Mobile SEO Best Practices
For SEO, mobile optimization has become more important than before, and you should get your website ready for Google’s mobile-first index.
Google’s Mobile-first Index ranks web pages based on their mobile version.
When your website is mobile-optimized, it should:
- Load super fast on mobile devices.
- Show all the content to Google.
- Load the required resources across all device types.
- Have a user interface that is optimized for all device types.
- Have internal links and redirects set up correctly.
The second reason to follow mobile SEO best practice: Mobile searches that happened on Google have exceeded desktop searches for some time, and nearly 60% of all Google searches came through mobile devices.
Another reason is that more than 50% consumers would discover a new product or a new company/brand when conducting a search on mobile phones.
Let’s examine the mobile SEO best practices and rank your website on Google’s first page.
SEO Best Practices (or Factors) that are direct factors to Google Mobile SEO:
- 1. Create Responsive Design Mobile Website
- 2. Optimize Mobile Website Loading Speed
- 3. Leverage Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
- 4. Test Mobile Website Speed & Friendliness
- 5. Don’t Use Popups on Mobile Devices
- 6. Minimize Header Image
- 7. Show All Content to Google’s Mobile-first Index
- 8. Register Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools)
SEO Best Practices which are factors contributing to SEO for all device types (including Desktop, Tablet, and Mobile):
- 9. Domain Name and Domain Age
- 10. Page Level Keyword Optimization
- 11. Switch to HTTPS and/or SSL
- 12. Create More high Quality Web Pages
- 13. Add hreflang Tags for International Websites
- 14. Keep Expired Product Pages
- 15. Use Local Domain Name Extension and Configure International SEO URLs
1. Create Responsive Design Mobile Website
The first tactic for optimizing your website for mobile SEO is to create a responsive design mobile website.
The old approach used to be that you developed a website for desktop users and devices. After mobile devices (or smartphones) came out and people are using the web browsers from their phones, many of these desktop-ready websites don’t work on mobile web browsers, or they simply cannot be displayed properly.
To adopt to mobile, some businesses went a little far by creating a new separate website only for mobile users. This approach leaves them with two websites (i.e. mobile and desktop) to maintain in the long run which isn’t ideal.
With responsive design, you only have one website that works well on mobile (hopefully) and still works on desktop. Note, the desktop website usually works well with tablet devices.
A user visiting your responsive website will see the first website with desktop, the second website with tablet, and the third website with mobile. As your width of the web browser shrinks from desktop to mobile, your responsive website will still display properly, and users will be able to read your website as normal.
In technical words, responsive design is a mobile website strategy in which your website’s URLs always stay the same, whether a user visits your site through a desktop mobile web browser. For example, the homepage’s URL for each device type:
www.example.com – desktop
www.example.com – tablet
www.example.com – mobile
Your web server sends the same set of HTML codes to web browsers (of all devices) that request your web pages. Your site’s CSS alters the rendering of the web page depending on the screen width of the specific device.
The Viewport of your responsive design website must be configured within the head section of each page.
<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1">
2. Optimize Mobile Website Loading Speed
Make sure your website loads fast enough for mobile users. People often use mobile phones when the connection speed isn’t optimal. Under this condition, it takes longer to load web pages.
Optimize your website to load super fast, not just mobile friendly, then it’s going to create a better experience that will help you improve your organic search traffic.
A user may do a Google search from a mobile device, click your web page’s search result, and land on your page. If it takes too long to load, what will usually happen? The user will usually click the web browser’s back button – This is a bad signal telling Google the user doesn’t like your website.
To speed up the loading of your website (or web pages), implement the following:
Migrate to HTTP/2, if your website is still running on HTTP/1.1. HTTP/1.1 is a protocol from the Internet’s old days and has many web performance issues.
HTTP/2 addresses many of the old performance problems that happened in HTTP/1.1, including lifting concurrent request limits and making header compression available.
Use File Compression.
Set up file compression on your web server, such as GZIP. File compression reduces the amount of data your website sends to the users.
Deliver Images Responsively.
Assume you’ve already optimized all the images by using their smallest size versions.
Now start delivering the images responsively.
Users access your website from devices of many different screen sizes. This gives you an opportunity to send images that are the best fit for the specific screen sizes they’re using. By matching the images to the most suitable screen sizes, you’ll certainly speed up the loading of image files for mobile users.
Add an srcset attribute to the “img” tag. This specifies an array of images that your website users’ web browser can choose from.
Replace Animated GIFs with Videos.
The problem with animated GIF files is that they’re often large files.
Whenever you can use a video, don’t use animated GIFs. By doing so, you may reduce the file size up to 80%.
Minify Text Files.
Minification removes all the unnecessary whitespaces in your text-based files. This can reduce the amount of data you send to users without affecting any function of your website.
3. Leverage Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
When you have set up Google AMP on your mobile website, AMP ensures your website is super user-friendly for mobile devices.
When users do Google searches on mobile devices, Google shows a lot of search results that are AMP-friendly (or AMP-enabled). It makes you believe AMP-friendly web pages (or websites) have their own mobile index in Google’s index.
