The ultimate checklist for mobile SEO and design

We have discussed previously why it’s important for a website to be mobile-optimized. With most of the digital world being taken over by the mobile it is safer and definitely smarter for your site to be mobile ready. Since 2015, reports show that the majority of the online browsing and searches were made on mobile when compared to desktop searches and ever since Google has put a strong emphasis on putting mobile first. And while you and I were debating endlessly on its pros and cons, Google’s algorithm (yes, that thing which keeps updating and throws all your previous plans a serious curve ball) decided to undergo some changes.

Google added an update to its algorithm to rank mobile search results, and this update wasn’t sudden it was a pre-announced move which was added as an update in April 2015. You’d think several of us businesspeople would sit up and take notice already, but Google didn’t stop there and late in 2015 they went on to add updates with screenshots from the perspective of mobile devices onto the Google Quality Rating Guidelines. And then a good while later in November 2016, the made another announcement; Google’s search index would be updated and it would be a move that put mobile first. Meaning, your site’s mobile version will be used to calculate your ranking in Google’s Search Index. If you still haven’t hopped on the bandwagon; Boy, are you in trouble already? But wait, there’s more to come and for those of you who’ve been dilly-dallying it’s no good news because as of January 2017, if your site isn’t mobile optimized then your website might not rank highly in Google’s search engine results.

You the webmasters should pick up the pace and walk alongside Google as they optimize the user’s mobile search experience. You need to save your rankings from plummeting first and then nurture it so that it improves, so this checklist is for you to use as a guide as you go about optimizing your site.

 

1. First off, testing…testing…1…2…3!

First things first, let’s test your website to see exactly how compatible it is with a mobile device. Check for the mobile friendliness of your homepage and landing pages. Use a tool like Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool, Small SEO Tools’ Mobile Friendly Test or Bing’s Mobile Friendliness Test Tool .

Here’s how to do it, we’re going to use WebSite Auditor (an app that gives you on page analysis and optimization), as an example:

  1.       In WebSite Auditor, click on the update factors button in the Site audit page.
  2.       Click on Add More Ranking Factors and add Mobile-Friendly to your preferred factors. Once done, choose Mobile-Friendly from the list of factors to be updated.
  3.       Proceed with the update and check to see if your Homepage passes the test.
  4.       Now for your landing pages, you’ll need to go to the Content Analysis module in the tool and select a page to analyze.
  5.       Now go to Encoding and Technical Factors, to see if the page passed the test or not click on click Mobile-Friendly here, and if it didn’t pass the app will give you a few tips to improve.
  6.       If a page has been analyzed already, then just click on Update Analysis to re-test those pages.

 

2. Pick a mobile configuration/Platform

If your website has failed the test, the first thing you want to do is check your rankings. Chances are that they are low because it’s way past the deadline and now you’ve got to buck up to save them from falling any further. So the first order of business would be to use responsive CMS templates and themes which will help you go mobile quickly and without breaking the bank, now this is only possible if you’re using a content management system. You can also enlist the help of Google where they have step-by-step tutorials to customize your website software to optimize the website’s themes and templates to mobile.

Another way to go is build a completely new mobile version of your website and this will break the bank as you’ll probably need to work with a developer (unless you’re a developer) and not to mention time consuming, but overall it is still a good enough option because you have the freedom to choose how you want your mobile site to work. And though according to Google you need to configure your site’s settings to smartphones, there are several other mobile devices you’ll have to take into account like, tablets, multimedia phones and phone features if you want to deliver information correctly.

For this you’ll need to take into consideration the four varieties of mobile page strategies; responsive design, dynamic serving, separate mobile page and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).

  • Responsive design: An optimal viewing experience is ensured by the page adapting its layout based on the user’s device. This does not change the URL and HTML of the page.
  • Dynamic serving: Based on the type of device, the page displayed will differ while the page’s URL will remain the same.
  • A separate mobile website: If the user is browsing using a mobile, they’ll be redirected automatically to the mobile friendly site (subdomain usually).
  • Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): AMP loads your content at lightning speed on mobiles.

