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Desktop vs. Mobile: The Difference Between SERPs

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Desktop vs. Mobile: The Difference Between SERPs

This post is in English
Nikolai Boroda
This post is in English
Desktop vs. Mobile: The Difference Between SERPs

We took 50,000 random keywords in the US database to find out just how different the SERPs are for the same search query on different platforms.

Spoiler alert: Not exactly chalk and cheese, but the big picture is disturbing.

There are a lot of deviations between platforms: not too many extremes, but only 13% of websites get to retain the exact same position across devices. SERPs on different devices are distinct due to different SERP features and, obviously, the screen space, which drastically changes the user experience and your website’s visibility.

With the share of mobile traffic eating up more and more global bandwidth, this becomes a point of great concern.

Our Research Methodology

In our study, we used the SEMrush Organic Research tool to look into URL Deviations and Domain Position Deviations for the 50,000 random keywords in the US database.

Picture it like this — we took snapshots of desktop SERPs and compared them to snapshots of mobile SERPs for the same query. Data on the URL Deviations shows an overall picture of how many pages lose their positions in mobile search.

For a more precise and detailed presentation of the difference between desktop and mobile SERPs, we have used the Domain Positions Deviations. By tracking domains and not specific pages, we have ensured that we are taking into account mobile versions of pages with different URLs.  

Evaluate any website's online visibility

Overview your competitors' search performance

Please specify a valid domain, e.g., www.example.com

More on this Competitor Analysis: Keywords and Backlinks Post Elena Terenteva

About the Organic Research Tool

SEMrush’s Organic Research is a simple tool that grants deep insight into the organic performance of any domain. Within seconds you will get the top keywords bringing traffic to the website, see its recent ups and downs in the search rankings, and if it is ranking for any SERP features, you will also get the list of its main organic search competitors and more.

URL Deviations

How many pages lose their visibility in mobile search?

We tracked how many pages lost their position in mobile search compared to the desktop results. A staggering 30% of pages that are present on the first page of desktop search results are moved beyond the top 10 results in mobile search.  

The table below shows how many desktop results dropped out of the top 10, 30, and 100 on mobile devices.

Number of pages that lose their visibility in mobile search

Domain Position Deviations

How many domains changed their position in mobile search?

The next table presents how many domains get to keep their position. As we have already established, only 13% of websites have the same position across devices.

Digging further, we counted how many domains shifted in mobile search within one, three, or ten positions from their place on desktops.

Shifting one position may not seem like a big deal, but you have to keep in mind that mobile and desktop search result pages have different scroll depths and click-through rates. Compared to desktops, dropping out of the top 3 on mobiles will take a much more drastic toll on your traffic.

Number of domains that changed their position in mobile search

Comments From the Industry Experts

Cindy Krum
Cindy Krum
CEO, MobileMoxie

Overall Thoughts:

  • The stats are very compelling. They speak to what I have been saying for a long time, that people really need to look at actual mobile SERPs to see what is going on.

  • Mobile & desktop are different – sometimes very different. This is especially true because things like Knowledge Graph, which show on the right in desktop, show on the top of mobile, pushing other results down.

  • According to SparkToro/JumpShot, most mobile searches don’t result in a website click – 62% of people stay in Google’s hosted assets. That leaves 38% of people that *MIGHT* click on your website and only the clicks that go to your website get into your analytics. If you are below position 1 in organic rankings, the likelihood of you getting the click goes down and down; basing an SEO strategy on this kind of shaky data alone seems crazy!

Strategies:

  • I have been speaking and writing a lot about Entity-First Indexing, as opposed to Mobile-First Indexing, because I believe that Google’s shift to Mobile-First Indexing was a move to organize information around their Knowledge Graph. You can notice how websites (‘Seen on the Web’ results) are being pulled INTO maps (part of the Knowledge Graph) rather than the other way around.

  • SEOs need to think about the Topic Layer likely how web content gets categorized into the Knowledge Graph. It seems like sometimes bits of information get enough engagement from web content to move them into the Topic Layer. It seems like this may be partially influenced by ‘Related Topics’ in the Knowledge Graph, as well as popular ‘People Also Ask’ Interactions.

  • Google has doubled down on media optimization recently because media is highly engaging content that can be searched for and accessed through regular search or voice search; this means that brands need to:

    • Make and optimize videos & live streams – ideally hosted on YouTube.

