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In the past few years, search engines like Google have started focusing heavily on ensuring a sublime mobile experience for their users. Google revamped its ranking algorithm to make it mobile-first.
Considering nearly three-quarters of the world will use just their smartphones to access the internet by 2025, that makes total sense.
This also means you need to make your business website ready to rank for mobile, if you haven’t already. In this post, you’ll learn what mobile SEO and “mobile-first” is, why it’s pivotal. We’ll also discuss how to find and fix your mobile SEO issues to rank better in a mobile-first indexing world.
What is Mobile SEO?
The process of optimising your website specifically for mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) in order to rank higher on the search engine results pages (SERPs) is known as Mobile SEO.
In particular, you’ll want to focus on optimising to rank better on the Google SERPs. That’s because Google dominates the mobile search market (the entire search market, for that matter), accounting for 94.99% of the global mobile search engine market share as of April 2021.
In this post, you’ll learn how to remedy grave mobile SEO mistakes that harm your website rankings on Google search.
Why is Mobile SEO Crucial?
For starters, according to Statista, mobile accounts for over half of web traffic worldwide. In the first quarter of 2021, mobile devices (not counting tablets) generated 54.8% of global website traffic, consistently hovering around the 50% mark since the beginning of 2017.
Second, and the biggest reason that led you to this post — Google’s mobile-first indexing. What does it mean, exactly? Essentially, it means the mobile (and not the desktop) version of your website is the benchmark for how Google indexes your website and determines your rankings. So your site’s mobile experience is pivotal to how well it ranks on Google.
Next, 79% of people say they’re more likely to revisit and/or share a mobile site if it is easy to use. Focusing on mobile SEO means improving your site’s usability and also increasing the chances of its content showing up on Google Discover. Thus, directly helping you with audience retention and word of mouth.
Last but not least, voice search is becoming increasingly mainstream. For the most part, it’s a trend for mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and even smart home speakers (Amazon Echo, Google Home, and what have you). So optimising your content for mobile voice search is certainly something you shouldn’t overlook.
How to Check if Your Site is Mobile-Friendly
Before you go about fixing your mobile SEO, the first step is to know where you stand currently.
An easy way to check your website’s mobile-friendliness is to use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool. On a page-by-page basis, enter your URL into the search box, click Test URL, wait for the analysis. You’ll soon have results that tell you if your page is mobile-friendly or not.
Next, check whether Google can successfully crawl your site. Log in to your Google Search Console. Head over to Crawl → Crawl Errors, and click on Smartphone. You’ll find a graph and table showing if there are any crawl errors on smartphones.
9 Common Yet Deadly Mobile SEO Mistakes
Now that it’s clear why mobile SEO is pivotal to your business’s search performance and overall success, here are nine of the most common yet dire mobile SEO mistakes you need to fix right away.
Mistake #1 – Slow Site Speed
Arguably the biggest mobile SEO mistake you can make is having a slow site speed. That’s because site speed has a huge impact on user experience, and mobile page speed is an official ranking factor.
Modern mobile users won’t wait for your content to load, and won’t think twice before clicking away from your site and head to a competitor if your page doesn’t finish loading within a couple of seconds or so.
To be precise, as page load time goes from 1 to 3 seconds, the likelihood of bounce increases 32%. Take it up to 5 seconds and the probability increases to a whopping 90%.
And having a high percentage of page abandonment will only further tank your rankings. So, prioritise having lightning-fast mobile page load speeds, ideally under 2 seconds.
How to speed up your mobile site?
Here are three key fixes to speed up your mobile site-
- Compress all images: Bulky, full-sized images slow down your site. Use an image compression tool to optimise the file size of your images before you upload them to your site.
- Check your hosting provider: Cheap hosting solutions usually mean higher server response time. So consider switching to a premium hosting solution.
Furthermore, make sure to leverage browser caching and enable compression. Use Google PageSpeed Insights to see the issues slowing down your pages and a list of recommendations on how to fix them.
