As of 2022, nearly 60% of web traffic came from mobile devices, and it’s projected that by 2024, nearly half of all ecommerce purchases will be made on mobile. When it comes to ecommerce purchases, and internet use in general, people are turning to their mobile devices more than ever.
To capitalize on mobile traffic, your mobile website has to perform as well as—if not better than—your desktop site. Beyond that, you need a mobile site that’s optimized for discovery via search engine—a.k.a. “mobile SEO.” Here are key mobile SEO best practices and practical tools for improving your visibility in mobile users’ search results.
What is mobile SEO?
Mobile SEO stands for “mobile search engine optimization.” It describes a set of strategies that optimize mobile web pages for search engines like Google. Mobile SEO follows the same principles as regular SEO marketing: By making your site easier for search engines to “crawl” (or evaluate), your site’s visibility in search engine results increases. But, as its name implies, mobile SEO specifically targets your mobile site’s performance in search.
Keeping your domain in good SEO health is like a rising tide that lifts all boats—it can positively impact your ranking on both desktop and mobile. However, sites with good mobile SEO will likely perform better than those without it. That’s because search engines may prioritize ranking sites with a good mobile experience.
Prioritizing mobile-first indexing has been a Google policy since 2017. This means that as Google’s algorithm “decides” which websites make it onto the search engine results page (SERP), it “predominantly uses the mobile version of a site's content, crawled with the smartphone agent, for indexing and ranking” indexes content and ranks based on the mobile version of a site. This makes a mobile SEO strategy crucial to boosting your overall search rankings.
6 mobile SEO best practices
Given the importance of mobile in overall search performance, businesses need to make sure mobile SEO is a part of their digital marketing strategy. These six principles can help set you up for success.
- Mobile-friendly design
- Reliable on-site links
- Short, pithy content
- Clean visuals
- Local and voice search optimization
- General on-page SEO principles
1. Mobile-friendly design
Mobile-friendly design is Google’s first guideline in its documentation on mobile-first indexing, and it should be your first step toward good mobile SEO. Google offers three approaches to mobile-friendly design, but recommends responsive design.
Mobile responsive design means your site “serves the same HTML code on the same URL regardless of the users’ device (for example, desktop, tablet, mobile, non-visual browser), but can display the content differently based on the screen size.” Shopify’s website builder offers responsive design, as a built-in feature. Other website builders produce dynamic serving sites, which serve different HTML, CSS, and media files to a device, depending on whether that device is a desktop computer, a mobile phone, or a tablet. In the end, responsive sites and dynamic serving sites produce the same product for website visitors.
If you already have a website, Google offers a free tool to tell you whether or not it’s mobile-friendly. The tool offers two verdicts: either the page is usable on mobile or it is not usable and needs a more mobile responsive design.
2. Reliable on-site links
When search engines “crawl” your website, they check your in-site navigation links to make sure they’re always pointing to the same active URL. For instance, if your site’s navigation menu has a link titled Pricing, Google confirms that the link is active, and that it always leads to the same “pricing” web page with the same URL.
Modern website builders like Shopify handle this for you, but older sites may use a model that serves different URLs to different users.
3. Short, pithy content
When writing content for your website, keep a mobile user—and their small screen size—in mind. Keep paragraphs short and headlines pithy. Aim to keep sections limited to a few paragraphs, and break them up with imagery where possible. (No one wants to read a wall of text!)
4. Clean visuals
Make your mobile site easy on the eyes with clean visuals, including plenty of white space around photos and text. Mobile sites compress visual information, so err on the side of extra white space. What might look a little spare on desktop will look normal on mobile.
If you’re showcasing products on an ecommerce site, make sure the photos are high resolution and use dynamic sizing, which means they’ll load with correct proportions on any web browser, whether on mobile or desktop. Take care not to overload a product page with excess photos and videos. In addition to overwhelming a site visitor, these images can cause a page to load slower, which negatively impacts its mobile SEO.
