There was a time when a mobile website, or responsive design, was considered a luxury. Big brands, and tech savvy website owners, were really the only ones that considered it important. The proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and even mobile devices like smartwatches, means that more and more people conduct their online business on mobile devices.
In fact, the Google Adwords blog published a post in May stating that mobile searches had overtaken desktop in 10 countries around the world, although the post only expanded as far as to say that the U.S. and Japan were two of the territories where this had occurred, and did not elaborate any further on the remaining eight. However, during a presentation at London Tech Week, Google's Eileen Naughton said that not only are more searches conducted on UK mobile devices than on UK desktops, but that more UK YouTube searches were also conducted on mobile devices.
Google's Mobilegeddon update in April only served to further shake things up, with mobile readiness becoming a mobile ranking factor, along with page loading speeds. Further changes, such as the "Slow To Load" warning and even Buy buttons being trialled on sponsored mobile search results, it is more important than ever that mobile not be considered an afterthought but that it becomes a primary design, optimisation, and marketing consideration.
Google is trying to guide webmasters down the route of responsive design. A responsive design uses the same HTML, regardless of what type of device a person is using, but determines the screen size and then responds and displays pages accordingly. There are alternatives, including having separate mobile and desktop websites, but there are advantages to the use of responsive design.
Having multiple sites means managing multiple sites. Each site has to be developed, maintained, optimised, and promoted, which could mean double the work. It also means that links one of your site naturally gains do not benefit the other site, and vice versa. Rather than promoting two sites, put double the effort or invest twice the resources into a single unified campaign for your responsive site.
There are technical benefits to responsive design, too. Not least is the fact that redirecting a user according to the type of device they are using requires detection of device type and the actual redirection. Both of these can increase load time, and although many people have access to WiFi networks or good quality mobile Internet, this still isn't the case for everybody. What's more, as we discuss below, Google considers page load time in its mobile ranking signals. If your page loads too slowly, you are likely to be penalised and also see a blatant "Slow To Load" warning.
Check Compatibility of Media and Images
Another factor to consider is that of device and display compatibility. The Flash plugin may not be available on all devices, while some image and video formats may also be unobtainable. Video and uncompressed images can also be slow to load, reducing the user experience that your visitors enjoy, potentially increasing your bounce rate and making pages slow to load. Embed videos, use HTML5 for animations, and even consider adding a video transcript for screen readers and poor connections.
Check Page Load Times
While a lot of mobile SEO is the same as desktop SEO, page load times are more important. This is simply because some devices and some mobile Internet connections have a hard time loading large files, and Google has long been a proponent of positive user experience. Use the Google PageSpeed Insights tool to see how quickly your website loads on desktop and mobile, and to receive tips and helpful information designed to improve those load times.
Slow To Load Warnings Are A Barrier To Entry
Even if your page does rank highly in the search engines, despite being slow to load, Google is testing "Slow To Load" warnings that appear right next to search results and include an obvious yellow warning triangle. Some searchers will carry on regardless, and click through to your site confident that their browser, mobile operating system, and mobile Internet connection will cope. Others will heed the written warning and choose the next best in the list. Some will only see the yellow triangle, assume the page is bad, and ignore your listing. These warnings will prove to be a barrier to entry for at least some of your potential visitors.
While responsive design is largely considered the best approach, it may not be the best option for you or your site, and it certainly isn't the only option. If you regularly post long-form content or massive infographics, large video files, or complex flash files, and don't want to dilute the experience for your full-fat desktop visitors, then redirecting mobile users to a mobile site could be your best option. Doing so enables you to provide access to a pared down version of your site, and brevity will be more appealing to those with smaller screens.
Tweets in Search Results Points to Importance of Social
Smartphone and mobile device users are not only becoming increasingly likely to be your primary target market, but they are also typically very heavy social media users. They love Twitter, regularly update Facebook, and share everything to Pinterest. Social ranking factors already play some part in determining your ranking, and the fact that Google has started displaying Tweets in its mobile search results is a good indication that they may well give greater weight to social ranking signals in the future.
If you don't already have a prominent social media marketing profile, then create one alongside your responsive website design. Consider the size of a smartphone screen, and it is obvious that even a single Tweet in mobile search results means a lot of screen space; another reason to consider Twitter an important part of your mobile SEO campaign.
For now, off-page mobile SEO tactics remain largely the same for mobile and desktop, and if your desktop site ranks well, then it will rank well in mobile results as long as you ensure your site is mobile-friendly. This could change in the future, with greater prominence placed on factors like social ranking and specific web content ranking signals. For now, though, it is vital that you ensure you have a mobile-friendly site because you could be losing half of your potential traffic if you don't.