You always need to keep in mind what actions the user needs to complete, for example: reading posts, adding products to their shopping cart or check out the products; and your job is to make each one of these actions easier for the mobile user. Greater the relevance of your site and better the user experience and your rankings will be equally better too.

 

3. Crawl or Indexing Optimization

This is where your technical SEO best practices will come in handy. To know why exactly you’ll need this knowledge, let’s get back to the basics, unless our pages are easily discoverable, search engine spiders cannot crawl and index your web pages and if they can’t do that your site cannot be ranked. So technical SEO on your mobile site cannot be skipped and it only goes towards making your life easier as search engine spiders can easily discern mobile-specific content from desktop-specific content thus creating a better user experience for both mobile and desktop users.

Here are a few tips to ensure search bots can easily crawl, index and differentiate (if they are different) your mobile site pages:

  • After each URL listing ensure that a mobile XML sitemap with a <mobile:mobile/> declaration is created.
  • Google Search Console must have your mobile site and a sitemap to your mobile XML’ so go ahead and submit it without fail.
  • Pop-up windows or lightboxes which are not discoverable through a sitemap crawl shouldn’t be used to design a mobile site.
  • Google should know when and where to deliver your webpage and which version, mobile or desktop. So as and when needed, you’ll have to implement “rel=canonical”, “rel=alternate” media and “Vary: User-Agent HTTP” Header tags so Google will know when and how to deliver your webpage.
  • It is extremely important to ensure that Googlebot and Google Smartphone user agents should be allowed to access your site.

 

4. Optimize the loading speed of your page

Both the user and search spider are dependent on this, so that makes it doubly important.

Let’s be honest here, as a user we all would want the pages we visit to load extremely quickly, after all who wants to wait on a page that takes ages to load. So with that in mind we need to keep our above – the – fold – content rendered in under a second on a mobile network as Google prefers it. Also this helps better the user experience and helps them interact with the page as soon as possible.

As the user gets savvier they expect the services rendered to be quicker, so mobile site’s speed needs to be improved to get a hold of this savvy crowd of users.

Here are a few tips to ensure your mobile sites loads faster:

  • One way to reduce load times is by directing your focus on optimizing the images on the site to mobile.
  • The Google Developers PageSpeed Insights resource outlines some recommendations for optimizing page speed. You can find it under “Mobile Analysis”, follow these recommendations and incorporate the necessary measures.
  • You can get your mobile ages to load faster by using front-end optimization strategies like mobile-optimized caching. This also helps in addressing and solving any mobile performance issues.
  • Run regular tests on Google PageSpeed Insights analyzer and check your page’s loading speed often.

 

5. Optimize mobile UX design

The experience that design creates for the user, how the user interacts with elements on the page, how these elements makes them feel, the usability of the site; meaning if it is easy to use or frustrating, etc is what user experience (UX) means and the elements of the web page the end-user sees is what design means from the mobile optimization perspective.

All of us want happy and satisfied customer; Google more so which is why the search engine puts such a great emphasis on user experience. The one thing you want to keep in mind is a happy customer will always come back to your webpage it they have a good experience. And to make it better it is best to follow these practices:

Think about the look, feel and function of your buttons:

  • Click-to-Call buttons – do you have them on your site and how are they placed? Ensure it is place above the mobile fold.
  • Your logo should be a button this makes getting back to your home page easier.
  • And lastly, those buttons HAVE to be finger friendly.

Your mobile site search’s UX:

  • Your site search should be visible above the fold in your mobile design. The addition of filter materials makes it easy to search your site on a mobile device.
  • You need to ensure that search filters don’t return zero results.
  • Space links and buttons well, your aim should be to improve navigation not congest it.

