Optimizing for Mobile: Expert SEO Tips

Xenia Volynchuk

Dec 23, 202010 min read
Optimizing for mobile

Mobile search has become a part of today’s reality, but there are still some blind spots that can make optimizing for mobile a bit stressful. To relieve this pressure, we invited the marketing masterminds Eric Enge, Cindy Krum, Roy Hinkis, and Bryson Meunier to discuss mobile SEO. Read on to learn:

  • What you should be doing right now to make your site rank higher on mobile SERPs
  • Whether to take advantage of AMP and what it does to your site speed.
  • How you should change your keyword strategy to accommodate voice search
  • Whether a responsive website design is better than an adaptive one.

Plus, our guest experts shared their thoughts on the future of mobile and reveal what the featured snippet of tomorrow looks like.

Although Google has already begun experimenting with mobile-first indexing, according to Gary Illyes’s speech at SMX West, this update doesn’t have a specific launch date yet. But still, the mobile search traffic share is growing. So, what should people be doing right now to attract as much mobile traffic as possible? What should their short-term SEO concerns be? Find out below. 

Run the Mobile Usability report

Bryson Meunier: "One of the easiest things to do is to focus on the mobile usability issues in Google Search Console. When we focused on those at Vivid Seats, we actually increased our mobile search traffic by 82 percent and all we did was look at the issues in GSC and fix them — so things like making sure that the font sizes are legible and making sure that you configure the viewport. And Google has outlined all of these things that you really need to focus on. It sounds very basic, but it can have a really big impact."

Google has outlined all of these things that you really need to focus on. It sounds very basic, but it can have a really big impact.

Use Structured Data on Your Mobile Website

Cindy Krum: "I think Schema is going to become more and more important, and even critical, in the next couple of years, as Google's means of understanding how different things on the web work together with other non-web things, like apps and actions and stuff like that."

Create Voice Search-Friendly Keyword Lists

Roy Hinkis: "There are certain types of queries, like 'restaurants near me' that work better on mobile than they do on desktop. So, you need to make sure you optimize for them, as you don't want to miss out on the good portion of local traffic that they may generate for your website."

Cindy Krum: "I think voice search is going to become more and more important as we have more connected home devices and connected cars. So, thinking about natural language search might become more and more central. Make sure voice is something that you're testing and working with."

Bryson Meunier: "Yeah absolutely — voice and making sure that you're enabled for that! But how and whether mobile keywords are different from the desktop ones really depends on your industry.That type of queries, that Roy mentioned, are kind of a no-brainer that you really have to focus on, especially if you have some sort of local aspects to your business. But there are other types too.

When I've looked at this, I've noticed that there are certain things that people search for on smartphones but never on desktops. And this usually is the case when the query works better or only works on a smartphone as opposed to a desktop. For instance, ‘navigate to Starbucks’ is a really popular query on smartphones because these devices can actually help you navigate to Starbucks while desktop can’t. If you ask your desktop to take you to Starbucks, you know, there's something wrong with you. So you have to think about the types of queries that really work on your smartphone and make sure that you incorporate those types of queries into your keyword list next."

Cindy Krum: "But remember that the ‘near me’ and ‘top-rated’ queries hinge on good Schema understanding as well.'

Getting Ready for Mobile First

As mentioned earlier, mobile-first indexing is not likely to be launched until early next year. Despite the future indexing change being old news, there are still people that are not ready for it. To prepare for this major shift, make sure that all of the pages on your website are crawlable, accessible by mobile devices, and that the crawl path is not wildly different on desktop compared to what it is on mobile. 

Bryson Meunier:"Mobile-first indexing might not come in Q4, it probably won't come in — but if you can be ready for it before your competitors are, you’ll have the advantage."

Mobile first is about not just working on mobile and desktop, but about working across all potentially web-enabled devices.

Cindy Krum: "I have some pretty complex thoughts on mobile first and I think it goes much beyond just being able to crawl a mobile version of your site. If we believe everything that Google's been telling us in terms of crawlers and user agents, the smartphone crawler that Google's been using for the past one and a half or two years has been crawling desktop and mobile content with the same user agent.

So I think that there's a reason to be nervous. And this smartphone bot can handle desktop and mobile M.dot, but the important thing about the smartphone crawler is that it does seem to be built for responsive design. If so, then it makes a lot of sense in this mobile-first context, because the thinking in the mobile-first decision-making process is about not just working on mobile and desktop, or mobile and laptop, but working across all potentially web-enabled devices, which includes much more beyond those two. These include tablets, TVs, game systems, web-enabled refrigerators — all of those things.

So things have to work in many different ways, and I think the super-secret sauce is going to be making things work on all different devices. It's going to be a lot more about accessibility and coding things to be flexible in the presentation layer, where they can be presented visually or through audio."

Consider Using Adaptive Design Rather Than Responsive

Mobile plugins for responsive websites are a very sought-after product –- Google returns 6.3 million results for the query ‘mobile plugin WordPress.’ However, the question should be whether we should be moving more towards adaptive design rather than responsive.

Bryson Meunier: "I think that we already have it, at least among larger companies. A lot of them really focus on adaptive because it's more flexible than responsive. There was actually research in the past six months that shows that 80 percent of large companies use adaptive rather than responsive, which is not all that surprising. Responsive is great if you just want to make it mobile friendly and not really worry about the details, but with adaptive you can really control more of the mobile user experience, and you can account for those types of queries that are more likely to occur in a smartphone search than they are in desktop."