    • Make and optimize podcasts – submitted to Google as an XML feed.

    • Use great Images with descriptive alt text.

    • Launch Native Apps, Web Apps or PWAs  - Indexed with Google’s new Indexing API or Hosted in Firebase

    • Optimize Google My Business with Info & Media

We tend to describe the bits of information that get pulled in from the Edge Layer to the Topic Layer as ‘Fraggles.’ This word is a combination of the word ‘Fragment’ and ‘Handle’ because often, when these assets are highlighted in a search, Google will open the page and scroll directly to the content on the page, as if an HTML handle or jump links were there. Sometimes these are present, and sometimes Google seems to just know where to scroll on its own.

What is important here is that one page can rank, but within that ranking, there can be a vertical or horizontal carousel of additional, clickable snippets of information all from the same page. This makes the listing take up more space and look more authoritative, driving more clicks, and when people find exactly what they want, more engagement and happy customers. Fraggles are new, but in our unscientific research, it seems like the following things tend to drive Fraggles:

Craig Campbell
Craig Campbell
SEO Consultant & Trainer

Why are 31% of desktop search results not visible on mobile SERPs?

I read a few months back that over 50% of all search results are taken from the mobile index, so this may explain why 31% of desktop searches are not visible on mobile search. This coupled with the fact that people are designing the mobile side of things to be more about user intent and closer to the buying stage, means desktop searches tend to have a lot more information on the pages and are more tailored towards people looking for information.

Wondering why only 10% of URLs able to keep the same position on Desktop and Mobile?

Factors like CTR and a number of other things will be higher on mobile devices, simply because more people are coming onto websites from mobile devices, so those smaller factors that are part of the algorithm will have much more interaction and this could potentially result in better positions on a mobile device than the desktop. Things like page speed and mobile friendliness are also important factors on the mobile side, and again people are working that side of things. And it would also appear, according to what I read, that over 50% of Google’s search results come from the mobile index and that will increase, and then we should have a more settled bunch of URLs on desktop and mobile.

A good position on both SERPs: A “Good” Position on Desktop vs. “Good” on Mobile

I think it makes sense to have good positions on both desktop and mobile devices, as you never know where your next customer will come from, so being higher up on either of those will give you more of a chance of getting that customer onto your website. As the stats suggest, more people are using mobile devices in a lot of cases, so I would always want to work on that side as a priority, but I wouldn’t ignore desktop at this stage, as personally I still get a fair amount of traffic from desktop.

Fernando Maciá
Fernando Maciá
SEO Consultant

The data obtained from this SEMrush study shows that traffic to a mobile-first index is progressing rapidly, although it is probably not yet fully completed either by Google or by many websites. If more than 30% of the results that appear on Google's front page for desktop searches are not retained in the results from mobile devices, it is probably because there is still a similar percentage of websites that have not been adapted to mobile devices. In this scenario, websites with similar content that have already implemented it win the game and ”crash" into the first mobile results.

On the other hand, we find that only 10% of the results maintain their position; this could be caused by multiple factors. It is possible that geolocation in the search from mobile devices is of high value, while it is not that important when searching from desktop computers. This means that local results have greater opportunities to appear in mobile searches, while proximity does not weigh so much on the relevance for desktop searches. In addition to geolocation, the influence of personalized results, the acceptance of the suggested searches to avoid typing further, the searches themselves, which are different when you have a physical keyboard or not, or even voice searches, all have an influence so that the order of the results can be different on mobile and on desktop.

There is a curious fact that the number of domains that hold their position is higher than the number of URLs; this could be due to domains that have adopted specific mobile versions in subdomains of type “m.” In these cases, it is possible that Google was displaying different URLs in desktop and mobile searches, although in both cases belonging to the same domain (though different subdomains). Despite this, we are also seeing in recent days URLs of type “m.” in results obtained for searches from desktop (which then redirect to the desktop version).

Given the increasing use of mobile phones to access the Internet, I believe that it is imperative to adapt all websites to mobile devices, not only to make them compatible, but to make them fully functional. Equally, it is important to consider mobile searches, different types of keywords, voice searches, suggested searches or the way in which it affects the default geolocation that Google introduces - keep all of this in mind when setting goals of visibility, keyword research, content optimization, and analysis of the results.

