Google makes about 500 to 600 algorithm updates each year, so you usually shouldn’t sweat the threat of an upcoming update. But, every once in a while, Google does something big – like when they announced their mobile search update in 2015. It was the biggest algorithm update in history and many websites which weren't mobile friendly were removed from mobile search results completely. Considering that more than half of all searches are now on a mobile device, this is something which better concern you!
Mobile Responsiveness Already Matters
The mobile algorithm update set website owners scrambling to change their website designs to responsive before the deadline. But the truth is that mobile-friendliness has long been a big factor towards SEO rankings, and not just because Google favors mobile-friendly sites on their mobile searches.
Anyone who has tried to read and navigate through a non-responsive website from their mobile device already knows how annoying of an experience it is. It takes forever for the page to load. Most of the time you don’t even bother waiting around for the page – you just tap away and find a better site. You might not to click on a result unless it specifically says “Mobile Friendly” in the listing.
Ever since the Google Panda update, user metrics have started to weigh in much more heavily as SEO ranking factors. The big one is Time on Site. Well, guess what happens when your website isn’t mobile-friendly? Your user metric stats suck, and it hurts your SEO. That’s right. It hurts your desktop SEO too.
Let’s not forget that Page Speed is also a SEO factor. If your website isn’t loading fast on mobile, then you are going to have serious problems all around.
Mobile-Responsive Does NOT Mean Mobile-Friendly
Have you performed the Google website test to see if your site is mobile friendly and got an affirmative result? Sorry to break it to you, but simply passing the Google test isn't enough.
Right now, Google only considers 4 factors in determining whether a site is mobile-friendly:
- Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
- Uses text that is readable without zooming
- Sizes content to the screen so users don't have to scroll horizontally or zoom
- Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped
Google still can’t determine the small details which really make a website mobile-friendly from the user's perspective.
- Do you have huge images which look great on desktop, but take forever to load and eat away at data plans when viewed on mobile?
- Do you have annoying popups which are made more annoying by the fact that users can’t tap the “no thanks” button to close them?
- Do you have menus in which the text is so tiny that you can't read the text?
All these mobile-friendly issues hurt user engagement and page speed, which will affect SEO.
How to Make Sure Your Website is Mobile-Friendly
If your website isn’t responsive yet and you fail the Google website test, then don’t worry about these issues yet. If you did pass the Mobile-Friendly test, then these are things you need to be looking at to make sure you are delivering the best possible mobile experience and not indirectly harming your SEO efforts.
Head over to your Analytics account and go to the Mobile Report. Check out how these stats compare with your desktop stats.
- What pages rank the best for mobile? For desktop? If there is a difference, why do you think this is? Could it be differences in search intent (such as local search on mobile vs. general search on desktop) or is your mobile audience looking for something different?
- What the average Time on Site for mobile compared to desktop? How does this correlate to conversion rate?
- Which pages have the best conversion rates for mobile? Is this the same as for desktop? If not, what could be the reason and how could you optimize for better conversions?
- What is your site speed for mobile vs. desktop? Are there any issues you could be fixing? (The Monsido tool will let you know your site speed stats)
In addition to analyzing these stats in-depth, you should also take the old school method of analysis. Go to your website on a mobile device and start clicking around as though you were a user. You might be surprised at how much you realize from this practice, like “Hey, no wonder conversion are so low. The CTA button is showing up in a weird place."
Optimizing for Mobile and Desktop Simultaneously
A lot of businesses decide to make mobile versions of their website in order to optimize the content perfectly. Mobile users might even see a completely different version of the site than desktop users, which makes it easier to tweak all those small issues which hurt conversions, like images which look awesome on desktop but crappy on mobile.
Making a mobile version of a website might be a good solution for some businesses, it is generally best to go with a responsive website. Having a mobile-only version of your website creates a lot of potential problems, like faulty redirects. If you do it, you need a strong backend watching over things.
Going the responsive route unfortunately means you can’t always be perfectly optimized for both mobile and desktop. You can do your best by making sure menus look great on all platforms, and that images are sized appropriately so they load quickly, but some sacrifices will have to be made. Look at your search stats and correlate them with your conversion rates. Which is more valuable to you – mobile or desktop? Remember that mobile search is increasing every day. So, even if desktop is more valuable for you today, that might not be the case tomorrow.