The DIY Mobile SEO Guide: How to Be Mobile-First in 2018

Have you got a mobile SEO strategy for your business? If you don’t, you’re ignoring most of your potential buyers.

That’s a big mistake.

The stats show that mobile has become increasingly important in generating leads and making sales.

Plus, Google’s tweaking all of its algorithms – even for desktop search – to reflect this change. That means unless you bring your SEO practices in line, your site could be virtually invisible in search results.

To help you keep your site optimized for mobile search, we put together this guide to show you:

  • What mobile SEO is
  • Why mobile SEO is important
  • What you need to do to optimize your website

By the end, you’ll be poised to capture more leads and sales from this important market segment, and to future-proof your mobile marketing strategy against the next big change.

Recommended Resource: Need more website traffic? Learn how to rank #1 on Google with our Ultimate Guide to SEO in 2018.

What Is Mobile SEO?

Mobile SEO stands for mobile search engine optimization. It’s the practice of optimizing your content to achieve a better ranking for your web pages in search engine results pages (SERPs).

This process helps you improve organic traffic, which is traffic coming to your site from search results.

While there are several search engines, when it comes to mobile SEO, Google is the most important one. That’s because it accounts for almost 95% of the mobile search market.

mobile optimization - googles share of search

Why Is Mobile SEO Important?

Here are a few reasons why it’s time to start paying attention to mobile optimization.

1. Mobile Search Is on the Rise

First of all, it’s about the market trend. For a while now, mobile searches have exceeded desktop searches, and that’s only likely to continue.

That means that many of your target customers are likely using mobile devices to find your content. Improving mobile SEO means they’ll be able to do that.

mobile seo 2018 - statcounter chart

2. Mobile Content Determines Google Search Ranking

Plus, Google’s switched to a mobile-first index, which means it’s using the mobile content of a web page to determine its search engine ranking. So if you aren’t looking after mobile SEO, you risk having poorly ranked content.

3. Mobile Search Drives Sales

Mobile is also driving presale searches. Google’s research shows that:

  • Mobile searches for product reviews have increased by 35% over two years
  • People have spent the equivalent of 50,000 years of watch time looking at video reviews
  • Mobile searches including the word “best” have grown by 80% over two years

google mobile seo stats

If people are looking to buy your products, you want to be sure that the right search terms lead them to your site.

In addition, 40% of people prefer to use mobile devices to complete the whole shopping process, from researching the product to buying it.

Overall, looking after mobile search optimization will help you reach your customers where they are and create a better user experience for all your visitors.

4. Mobile SEO Affects Voice Search

Mobile optimization will also help you future-proof your SEO strategy. That’s because voice search is becoming huge, mirroring the rise of mobile search.

These days, voice search isn’t just on smartphones and tablets, but on home assistant devices like Amazon’s Echo, which means people will be able to find well-optimized content from anywhere.

And, using mobile SEO to optimize for voice search now could provide a competitive advantage, as 62% of businesses aren’t doing this yet.

importance of voice search for mobile optimization

Of course, not all businesses get a lot of mobile traffic, so it makes sense to check yours before you get started.

Don’t get us wrong: the changes we mentioned mean you’ll have to handle mobile SEO at some point, but checking your traffic will tell you whether you needed to do this yesterday, or if you can wait a few weeks.

How to Check For Mobile Traffic

So here’s where you find out how much mobile traffic your site gets.

Login to Google Analytics, and navigate to Audience » Mobile. You’ll see a breakdown of the numbers and percentages of website traffic using desktops, tablets, and mobile devices.

check google for mobile audience

Don’t stop there, though. Explore the data for different periods with the onscreen date selector.

We’re willing to bet that in most cases, the percentage of mobile traffic has gone up, as in this year on year comparison.

google analytics shows mobile traffic on the rise

That means it still makes sense to look after mobile SEO, and create a mobile-friendly site.

How to Check If Your Site Is Mobile-Friendly

So, how do you make your website mobile friendly? Before you get started with mobile SEO, the first step is to check where you are. There are plenty of tools around to help you do this.

A good starting point is Google’s mobile-friendly test. Type your URL into the search box, click Run Test, and you’ll soon have a report showing whether your page is mobile-friendly or not.

mobile optimization test results

It’s also a good idea to check whether Google can successfully crawl your site. “Crawling” is how search engines find and index your content. If they can’t crawl your site, your content can’t and won’t appear in SERPs. There are two tools you can use for checking crawl information.

First, login to Google Search Console. Go to Crawl » Crawl Errors, and click on Smartphone. You’ll see a graph and table outlining any errors.

view mobile seo errors with google search console

How to Check If Your Site Is Mobile-Friendly With SEMrush

Another tool that helps you identify crawl errors for mobile SEO is SEMrush. Here’s how to check mobile SEO with the SEMrush Site Audit tool.