You want to make sure that you have a mobile-friendly design website, and are using Google AMP framework. It will boost your chance to get more Google mobile search traffic.
Refer to the official AMP site:
4. Test Mobile Website Speed & Friendliness
The mobile SEO tools to be used are mainly for ensuring mobile friendliness and testing website’s page speed.
Test your mobile website’s with Google’s mobile friendly tool:
Test loading speed under mobile environment with this tool (i.e. TestMySite):
Test your mobile site’s optimization with PageSpeed Insights (Tool):
Each tool should give some issues that have slowed down the loading of your website (or web pages), or even suggestions on how to fix the issues. Make sure you follow up the suggestions and fix the issues.
5. Don’t Use Popups on Mobile Devices
Disable popups on mobile devices, even when you have multiple popups for desktop screens/users.
Mobile screens are smaller.
For example, if you have a popup that takes up the entire mobile screen, users will have to click “exit” to close your popup. When this happens on a mobile device, it irritates your users. Closing a popup isn’t as easy compared to desktop to just exit out.
When you show too many popups on mobile devices, it increases your site’s bounce rate, and decreases time on site. This sends Google a signal of bad user experience. As a result, Google organic ranking of your web page (or website) may start going down.
6. Minimize Header Image
Make sure your website’s header image is small.
When your header (i.e. header banner image) is really large, mobile devices don’t have screens large enough to show the large header image, and your most important content above the fold.
This will make users keep scrolling down their screens to get to your important content. And this is bad user experience.
Make sure your important text content on your web page is very readable, large, and dark in color. This allows users to read your page easily.
7. Show All Content to Google’s Mobile-first Index
Google’s mobile-first indexing means that the mobile version of a website is considered the primary version when Google determines organic ranking.
Make sure you’re showing everything (i.e. all the content) of your web pages to Google. This will help your mobile website do better in Google’s mobile-first index.
A website may take mobile user experience into consideration, and display only some of the content of a page to users. If users want to see more of the content of the page, they are required to click “load more”.
This setup obviously improves the web page’s load time. But the web page isn’t showing Google all the content at once i.e. Google doesn’t click “load more” to retrieve all the content of the page. The organic ranking of the web page will be negatively affected.
Make sure the web page can show Google everything when loading, including all the text, all the required HTML, all the CSS, etc. This allows Google to understand the site architecture for mobile.
If you have to make all the content of a web page visible to Google, but is restricted with the small size of mobile screens, then you can collaspe or hide the content in tabs. With this approach, Google’s mobile-first indexing will be able to retrieve all the content.
8. Register Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools)
Google provides a free service Google Search Console (or formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools).
With Google Search Console (GSC), you can submit your website (or websites) to Google for indexing. Only after Google (through googlebot, a Google’s web crawler) has crawled and placed your web pages into Google’s index, your web pages / website will start to appear on Google’s organic search results pages (SERP).
Creating a Google Search Console (GSC) account should be the first step when doing SEO for your mobile-friendly website.
You can sign up Google Search Console (using a Google account, or Gmail account) through:
In your Google Search Console account, you can:
- Check the mobile usability status of your website under “Mobile Usability” (including error, and valid).
- Ensure there is no crawl errors of your pages under “Coverage” (including error, valid with warnings, valid, and excluded).
- View the search queries that have been driving Google organic search traffic (i.e. SEO traffic) to your website, and the total impressions, total clicks, average CTR, and average position of each search query.
- When you have updated a page with new content, you may submit the page through the Inspection URL feature, in order to let Google re-index the page.
- View which sites are linking to your website (under “Top linking sites” of “Links”). i.e. the domains which are provide backlinks to your website.
9. Domain Name and Domain Age
Let’s examine the domain level ranking factors.
Domain name has always been an important ranking factor. It can be broken down into exact match domain name, and main keywords in domain name.
Exact match domain name
Exact match domain is your website’s domain name is the exact keyword that users search for on Google.
An example is website baiduadvertising.com.
When the user’s search query is “baidu advertising”, the site’s organic search ranking would have been given a boost.
Main keywords in domain name
For example, the website SmallSEOTools.com contains SEO tools in the domain name. It would have helped the site to rank higher for keywords including words “SEO Tools”, such as “free SEO tools”.
A domain name that was registered and indexed in Google for the first time 15 years ago, has a domain age of 15 years old.
But when comparing to a newer domain with age of 2, the 15-year old domain name doesn’t really have direct advantage in Google’s ranking algorithm.
The difference is usually the number of backlinks.
An older domain name usually would have acquired more backlinks due to its longer years of existence in the Internet.
And having more backlinks (and some of the backlinks are of higher quality) would have given an advantage to the website ranking in Google’s SERP.
A strategy some webmasters tend to use is to buy older domain names from other people who are selling those domains.
When buying an older domain name, you must check and make sure the domain doesn’t carry any possible Google penalty, or else it would have done more harm to your website’s organic search ranking.
10. Page Level Keyword Optimization
Main keyword in page title
Including the main keyword in the page title would definitely help the main keyword to rank better on Google’s SERP.