Optimizing mobile experience for task completion:

  • Forms and login requirements if any should be simplified. Are guest purchases allowed for the users?
  • Simplified menus that work for the user is beneficial and you need to consider which kind, pulldown or toggle menus work better for your site.
  • Payment: The payment gateway should be easier for the end user, so think if you need a third party payment service.
  • Users hate pop-ups, be it ads or a form for the website they’re visiting. If this applies to your website, fix it for better SEO and UX. Also fix any viewing issues, like if a user has to pinch, scroll side to side or zoom out to see your web pages your web content isn’t optimized for mobile devices and need to be fixed. And most importantly, if your website uses software that isn’t incompatible, for example- Flash; this needs to be fixed ASAP!

 

6. Test to fix common errors

It is inevitable that a few mistakes happen even when you have taken the utmost care not to, so just remember to avoid these common mistakes when you’re optimizing your site to mobile. Here are a few straightforward instructions from Google which will help you detect and fix these issues.

  • Just as a human site visitor, Googlebot should be able to access the JavaScript, CSS, and images on your site easily, so any blocked JavaScript, CSS and image files should be fixed immediately.
  • For a positive UX you need to eliminate all incompatible software, any video or audio files on your site should be easily playable on mobile devices, so all media should be on hosts that are easily accessible for mobile devices to play the content. And also ensure that these hosts can be used in other countries as well.
  •  If you have a separate URL for your site’s mobile version you need to avoid faulty redirects. Set it up correctly — from each desktop URL, redirects should take your mobile users to the relevant mobile URL.
  • Mobile-only 404s – It would be advisable to redirect mobile users to an equivalent mobile page if a page is certified as desktop-only. Google strongly recommends it.
  •  Interstitials for app downloading – If you’re promoting an app as an alternative to the mobile site to the users the ad shouldn’t interfere with the site usage; it could cause indexing issues and have a negative impact on user experience. Google recommends the use of a simple banner promoting the app instead of interstitials that hamper site navigation and tasks completion of the users.
  • Irrelevant cross-links: All internal links within the site’s mobile version should lead to mobile URLs and not to desktop-optimized pages
  • Slow loading mobile pages will hamper your user experience greatly and will lead to loss of customers. Optimizing the speed to under a second is the best way to go.

 

7. Appropriate App Content should be provided in Search Results

Indexing apps have an advantage over all this. Since about 26 percent of internet users start their search from an app, Google will promote the capabilities of indexing apps. To provide users with more relevant search results Google will index your apps just like a website; deep links in your apps will allow Google to do this. Your apps need to be indexable because about 89 percent of adults spend most of their time on media through mobile apps, and you can do it by:

  • Specify content within the app by adding deep link support.
  • Use Google Play Console to validate the app’s official website.
  •  Your website or site map should have each page’s deep links to the correct link,
  •  And finally, check for any mistakes.

 

8. Finally, track your mobile ranking

After all that you’ve done, you’ve earned the right to sit back and relax; but before that one last thing to do is check your mobile rankings. DO it right now and keep monitoring them. And take a sneak peek into your competitors’ mobile rankings as well, you have to keep an eye on how well their ranks respond to Google’s algorithm update.

Here’s how you can check your rankings on WebSite Auditor:

  1.  Go to Preferences in Rank Tracker.
  2.   Then go to Preferred Search Engines and under your country’s folder, select Google Mobileunder.
  3.   To add another column to your view, right-click on the header of any column in your workspace, now click on Check Rankings and it’ll be displayed.

 

Conclusion

A lot has been said in this article and it might get confusing. So to summarise we’ve compiled this list below for your convenience.

  • You need your site configured for a responsive design (as per Google’s recommendation) or dynamic serving, or separate URLs and it should be configured for all devices. And set it so that it signals to search engines.
  • JavaScript, CSS, and Image files should be unblocked.
  • Playable media and content and hosts that are accessible in all countries.
  • Incorrect redirects, irrelevant cross-links and mobile-only 404 errors should be found and fixed.
  • Optimize the loading speed of your site to less than 1 second.
  •  App downloads should be promoted.

 

Now you have all the knowledge required to take your site mobile and secure its mobile search visibility. Yes its way past the deadline and you should’ve got started ages ago, but it’s better late than never. So go make your site mobile friendly, rise up in the ranks again. And follow this checklist as you go about optimizing your site and you won’t miss a thing.