Think About AMP Implementation

So, if you have a business, should you implement AMP? According to Bryson Meunier, if you have a news business (i.e., you are a publisher), then you absolutely need to adopt AMP. If you have an e-commerce business or use your website for lead generation, then there may be advantages to implementing AMP, but those have not been proven as much as in the case of publishers.

Interestingly, some companies (including eBay) have implemented AMP for their desktop pages as well.

Cindy Krum: "Going all-in-all to AMP is not a bad idea for product websites. All the historical data confirms that load time impacts people's conversions. I guess, a super-fast load time gets people to make more impulsive decisions and/or just not to give up and get irritated while the page is loading. AMP will be huge for conversion rates, but not for search — they don't matter really for search, but they are getting people through the conversion process faster."

AMP will be huge for conversion rates, but not for search — they don't matter really for search, but they are getting people through the conversion process faster.

Although AMP won’t hurt anyone, there are some issues with tracking, plus this trend is still in its early days. That being said, AMP is still one of the standard ways of making your website pages load faster. How much faster?

Well, Eric Enge shares, that when Stone Temple went to an AMP architecture, they found that their pages shrank by 72 percent in size in terms of kilobytes.

You can leverage all the Google’s stuff and get all the speed benefits, without having actually implemented AMP.

Cindy Krum: "AMP implementation adds a level of complexity that is distinctly unhelpful in terms of creating another set of pages that have to be managed, tracked and attributed. If speed isn't a huge problem, then maybe it's not at the top of the recommendation list. The biggest problem I’ve seen with AMP is that it doesn’t work well with videos. So that’s the only case where I would stay clear of AMP, unless you are ready for a headache, and doing a lot of QA and troubleshooting. Another thing that is worth noting is that you can use AMP code without being AMP valid. So, you can leverage all the Google’s stuff and get all the speed benefits, without having actually implemented AMP.

Let Your Website Be An App. Use PWAs For a Superior Mobile Experience

Let’s take a quick look at what a progressive web app (PWA) is. Eric explains that a native app is a medium between the user and the phone hardware. A website is a different instance - it requires a browser and loads super fast, and a user doesn't have to 'install' each page he opens to the smartphone. And PWA combines these two instances - it doesn't have to be installed (doesn't interact with the hardware) and is fast to load. At the same time, it allows you to do things like send push notifications to users or access your phone’s camera.

Bryson Meunier: "I like PWAs, because they incorporate the native app features into a website, and that can really increase engagement significantly, as shown in the recent case studies by Google. Plus, they are really easy to update — you don’t have to push things through the app store."

Cindy Krum: "An important thing about PWAs is that they can be opened outside of a browser. Most people won’t even notice the difference in the interface between a PWA and a native app, but they would definitely note that PWAs download immediately without opening the App Store, and it updates on its own every time. If you are in an industry that struggles with the App Store (e.g., with getting approval), you don’t have to worry about this anymore. Plus, you can still direct your AdWords ads to PWAs. Today, the problem is that Apple protects its market share by not allowing PWAs to work fully on iOS devices."

PWAs are going to revolutionize the web — whereas people tend to have just a few native apps on their smartphones and don’t download new ones very often, PWAs can rock the world, offering a load speed that is typical for a website and ease, topped with the usability that is typical for a mobile app.

Cindy Krum: "It can be difficult to develop and promote your native app when you are a low- or mid-tier company with little brand recognition. For such companies, PWAs can provide much more exposure and probably many more conversions."

Keep in Mind the Rise of the PAs

There is a forecast by Statista saying that, by 2020, 75% of all Internet-connected devices will be something other than a smartphone, a tablet or a PC. So, on most of these devices, typing won’t be an option. Another observation on how dramatically the world is changing can be found in Stone Temple’s recent study about smartphone voice command usage. It shows that over 60 percent of people are fine with using voice commands when they are alone, at home or in the office, with over 20 percent of users feeling comfortable giving their smartphones commands in public.

We also have this notion of a world of personal assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google Home, Amazon Alexa and others) and, conceptually, of being able to access that same central personal assistant from any device. To make this happen, that PA should be able to recognize your voice. So, what does this browserless future mean for SEO?

Cindy Krum: "I think that to make all of this web stuff happen without browsers and without keyboards, it's all about putting everything in the cloud: having cloud-hosted content with local device presentation instructions and then enabling all of your different connected devices to be controlled by other devices.

Another layer of interest is added by the data from Nest, which we are not using to inform marketing yet, but which is potentially super-useful in terms of user groups, preferences and so on. Speaking of browserless, more action-oriented interactions, these devices of the future are still all running on algorithms, which makes the idea of optimizing for them not that crazy."

Eric Enge: "In the world of voice, while you'll have access to more than one answer, there's going to be one primary answer. You ask the device a question, and it's going to give you the answer, and maybe it’ll give you a way to get additional answers. But, in a way, this is the featured snippet of tomorrow. Pete Myers quite brilliantly started talking about featured snippets being position zero for traditional search, but in the voice search world, it’s the only position.

If you think about it, in the world of voice people don’t want multiple answers, they want the answer. At the same time, it seems insane to try and optimize for such a variety of devices and uber-personalized personal assistants. And this brings us back to thinking of a way to put information in the cloud and inventing things that will allow that information to be extracted and delivered through a presentation layer. A massive amount of technology is going to be involved in this."

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Semrush All Stars group admin and community education enthusiast. If you have questions or product feedback — fire away!