Sometimes you may be tempted to include more than one keyword in the page title, when each keyword is short in length. In that case, make sure the most important keyword goes as close as to the very beginning of the page title.
Main keyword in meta description
It doesn’t hurt to also include the main keyword in the Meta description of the page.
When the Meta description of your page is properly written, it would become a very good descriptive text, and Google would prefer using it as the default descriptive text in the search results.
But the Meta descriptive isn’t about getting a page with higher ranking. It is for getting users on Google’s SERP to click your page’s search result. i.e. You want a higher click through rate for your page.
With more click throughs on your page’s search result, your web page (and website) get more visitors from Google.
LSI keywords on page body
You can and should include the main keywords at least 1 – 2 times in the page’s main body text.
Usually you shouldn’t over-populate the main body with the main keyword, because it may not look “natural” when people read the sentences.
But you should include some LSI keywords in the main body of the page wherever makes sense.
LSI is latent semantic indexing, and they are keywords that are related to the topic of your page.
Google when determining how relevant a page is to a specific search query, it looks for matching in the main keyword and LSI keywords. LSI keywords are more about matching the specific topic.
Main keyword in H1 tag
Make sure you include the main keyword of your page in the H1 tag.
Main keyword in page URL
When a page is about SEO tools, the best page URL is to include the keyword such as:
11. Switch to HTTPS and/or SSL
If your website is still on http (non-secure or without SSL), then it is time to switch to https.
A website in https is actually factor to improve your site’s Google ranking.
After switching to https, make sure you have correctly implemented 301 redirect all pages from http to https.
Assume for you website you would install WordPress on Siteground. In your Siteground web hosting account, you can install Let’s Encrypt which is a free SSL certificate which enables https protocol.
12. Create More high Quality Web Pages
Ranking your pages higher up on Google’s SERP is only one way (or dimension) to get more organic search traffic.
A second dimension is to expand the number of pages (and/or keywords) that may appear in Google’s SERP.
But having more pages on your website doesn’t always improve your website’s organic search ranking.
In fact, when your site has many pages but the quality of the pages are relatively low, then this may turn out bad for your entire website.
RankBrain is one of the ranking factors that Google uses to determine your website’s quality, and RankBrain may be seen as user experience of your website.
Large number of low quality pages tend to get high bounce rate and low click through rate. And this is going to negatively affect RankBrain score.
The right way is to make it natural. If all your good content should cover only 25 pages and no more, then focus on creating and optimizing the 25 pages on your site.
Certainly when you have the good content to cover up to 50 pages, then it is always better to create 50 pages. The 50 pages in long term will give your website more traffic (visitors) than when it had only 25 pages.
13. Add hreflang Tags for International Websites
A website may expand to have more than one language when business expands to another country (or market) or expand internationally.
An example of international websites mean on a single website you may the following setup:
www.example.com – English, U.S.
www.example.com/de/ – German, German
www.example.com/es/spain/ – Spanish, Spain
www.example.com/es/mexico/ – Spanish, Mexico
On your international websites, you have a version of your website for the U.S. market in English, a second version in German for Germany, a third site in Spanish language for Spain, and a fourth site also in Spanish but for Mexico.
You should implement the hreflang tags/attributes on your web pages.
The hreflang tags tell Google the language a specific page is using, and Google can determine to serve search results to users searching in the that language.
The hreflang tags in the head section of the home pages will have to accommodate all the above, such as:
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-US"
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="de-DE"
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es-es"
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es-mx"
For more information on hreflang, refer to:
14. Keep Expired Product Pages
You may have web pages that are ranking very well on Google SERP.
One of the high ranking pages could be a product page, and the problem is the specific product has become expired. i.e. You are no longer selling this specific product.
Often marketers and/or webmaster would quickly remove/delete the expired product page.
- From the product management point of view, this is completely normal decision.
- From the search engine optimization point of view, this is a problem.
The best option is the easiest option i.e. Keep the expired product page. This way, you are keeping the page URL alive without actively harming your Google organic search ranking (of the page URL).
On the page, you can:
- Add a message to tell the visitor the product is unavailable.
- Add a link to a similar or an alternative product.
15. Use Local Domain Name Extension and Configure International SEO URLs
Your website’s domain name and extension contribute towards your mobile website’s SEO. The choice of domain name extension and/or top level domain (TLD) depends on the business scope (i.e. geography and/or locations).
- Local SEO: Business that is only for local audience.
- International SEO: Business that goes global (or international).
Single country and/or region
When your business operates in a single country or region (such as Hong Kong), and you have no plan to expand beyond that (geographically), you may register a domain (which is a TLD) with extension “.hk“.
You can place your website on the TLD (top-level domain) such as:
Muliple countries and/ regions
Your business may have operations in multiple countries and/or regions such as Hong Kong, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, South Africa, etc.
The best is to set up all the different country/region websites on a single TLD and use folders to distinguish each, such as:
www.example.com (for US)
The alternative option is to use a different top-level domain name for each country/region, such as:
www.example.com (for US)
The disadvantage of this option is more expensive to maintain.
I have written a Chinese version of this article, but with 200+ Google SEO Ranking Factors.
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