Evaluate any website's online visibility

Overview your competitors' search performance

Please specify a valid domain, e.g., www.example.com

More on this Mobile SEO is a Must: How to Stay Competitive in Mobile-Friendly World Post Nikolai Boroda

Conclusion

The importance of mobile optimization is not news, but we hope that our research highlights just how much harder it can be to compete in mobile search, and how big of a deal it is to keep up.

Nikolai Boroda
SEMrush

SEMrush employee.

SEMrush aficionado. Fascinated by Google’s influence on SEO, PPC, the world.
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Comments

2000
Olumide Samuel
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

These stats show great insights. Since more searches are carried out on mobile devices, it makes sense that the competition would be tougher on mobile search.
A question I'll like to ask: does these statistics vary with industries? Since the share of the mobile/desktop search varies with industry, could that also apply to the variation in a site's search performance across the two platforms?
Kristen Vaughn
Helper

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Wow, powerful stats here for certain. Thanks for the tips. I've been exploring jump links a bit more from a user experience perspective, but haven't been able to tie this back to a direct SEO benefit yet. Helpful to read!
Jyoti Thapa
Expert

Provides valuable insights and adds depth to the conversation.

lovely little article and very important as well. Nikolai keep it going and waiting for your next post.
Pardeep Kumar
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

There is lots of difference between desktop and mobile traffic. The page speed of most of the sites are good on desktops but the other hand on mobile devices it is really tough. I think Google's AMP project can help to solve this problem.
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

This is very compelling for many niches and businesses but not all. We have clients where 80% of their search is still ONLY from desktops. In those spaces, they don't need to rush and freak out. Many of our clients are sole proprietors who themselves are over the age of 60 and so are their clients. They don't even need to worry about mobile friendly or even mobile SERPS because when all of their age group is no longer 'buying' and the next age group is in their niche- these owners will be retired:). I tell them to chill and not freak out by these kinds of reports.

For those who this matters a lot for - we have seen the map 3pack becoming more prevalent for more searches. We have clients who have websites that are not great on mobile but their service or business is in the top 3 pack.
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Katerina Gasset
Katerina, I was making the same exact comment, right up until I saw yours below (above now). 2/3's of our traffic/clients perform their searches or view our site on their desktops. These are business owners, office managers, business executives, etc. It has less to do with age, but where they do their research for future purchases... at their office. So this is important information to know as this will change with time in the future, just like your clients, but it is going to take time for our audience to move into different browsing habits.
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Nikolai thanks for adding numbers to the theory. The research is impressive and surprising. I have experienced the changes in a page's SERP position on desktop and mobile platforms but never thought that 30% of the pages that ranked #1 in =Desktop SERPs were pushed beyond #10 in mobile. We need to address them as two separate entities and formulate strategies accordingly.
Akhilesh Singh
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Well defined post, thanks!
Cherry Smith
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Quite interesting post!
Nick Samuel
Expert

Provides valuable insights and adds depth to the conversation.

For one client we saw an increase of around 500k impressions YOY for a month but barely a 25k uplift in actual clicks. I tried to pre-empt any questions from senior management about why CTR was so low when I presented this data, but even then I felt at a loss to adequately explain why (besides the obvious PPC scapegoat).

Basically, the traditional CTR curve mode died several years ago, and isn't coming back no matter how badly we want it to :-(
Ali Ahmad
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Search engines will start giving worth those sites that abandon every beauty of desktop sites, I noticed some of our competitors recently even have removed their footer for site fast loading enough to stand in top 10, amazingly they achieved success. So a page with very small number of images but more text may steal the position. Someone can correct me.!.... :)
Peter Mead
Master

A veteran community member.

Hi @Nikolai, I did not expect to see so many many pages lose their position in mobile search compared to the desktop results. 30% of pages that were 1st page on desktop results moved below top 10 for mobile. That's significant...
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

thanks for sharing this informative article blog list. keep writing this kind of blog list it will really helpful for us
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Akhilesh Singh
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Nice post Cindy, can yous suggest which points make more effects on these types result and what we can do to fix it? If want found our actual ranking in every devices.
Nikolai Boroda
SEMrush

SEMrush employee.

Akhilesh Singh
I can't speak for Cindy, but I’d say that mobile friendliness of a page is critical for retaining its positions in mobile search.
You can find more on mobile optimization in my post about mobile SEO.
To track your website’s search performance on different platforms simultaneously, you can set up a multitargeted project in the Position Tracking tool.

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