You can also consider setting up Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) optimised pages. With clear documentation available in form of tutorials, templates, tools, and more, setting up AMP is quite straightforward. And if you’re running on WordPress, getting that lightning bolt next to your mobile listings is simply a matter of installing a plugin.
Mistake #2 – Not Optimising for Voice Search
As mentioned earlier, when it comes to smartphones and mobile devices, voice search is a huge trend you shouldn’t ignore.
In fact, half of all smartphone users use voice technology, and one-third of those use it daily, according to Comscore.
So while not optimising for voice search isn’t a direct SEO sin per se, overlooking voice search in a mobile-first world means missing out on a lot of ranking and traffic opportunities.
Here are a few effective ways to optimise your mobile content for voice search:
- Conduct keyword research with a goal to try and answer all question-based search queries in your content by natural usage of keywords.
- Create comprehensive content that covers all long-tail keywords.
- Answer all potential questions about the topic by structuring your content in an FAQ format, with the questions as subheadings.
- Try to keep the answers around 29 words long.
Mistake #3 – Intrusive Interstitials
When it comes to turning website visitors into leads, pop-ups work great. Pop-ups have an average conversion rate of over 3% — which makes them an excellent tool for capturing leads.
However, that’s not the case on mobile devices. A few years ago, Google introduced a soft penalty for what they call “intrusive interstitials”. Google clearly states “pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high.”
In other words, for your mobile site to rank higher, you need to get rid of any intrusive interstitials such as pop-ups and overlays.
As per Google’s guidelines, showing a pop-up that covers the main content, either right after the user navigates to your page from the search results, or while they are going through the page; or showing a standalone interstitial that the visitor must dismiss before being able to access the main content — are all examples of tactics that make your content less accessible to visitors.
Moreover, make sure to not incorporate any sort of deceptive layouts, where the above-the-fold portion makes users feel they’re viewing an interstitial.
Google does allow certain types of interstitials and these don’t affect your rankings negatively:
- Legally necessary interstitials, such as those for age verification and cookie usage.
- Login dialogues for unindexable content, such as private content like emails or gated content behind paywalls.
- Reasonably sized banners that are easily dismissable, such as app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome.
Mistake #4 – Tiny Fonts and Cluttered Design
Mobile devices are usually much smaller in size than desktops. Having a font size that’s too small (smaller than 12px) will force visitors to pinch to zoom in order to read. Needless to say, that’s a bad user experience.
Similarly, setting touch elements such as buttons and links too close to each other makes it difficult for visitors to tap only the desired element.
To fix these errors, make sure to use a font size that’s big enough to be easily read, and space buttons and navigational links adequately for your mobile visitors. Don’t hesitate to have plenty of white space between various elements.
While on the subject of mobile design, it’s a good idea to ditch the navigation bar that you’re likely using on the desktop version of your website. That’s because your traditional navbar may take up a lot of space that could otherwise be used for other important content.
In place of a space-hungry navbar, consider incorporating a hamburger menu that keeps all your navbar buttons into a single expandable menu. At the end of the day, mobile SEO is all about improving your site’s usability and user experience.
Mistake #5 – Blocked Files
If your site’s robots.txt file disallows the crawling of these assets, it directly and severely impacts how well the Google algorithm indexes your content, leading to suboptimal rankings.
Use the URL Inspection tool in Google Search Console to understand how Googlebot sees and renders your content, and consequently identify and fix such indexing issues on your site. Also, check your website’s robots.txt file to see if any key elements are disallowed.
Make sure to test all your URLs, especially if your site has separate mobile and desktop URLs.
Mistake #6 – Unplayable Video Content
Video content is all the rage today. Consumers increasingly prefer watching videos over plain-old text. In fact, Cisco predicts videos will drive 82% of all consumer internet traffic — fifteen times higher than it was in 2017.
