The Basics of Good SEO: Mobile Optimization

Google has announced that they’re changing the way they index websites to be ranked on their search engine result pages. Their new strategy is called “mobile-first,” meaning they will look at the mobile version of your site before they look at your desktop version. This makes your mobile site the baseline for how they’ll determine your rank. Obviously, this change means that a lacking a mobile-friendly experience for your site could have a negative impact on your ranking with Google’s SERPs. So, today we’re going to dive into how you can rest assured that your mobile site is optimized and ready for this new indexing.

How do I Optimize my Site for Mobile?

If you want to take advantage of mobile SEO, there’s a few things you need to start doing on your site so you don’t get left behind and lose your hard-earned rank. A lot of the things you’ve already learned still apply in mobile SEO, but there’s some additional things you’ll need to be doing to be optimized for mobile.

Create Mobile-Friendly Content

It’s important to remember the same guidelines when creating content for mobile as creating content for your desktop site. Make your titles appealing, use keywords correctly, build inbound links (we’ll talk about this in the next lesson), and assure that your content is comprehensive and relevant to your audience.

However, creating content for mobile introduces some unique challenges that you need to tackle if you want your site and its content to be optimized.

  • Do a mobile keyword search. This is important because there are different keywords that you should be targeting on mobile than on desktop, since searching patterns differ between the two. One example of this is the near me search, which is used extensively on mobile. To take advantage of this type of keyword, make sure that you have a Google My Business listing that will show up (if you have a physical business location.)
  • Optimize your meta title and description. Since mobile means a smaller screen, you’ll have to make sure that the important parts of your titles and descriptions that show up on Google’s SERPs don’t get cut off because of their length. To avoid this, put the most important aspects of your title and description at the beginning.
  • Make your content easy to read on phones.

If users have to zoom in or squint to read the text on your website, they’ll bounce right off quick. You want to make sure that the font you’re using for text is large and legible so that it’s as easy to read as possible. The text should highly contrast with the background, like black text over a white background, so that the reader can see it easily no matter the light conditions they’re in.

Written copy should also be shortened for your mobile site, because a lot of text has the tendency to make a user feel overwhelmed. Images should also be smaller and header images should be reduced, or removed altogether, so that the reader can get straight to the content.

Optimize Mobile Site Performance

Page and loading speed are a huge deal when it comes to getting your site ranked, and this is especially the case when it comes to mobile. The bounce rate on mobile is actually 40% higher than on desktop, and speed optimization has a lot to do with that.

Optimizing your mobile site with AMP, short for Accelerated Mobile Pages, is one of the best ways to get your mobile site working fast. The way it works is that it allows content on your site to be cached and served directly within a SERP, instead of sending the user to the original site. This, in turn, makes your website load much faster.

To test how fast your website loads on mobile, you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights. This tool will let you know how quickly it loads and recommends some things that you can implement to make it faster.

Design your Site for Mobile

  • Responsive Design

This is the most common type of mobile-friendly website design type. When you utilize responsive design, this means that your page layout and content is all on the same website, but it responds differently depending on the device that the user is on. With a design that’s responsive, your HTML and CSS will automatically respond to the dimensions it detects from the user’s device and scale the layout accordingly.

Be careful though; images will automatically scale with responsive design, but you should probably be using different images that do more to bring CTAs front and center that are specifically designed for mobile screens.

  • Adaptive Design

This type of mobile site design, is different because, although it uses the same URL as the desktop site, the server will actually send a completely different version of the HTML and CSS to the user based on their device. Adaptive design, also called dynamic serving, is one of the most difficult and expensive to maintain, since you have to manually update each version of the site separately, so we don’t usually recommend this method.

However, if you do intend to use adaptive design, it’s best to avoid cloaking. When you “cloak,” this means that you’re showing one thing to search engines and another to regular human users, which can actually get you penalized and ranked lower.

  • Separate Mobile Site

One of the oldest ways to have your site on mobile was to create an entirely separate site with a separate URL made for mobile search. These mobile sites are typically referred to as m-dot, because of their format ( In order to connect this site to the desktop version so Google doesn’t penalize you for duplicate content, you have to use the sitemap and add the canonical URL. This way, when someone goes to your canonical URL, whether or not they’re on mobile will be detected and they’ll be redirected to the m-dot URL.

Creating a separate mobile site as a solution to mobile-friendliness is generally not recommended anymore for several reasons. Firstly, this method has a tendency to send users to the wrong version of the site, meaning an unoptimized experience. It also involves a lot of redirecting; which Google isn’t a fan of when ranking you. On top of all this, it’s expensive and difficult to maintain, since you effectively have two separate sites.

How to Check if Your Site is Mobile-Friendly

Within the Google Search Console, there’s a tool that you can use to test your site’s mobile-friendliness called “Mobile Usability.” This tool will let you know if it encounters any errors that users may come across when using your site on mobile.

With Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, you can enter your website’s URL and get a full report on how mobile-friendly it is. This tool will let you know if here’s page loading issues, if it’s difficult to navigate on mobile, and more.


Things to Avoid

There’s some things that don’t work well with mobile, and will get you penalized by Google for having. Be sure to avoid any of these practices when building your mobile site:

  • Blocking important code from being crawled:

Google needs to be able to crawl your page and all of its important code fully so it can judge whether or not it’s mobile friendly and rank it accordingly. Blocking Googlebot from accessing code like JavaScript and CSS can cause issues in maintaining your rank.

  • Using intrusive pop-ups:

Google hates pop-ups, especially when it comes to mobile websites. With Google, they’re all about making sure that the user has the best experience when visiting your site; so, if an intrusive pop-up blocks your content from the viewer, Google will penalize that.

  • Enabling flash for playable content:

Flash isn’t supported by most mobile browsers, so using Flash for your animation or video content can leave out a big portion of your website’s visitors. Instead, use HTML5 for video embedding to help maintain the usability of your site across all devices.

  • Confusing navigation:

Avoid using pinch-to-zoom, touch elements too close to each other, or anything else that a user on your website can have a hard time navigating. The navigation menu for your site should be clear and big enough to open with a finger. Also, Google has officially said that hamburger navigation menus are fine, so you can use one if you’d prefer.
In the next lesson, we’ll talk about how to start a link building strategy for your website.

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