If you’ve already got a site audit set up for your site, you can press the gear icon. You’ll see a dropdown menu. Click on User-agent: SEMrushBot-desktop.

how to check mobile seo with semrush

Change the user-agent to the SEMrush or Google mobile bots.

change user-agent in semrush

SEMrush will generate a report.

how to improve mobile seo with semrush

Once you have the report, go to the Issues tab. SEMrush will give more details of issues found, and will suggest how to fix them.

semrush report shows mobile seo issues and fixes

It’s worth noting that while addressing desktop SEO will handle some mobile SEO issues, there are also some mobile-specific SEO issues to address. These include:

  • Looking after the mobile user experience
  • Optimizing content for mobile users
  • Handling technical mobile SEO

We’re going to look at those in the rest of this guide.

Mobile User Experience

One area it’s crucial to optimize is mobile user experience. If you don’t get this right, people won’t stick around long enough to be wowed by your content, subscribe to your email marketing list, or grab your lead magnet.

A good place to start making improvements is the bounce rate. The mobile bounce rate is higher than the desktop one, according to Stone Temple Consulting.

stone temple mobile seo bounce rate

Since dwell time (the time visitors stick around after following a link to your site) is a major SEO ranking factor, the more people bounce, the worse it is for your mobile search ranking. So here’s what you need to do.

Speed Up Your Site

The first step is to speed it up. According to Google, 53% of visits are abandoned if sites take more than 3 seconds to load. In addition, half of your visitors expect pages to load in 1-2 seconds. So, you can’t mess around with mobile page speed.

what is mobile seo - handling page speed issues

A good starting point is to use Google’s mobile speed test to see if there are any speed issues.

Type in your URL, and the tool will scan your site.

test mobile speed with google

At the end, you’ll get a report showing how your site compares and suggesting fixes you can make to improve mobile page speed and mobile SEO.

google mobile page speed report

Some common suggested fixes include:

  • Compressing images as large image files can slow down your site
  • Combining and minifying code to reduce the number of page requests
  • Using caching to serve pages more quickly

WPBeginner has a guide to speeding up your site which includes fixes that work well for both desktop and mobile SEO.

Make Your Site Responsive

Next, make sure your website is responsive. What is a responsive site? It’s a site where the design elements resize according to the device to give users a great visual and browsing experience.

If you’re running a WordPress website, making it responsive can be as simple as installing the right theme. If not, ask your web developer to implement Google’s guidelines for responsive web design.

Create a Seamless Experience

People routinely switch between devices to research and buy, so it’s become more important than ever for their experience to be consistent.

According to Google, 63% of people expect this from brands, but only 42% believe they get it.

mobile seo means creating a consistent experience

That means the days of having a cut-down version of your main site for mobile users are long past. Instead, make sure people can do everything they need to on your site, no matter which device they happen to be using.

Use Mobile-Friendly Popups

If you’re in business, you’re going to want to promote your offers, webinars, lead magnets, and other content marketing.

That’s fine, but it matters how you do it.

Especially with the advent of the Chrome ad blocker, it’s more important than ever to avoid ruining the user experience with zero-second popups or poorly designed marketing campaigns.

That’s something we really hate at OptinMonster, which is why our app includes device-specific display rules, behavioral triggers like Exit-Intent®, MonsterLinks™ 2-step optins, and mobile-friendly themes.

18 om exit intent enabled

When you use OptinMonster, you won’t annoy your mobile visitors. In fact, you’ll have a great chance of turning those visitors into subscribers. For example, Salt Strong increased conversions by 185% with OptinMonster’s mobile campaigns.

saltstrong delivered good mobile seo and a great user experience with optinmonster

Next, we’re going to look at some ways to encourage mobile visitors to stay on your site.

Mobile Content Optimization

Assuming you get people to stay on your site, then it’s important to optimize content for mobile visitors. After all, whether you’re talking about desktops or mobile devices, content is one of Google’s top three search ranking factors.

That’s why to improve mobile SEO, you need an excellent content strategy. Some of the mobile optimization tips are similar to regular SEO. For example, you’ll want to:

  • Write appealing headlines that make visitors want to read more
  • Understand how and when to include LSI keywords in your content
  • Optimize your content for keyword intent
  • Build inbound links to your content to increase your authority and relevance for particular search terms
  • Make your content in-depth (over 2000 words) so it gets top search rankings, and so people want to link to it and share it

content length is a mobile seo ranking factor

But there are some mobile-specific twists on the usual SEO advice.

For example, if you’re optimizing primarily for mobile, it makes sense to do mobile keyword research. You can do this with SEMrush.

How To Do Mobile Keyword Research With SEMrush

First, go to SEO Toolkit » Keyword Overview, and type your search term into the onscreen search box.