However, some types of videos are not playable on mobile devices, such as license-constrained media or videos that require Flash. Unplayable content on mobile that shows a message like the one below not only constitutes a poor user experience but negatively impacts your SEO.
So while using video content on your website is undoubtedly a great way to boost engagement, be sure it works on mobile devices as well.
Rather than using a proprietary video player or putting content in unsupported formats, use HTML5 standard tags for all animated content. Use Google Web Designer to easily create animations in HTML5.
Also, include a transcript for your videos. This will assist both Google (for indexing) and users who use assistive browsing technologies and need closed captions.
Mistake #7 – Faulty Redirects
Faulty redirects is another common and avoidable mobile SEO mistake, especially for websites with different desktop and mobile URLs.
Here are a few areas you may need to fix:
- If mobile visitors are arriving at the desktop version of your website, redirect them to the appropriate mobile version of the URL they’re looking for, instead of redirecting them to your mobile site’s homepage.
- If you’re yet to have a smartphone equivalent of your desktop URLs, prioritise having them as soon as possible. Until those pages are live, keep users on the desktop pages — which have the content they want — rather than always redirecting them to your mobile homepage.
- Mobile visitors who request dynamically generated URLs should be taken to an equivalent mobile URL that provides the information they’re expecting. For instance, visitors who are looking for a specific flight’s schedule on a particular date on the desktop site will be annoyed if they are redirected to the general schedule search page on the mobile site.
- Be sure to not accidentally link to the desktop-optimised page versions from your mobile URLs.
Use Google Search Console to know if any of your website’s pages are redirecting smartphone users to the homepage.
Mistake #8 – Mobile-Only 404s
Though they’re known to hurt SEO and user experience, unresolved 404 errors are fairly common. And from your visitors’ perspective, they’re a big turn off.
404 error typically occurs when someone types a URL incorrectly, but also occurs if your page simply doesn’t exist.
Mobile-only 404s means that your website shows content to desktop users accessing a URL but an error page to mobile users.
This happens when you fail to have a mobile version of the page. In this case, make sure to redirect visitors to a desktop version of the page or an equivalent mobile page at a different URL.
Again, use Google Search Console to know if you have mobile-only 404s. If a page on your site doesn’t have a mobile equivalent, show the desktop version — showing the content your visitor is looking for is better than showing an error page.
Also, it’s best to use a responsive web design wherein you serve the same content regardless of the device (size and shape) they use — more on this in the next point.
Simply put, the more broken 404 links you have, the more you’ll hurt your rankings. And so, when ensuring your mobile SEO is being done right, ensure you don’t let any 404 errors exist.
Mistake #9 – Not Specifying a Mobile Viewport
Mobile devices come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. If you don’t specify the correct mobile viewport using the viewport meta tag, then your visitors may see content or pages badly fitted in their screen. Here are a couple of common mistakes in this regard:
- Using fixed-width viewports, which doesn’t allow the page to scale well for many device sizes.
- Setting the minimum viewport too wide, which may force visitors on smaller devices to scroll horizontally to read the content.
The latter happens when pages use absolute values in CSS declarations or use images designed to look best at a specific browser width (such as 980px).
To fix this error, enable user scaling and use the viewport meta tag to control your page’s dimensions. Ensure the pages use relative width and position values for CSS elements. Furthermore, include initial-scale=1 to have a 1:1 relationship between CSS pixels and device-independent pixels.
Learn more about designing responsive websites with optimised viewports here.
Over to You
And that’s a wrap! Now you know what mistakes to look for and fix in your existing website, and avoid in the future.
As pointed out in the beginning, SEO success today ties closely with your ability to provide a stellar user experience, both on mobile and desktop. And as you can see, fixing and avoiding these mistakes is essentially how you’re improving your site’s mobile user experience.
So as you continue to optimise your SEO strategy in 2022, be sure to have a user-first approach and not treat user experience as an afterthought.