO. These include:

  • Focusing on user experience
  • Enhancing performance
  • Creating useful, relevant content

Desktop SEO and mobile SEO both share the same basic principles of maintaining a findable, crawlable website. But your website’s performance means even more to mobile users who aren’t willing to wait for pages to load. So you need to place more focus on load speed, performance, and great UX.

That said, there are also some important distinctions between desktop SEO and mobile SEO. For example, desktop SEO targets the general public. But mobile SEO, by the sheer nature of the device, places a primacy on the local.

How does this play out in the digital world? The way people search on phones versus desktops proves quite different.

For example, it probably makes little sense for the desktop version of your website to provide navigable directions to your nearest brick and mortar store. But that’s an essential function of your mobile website version.

Where Should Mobile-Optimized Start?

Before the mobile-first index starts knocking your website down a rung or two, there are some simple things you can do to improve your website’s odds of surviving and thriving. First and foremost, make sure you offer the same great content on both your desktop and mobile versions.

And whatever you do, don’t hide content on your mobile version. Your content should appear identical on both your desktop and mobile offerings. After all, you’re about to start ranking based on your website’s mobile version, so get prepared.

Make an investment in structured data and double check that your desktop and mobile sites both offer the correct META data. Look at your hreflang links for accuracy, too. While you’re at it, double check that your servers are ready to handle Google’s increased crawl rate.

Welcome Googlebots

You also need to let Google crawl everything on your website. So, if you used to block Googlebot access to your CSS, Javascript, or other website areas, change this right now! Googlebots can’t determine whether or not your website’s truly mobile-friendly without crawling the whole thing.

If impediments prevent this action from taking place, the bots will assume your site’s not mobile-first and rank it accordingly. Then you’re left preparing to watch your website’s visibility disappear.

But what if you’re unsure whether or not your site currently blocks Googlebots? Go to the Google Search Console and click on the Google Index and Blocked Resources. You’ll immediately see what’s getting blocked and where.

Put the Smackdown on Popups

Popups need to go. Why?

Ever try checking out content you’re intensely interested in when an annoying popup got in the way? Even worse, on mobile devices, it often proves nigh on impossible to close them. Why would you ever want to visit that page on your mobile device again?

And that, guys and gals, is exactly what Google’s trying to prevent. So, stop it with the giant popups and start thinking about user experience instead. I guarantee, if something frustrates you while online, it frustrates other people, too.

The internet should not prove annoying to use, especially because of companies trying to make sales or grab information with intrusive popups. The internet’s supposed to represent convenience, right?

User-Friendly First

Starting to see how this whole mobile-first index has very little to do with frustrating companies, marketers, and web designers and much more to do with delivering user-friendly sites to searchers? Instead of thinking of it as “mobile-first” perhaps the better term remains “user-first.”

Google cares about its searchers’ experiences, and so should you. After all, the more user-friendly your site, the more traffic and sales you get.

When it comes to bricks and mortar storefronts, what company in their right mind would make it difficult for customers to find, let alone, purchase their products? Why should we deliver any less to our mobile customers?

What Mobile Users Crave

How do we bring a user-first experience to our website? By providing readers with compelling content that’s super-easy to read on their phones. Your site also needs to load in a matter of seconds because that’s what mobile users demand.

If you have videos and animated content on your website, make it mobile-first, too. Instead of using Flash, which simply doesn’t work on phones, put it in HTML5. Problem solved.

Get Negative

In terms of aesthetics, avoid clutter on your website. Why? This translates into impossible-to-use mobile sites.

Instead, make sure you’ve got some negative space between design elements, text, and buttons. Otherwise, it’ll all bleed together into an unusable site on smaller devices, and your rankings will take a serious hit.

Mobile users want immediate answers to their questions, which means they’re not huge fans of scrolling down through giant header images. Instead, keep those babies small. That way, your mobile users can dive straight into the article and the answer they’re looking for without insane amounts of scrolling and searching.

Finally, change how you present your social share buttons. Put them in a tab bar along the sidebar for best results. You’ll be amazed by how rapidly your shares increase.

Think Outside of the Box

Instead of looking at these changes as total drudgery, remember that they provide you the chance to better meet your customer’s needs. In fact, mobile optimization will prove a win-win for your company and your customers.

Why? Not only will it help your website survive the mobile first revolution, but it will make your customers very happy.

According to Forbes, mobile shoppers have different expectations than they used to. They want clean, easy-to-use sites. And they want to use them on their phones.

So, instead of investing in a mobile app, why not put that money directly into improving your website experience? This means developers need to look to the future, revamping backend systems. It’s no longer okay to retrofit the same tired, old web-driven applications.

In the back of your mind, think about how you interact differently with the web on your mobile devices and your desktop. If you can identify these differences and then translate them into your company’s mobile user experience, you’ll prove well ahead of the game. But this requires thinking outside of the box.

We Care About Your Results

Interested in learning about more ways to get ahead of the mobile-optimized revolution? Or perhaps you have questions about increasing your digital marketing traffic and improving your online content?

At SearchLab Chicago, we want to put the best practices in the digital marketing industry to work for your company. We love internet marketing! Let us bring our passion to your online sales.

Contact us today to get a head start on creating a site that proves both user-friendly and high-ranking.