By default, it shows you desktop search keywords. To change this and see mobile search terms, click the drop down menu by the device button.

view mobile seo keywords in semrush

Don’t be surprised if there are differences, because mobile and desktop search behavior aren’t identical.

For example, Google’s latest research shows that many mobile searchers take advantage of location and do “near me” searches. In the course of a year, these searches grew 130%.

growth in near me searches - google mobile seo tips

To make sure your content is showing up for these searches, you’ll need to fill out your Google My Business listing, and include name, address and phone number. This’ll also help with local SEO.

google my business is a mobile seo ranking factor

Optimize Titles and Descriptions to Improve Mobile SEO

When optimizing for desktop search, you already know about the importance of titles and meta descriptions. These tell Google – and searchers – what a page is about, and show up in SERPs as a way to entice people to click.

But on mobile, you may not see the entire title or description because of the smaller screen size. That makes it more important to put the most important part of your titles and descriptions at the start so searchers know exactly what they’ll get when they click.

There is some good news, though. Meta descriptions have got longer, so there’s more room for you to wow both mobile and desktop users.

Social Media and Mobile SEO

Although Google doesn’t list social media as a direct SEO ranking factor, other research suggests a strong correlation between social media and search ranking, as this graphic from Cognitive SEO shows:

social signals and mobile seo

According to comScore, around 80% of social media time is spent on mobile devices. That means you can’t afford to ignore the role of mobile devices in improving social signals.

mobile share of social time

One easy way to boost this is to make it easy for people to share your content, with social sharing buttons. Since you’re targeting mobile device users, make sure you include sharing buttons for the top messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

Technical SEO for Mobile

If you have a single site, and have already taken care of technical SEO, then skip forward to the next section. If not, then here are some issues you need to pay attention to.

First, make sure you have a sitemap. This will help Google to crawl your site effectively. If you’re using Yoast SEO, it’ll automatically create a sitemap for you.

If not, you can use XML Sitemaps to create one for free.

use an xml sitemap for better mobile seo

Secure your site with HTTPS, as site that aren’t secure will soon be explicitly flagged. Most people won’t visit an insecure site. You can use SEMrush to check for site security issues that affect mobile SEO.

Within your content, use header tags, like h1, h2, and h3, to highlight content hierarchy. That means letting Google know which is the most important content on the page.

For example, if your site title is an h1, then your blog title will be an h2, and subheadings will be h3. This also makes it nice and easy for visitors skimming your content to have something to make them pause and look.

Use schema markup so Google knows what kind of content you have on your site. You can implement this with Google Search Console by following our step by step guide.

If you still happen to be running two versions of your site (as we’ve said, why bother?), then you need to make sure you specify canonical URLs. This tells Google which version of a page is the original or authoritative one, which is key for mobile SEO rankings.

Google’s trying to get accelerated mobile pages (AMP) accepted as a web standard for fast-loading, mobile-friendly content.

That makes it a great idea to set up AMP on your site, so you’re ready when it is. If it becomes a web standard, failing to meet it will definitely hurt your mobile SEO ranking. (If you use MonsterInsights to monitor your analytics, you can easily setup AMP on a WordPress website.)

Getting Ready for Voice Search

So what about the future of mobile SEO? The experts agree that voice search is going to be huge.

According to comScore, half of all smartphone users use voice technology, and one third of those use it daily.

comscore voice search and mobile seo

In addition, half of all smartphone users expect to use voice technology more. Using voice technology on smartphones results in an increased desire to buy smart speakers, which means voice search usage is likely to increase.

As well as using LSI keywords and schema markup as outlined above, there are a few more things you can do to nail mobile SEO for voice search.

Google’s search quality ratings for what it calls “eyes-free voice assistants” emphasizes:

  • Answering questions fully or delivering the right information in response to a voice search query
  • Having answers that are the right length to answer a query (we’ll tell you what the research suggests below)
  • Having correctly formulated answers

A good shortcut to optimizing for mobile voice search is to optimize for answer boxes and featured snippets. To improve mobile SEO for answer boxes, you need to:

  • Answer questions correctly and relevantly
  • Use the questions as subheadings
  • Include lists or tables in the article

In addition, a Backlinko study says:

  • Most voice search results are on average 29 words long
  • Sites with a high domain authority are more likely to be seen in voice search results
  • Content that ranks well in desktop search is also likely to do well on voice search

Keep these tips in mind so your content will already optimized for the voice search revolution.

That’s it! Now you know the ins and outs of mobile SEO, you can nail mobile optimization for 2018 and beyond. Next, check out our articles on how to do an SEO audit and check those rankings, as well as our list of SEO ranking factors.

And follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more useful guides and tutorials.

Sharon Hurley Hall has been a professional writer for more than 25 years, and is certified in content marketing and email marketing. Her career has included stints as a journalist, blogger, university lecturer, and ghost writer.

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