Most searches happen on smartphones. Here’s how to ensure your site is mobile-friendly so you don’t get left behind.
Here, you’ll find:
- Tips for making your website mobile-friendly
- Why a mobile-friendly site is key
- Basic SEO best practices for mobile
- A breakdown of mobile site solutions
Mobile users reached 56% of global online traffic in 2021.
A mobile-friendly site used to be a convenient, competitive advantage. Now, it’s a necessity if you want to stay relevant and competitive with others in your industry.
Why having a mobile-friendly site matters
Google’s been talking about mobile-first indexing – meaning the search engine bots crawl the mobile version of a site first – since 2016. (Many sites are already being indexed mobile-first.)
In spring 2020, Google announced it would launch mobile-first indexing for the entire web starting that fall. Due to the pandemic, they extended this to March 2021, but many websites had what Google called “unexpected challenges.” This prompted them to put a hold on any more hard deadlines until issues can be resolved.
This extra bit of time is a great opportunity to make sure your mobile site is optimized and ready to go by the time Google fully rolls out mobile-first indexing. To find out how, read on.
1. Perform a comprehensive audit
Audits help identify problems or shortcomings with the current version of your website, including mobile-friendliness. You can use the results to come up with a plan for optimizing your site.
An audit will also generate a broad range of important and insightful metrics, including the number of mobile users visiting your site.
You can use Google Analytics to audit your website by following this command path: Google Analytics > Audience > Mobile > Overview/Devices. Google Search Console will notify you of Mobile Usability errors, and Google has its own Mobile-Friendly Test tool as well.
Additionally, you can opt for premium third-party tools. If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to take on an audit, you could look into partnering with an agency that can recommend customized solutions based on the results.
Audit steps include:
- Review your mobile experience with a device simulator on your desktop, or just use your actual phone.
- Start with the homepage then move to top landing pages and follow your website’s hierarchy and structure.
- Take screenshots and notes of any broken images or links, and consider the user’s experience. Can they find info fast? Is the page too long? What action do you want them to take on this small screen?
- Prioritize universal fixes, then dig into smaller errors to gauge the extent of the work that needs to be done.
Once you complete the audit, it’s wise to plan on performing regular audits at least once a year. This way, you can ensure everything is still optimized and operating accordingly. Regular audits will also be helpful when it comes to keeping up with Google’s dynamic updates.
Pro tip: In Google Analytics, you can view data like bounce rate per device category and type, pages per session, and average session duration. These KPIs will let you know if users are engaging well via mobile.
2. Choose an ideal mobile-friendly solution
There are four main solutions to choose from when making your website mobile-friendly. Here’s a brief overview of each solution, including what they have to offer:
Responsive web design
Responsive web design is the most popular solution, primarily because of convenience. It entails embedding a code that automatically adjusts the site’s contents to fit individual users’ devices. This includes rearranging content and resizing fonts to fit small screens.
Nothing else changes, including the original URL, and this solution is easy to maintain. However, the site’s response may be somewhat limited compared to other solutions.
Dynamic serving involves detecting a user agent (mobile, tablet, or desktop) and generating a customized page with HTML and CSS optimized for use with that particular device.
This solution’s main advantage is that you can display heavy content (such as videos or high-resolution images) on your mobile pages. But this solution can be costly to implement. Additionally, accuracy in detecting the user agent depends on your solution provider’s competence and quality.
This solution involves creating a separate mobile website with separate content independent of the main desktop website. Mobile users are automatically redirected to the mobile version using a separate mobile domain name.
This solution isn’t recommended much anymore, as a separate mobile site is a no-no for mobile-first indexing. Another mobile version shortcoming is its limited content. It’s difficult to incorporate all content from the main desktop website. Plus, these sites are often harder to manage compared to other solutions.
When it comes to choosing an app, the type is key. There are web apps that operate like regular sites to reach users on any device through their browser. However, you lose the option to include push notifications, which are often a huge part of a business app’s success.
A native or mobile app offers a lot of benefits, such as unparalleled user engagement. Mobile apps are also excellent for branding, as the design is customized specifically for mobile users. And advanced algorithms offer customization for individual users.
Lastly, you can use device features like push notifications, offline browsing, GPS, cameras, and more.
The downside: A mobile app is generally more expensive than other mobile solutions. And more than half of smartphone users don’t bother downloading their favorite store’s app. For these reasons, mobile apps are often used as a complementary solution for these other mobile solutions.
Pro tip: Progressive web apps (PWAs) are a hybrid solution that manages to incorporate all the advantages of both app types without falling prey to their flaws. They allow users to navigate to the PWA from their browser like a web app but also save it to their device like a native mobile app.
3. Follow mobile SEO best practices
A mobile site’s success depends on how well it stands out to crawlers and Google’s ranking algorithms. The most effective way to compete is to adhere to Google’s recommended mobile search engine optimization (SEO) practices:
- Code in HTML5
- Minimize your site’s loading time
- Compress your multimedia content (images, videos, etc.) to the lowest size possible without sacrificing resolution
- Avoid using IFrames
- Highlight navigation buttons and make them easy to access
- Ensure you use the correct minimum font size (16px)
- Optimize the page content to fit different screen sizes
- Ensure your content’s font is easily readable
- Make links easier to tap by placing them far apart
- Make jump links available and avoid irrelevant cross-links
- Use image alt tags
- Enable automatic login
- Highlight call-to-action buttons, including a click-to-call tab
These are just some basic mobile SEO best practices. Additionally, remember to watch out for Google’s periodic mobile-friendly site updates and adopt all recommended SEO practices.
Making your website mobile-friendly has gone from nice-to-have to a necessary marketing component.
Between mobile-first indexing and the majority of searches happening via smartphones, those who provide a sub-par mobile user experience simply won’t see the success of sites that do. All the more reason to take the time to make sure your site is mobile-friendly – sooner rather than later.
This article has been updated and was originally published in August 2020.