5. Local and voice search optimization
As of 2022, 50% of consumers conduct some of their web searches using a voice search function. This is notably distinct from desktop searches, which are overwhelmingly done by old-fashioned typing. Google considers voice search in its mobile search results, and it favors websites with text that directly answers common search queries.
Voice search is often more conversational than typed search, especially when people use a digital assistant like Siri or Alexa. Your site might fare better for voice search results if it poses (and answers) conversational questions like “What is a good thread count for sheets?” or “Where do I buy organic toothpaste?”
It also helps to use long-tail keywords, which are specific search phrases. For instance, “gym” is a generic keyword, while “gym with climbing wall” is a more specific long-tail keyword.
6. General on-page SEO principles
The best practices for mobile SEO largely overlap with the best practices for all SEO. This applies to on-page SEO, which relates to your site’s content, load times, URLs, links, meta tags (HTML code that provides information about a web page to search engines and site visitors), and code cleanliness (an assessment of how the code is structured, organized, and written). Minding these elements will not only boost your mobile search ranking; it will help your overall SEO.
5 popular mobile SEO tools
SEO is a data-driven practice, so you’ll need a solid toolbox to get the insights you need for success. Here are five tools that can benefit your mobile SEO workflow.
Your ecommerce platform is a crucial tool for maintaining SEO health, as website SEO starts with the technical health of your site platform. Shopify-powered ecommerce stores use responsive design, which means they take your uploaded content and automatically render it on a user’s browser, whether that browser is on a traditional computer, a smartphone, or a tablet. You can also integrate Google Search Console and Google Analytics to work in concert with your Shopify website builder.
2. Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free service direct from the web’s leading search engine that reports on your site’s performance on Google search. Its dashboard will tell you which pages are driving impressions and clicks from organic search, which queries you’re ranking for, and how your site performs on various SEO health metrics like page load time. You can then link GSC to your Google Analytics account to obtain free insights about how much mobile traffic you’re getting, and how to improve your site’s SEO.
Semrush is a paid tool that helps you understand various aspects of a site’s SEO performance, including number of keywords ranked for, average ranking, and estimated traffic from organic search. You can filter by device to focus on mobile performance. You can also compare your domain’s mobile performance to that of competitors. Plans start at $120 per month.
Ahrefs offers a mixture of free SEO tools and paid tools that come with monthly memberships (starting at $99 per month). Ahrefs offers a site audit that scans your website or online store and offers a prescription for improved search rankings. The platform’s site explorer tool runs a competitor keyword analysis and generates tips on productive keywords and backlinking.
5. Screaming Frog
UK-based Screaming Frog is a website crawler that can analyze your site and flag broken URLs, duplicate content, and redirect loops—all of which can lower your SEO if not addressed. It also includes features that overlap with SEMrush and Ahrefs, and includes some as part of a free tier. The paid version is also more affordable, with an annual membership priced at £239.
Mobile SEO FAQ
What is local SEO, and why is it important for mobile?
Local SEO is a type of search engine optimization that helps your site rank for search queries coming from your geographic area. This naturally integrates with mobile search because mobile devices (particularly phones) tend to give more accurate information about their physical location than a desktop computer does.
What is voice search, and how can I optimize for it on mobile?
Voice search describes the process of a person speaking their search query rather than typing it. People conduct voice searches on smart speakers, but they also use it on mobile devices, particularly when talking to a virtual assistant like Apple’s Siri. You can show up in more voice searches by populating your website with commonly searched questions and then providing clear, definitive answers directly below those questions.
How can I track and improve mobile SEO performance?
The best way to track and improve mobile SEO performance is to use a software tool like Google Search Console, Ahrefs, Semrush, or Screaming Frog. These applications are designed specifically to evaluate a site’s search engine performance and provide insights to help improve ranking. You’ll also want to ensure that your site follows Google’s mobile-friendly design guidelines, with responsive design, dynamic serving, and separate URLs.