For strong search engine rankings, optimizing your website for mobile devices is key.
- Your website needs to be mobile-friendly since more than half of all global web traffic comes from mobile devices.
- Google prioritizes mobile page load speed as a key metric when determining your website's search ranking, which is significant since 94% of organic search traffic comes from Google.
- Google offers free online tools to help you evaluate how mobile-friendly your website is and provides tips to help you optimize it.
Digital marketing has become a major consideration for all businesses, small and large. Few aspects of digital marketing are as important as driving traffic to your website and landing pages, and few elements of capturing new clicks are as important as ranking well on Google and other major search engines. By optimizing websites and content, businesses can improve their search engine result page (SERP) ranking. This is known as an organic search strategy, and it can be particularly effective.
As internet traffic increasingly comes from mobile devices, Google has shifted its focus to mobile-friendly website optimization. Failing to establish a mobile-friendly website means all your other organic search efforts could be in vain.
A well-optimized desktop site and troves of content mean little without mobile optimization. What makes a mobile-friendly website so important, and how can you improve your ranking? Read on to find out.
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Search engine results page ranking and mobile optimization
Since July 2018, Google has prioritized mobile page load speed as a key metric when determining a website's search result ranking. If your mobile website is slow or unresponsive, it comes with a hefty penalty to your overall ranking across all devices.
Google is responsible for about 94% of total organic search traffic worldwide, meaning you can't afford to ignore its shift toward mobile-friendly optimization. Therefore, investing in website optimization must include mobile optimization. [Read related story: Google for Business: A Small Business Guide]
"Businesses with slow mobile sites may see a decrease in mobile organic rankings on Google," said Tony Palazzo, vice president of operations and marketing of Logical Position. "Speed has always been a factor of ranking, but previously, it was based on the desktop version of your site; now, it's going to be looking at your mobile site load speed."
How can you tell if your website is mobile-friendly or not?
Google has made the process of checking how well your website loads on mobile devices easy with a tool on the Google Search Console. Simply plug in your website's URL – Google will tell you whether or not it is considered mobile-friendly under its current algorithm. Alternatively, you can plug in the code for your website to test whether a newly developed website is mobile-friendly before it goes live.
"While Google says slower sites that still have great content may still rank highly, it's a clear push for companies and developers to emphasize performance and the user experience on mobile platforms," said Sean Brady, president of Americas at Emarsys. "Companies must select the right technology and employ the right strategies to deliver both relevant personalized content and mobile performance."
Mobile optimization and user experience
Mobile optimization is not just for ranking better on SERPs, it also is integral to capturing traffic. More users than ever are accessing websites through mobile devices. In fact, more than half of all global web traffic comes from mobile devices, a share that is growing year over year. Just like on desktop websites, mobile users who encounter slow and cumbersome websites are likely to navigate away and never return.
Beyond that, your mobile website must also be easy to navigate. If you've ever encountered a website that clearly hasn't been designed with mobile devices in mind, you know how frustrating the experience can be. Designing a layout specifically for mobile (think lots of vertical scrolling and easy-to-push buttons) will ensure that when users land on your page, they stay on your page. A lot of horizontal scrolling, small check boxes and dropdown menus are likely to frustrate a mobile user.
How to make your website mobile-friendly
Depending on how much work your website needs to be truly mobile-friendly, you might want to hire a web developer. However, there are some steps you can complete yourself. Google suggests the following ways to improve your site's responsiveness and user experience on mobile devices:
- Visit Google's guide to mobile-friendly sites. This page offers several ways to make your site more mobile-friendly, such as choosing a responsive web design that automatically adjusts the display to fit different screen sizes.
- Take Google's Mobile-Friendly Test to see how optimized your website is for mobile viewing. You can test a single page on your site or several webpages and see exactly how Googlebot views the pages when determining search results.
- Use Webmaster Tools to generate a Mobile Usability Report, which helps identify any issues with your website when viewed on a mobile device.
When the mobile version of your website is complete, it should fit perfectly on any mobile device screen size, whether it's a mobile phone or tablet. The design of the site should suit the user's typical activity on that device as well, which usually requires employing a separate design than your desktop version.
You could also consider offering a mobile app. If your business's goods or services are well suited for it, an app offers users a mobile-specific way to engage with your brand and creates new opportunities for capturing mobile visitors. [Read related article: Smart Reasons to Build a Mobile App for Your Business]
The impact of mobile devices on a broader digital marketing strategy
Optimizing a website for a mobile device is an important aspect of a larger digital marketing strategy, but it is far from the only element.
It is important to create a cohesive brand message across social media and email channels as well, fine-tuning your content to suit each channel to target your audience where they are most active.
Creating a holistic digital marketing strategy can also help you retarget customers who have previously visited your website, improving conversion traffic and building brand loyalty.
Brady said return on investment for email marketing is nearly double that of mobile, social media and other digital marketing platforms. If you're concerned that your website isn't ranking well, develop other marketing channels to boost your ROI while you work on redeveloping your site for mobile devices. An omnichannel strategy isn't an alternative for a mobile-friendly website, though, in fact, it is part of the same effort.
"Google's focus on mobile directly impacts brands' omnichannel marketing strategies, especially as millennials, on average, use 4.5 devices when interacting with a brand, forcing developers to continue focusing on the mobile experience," said Brady. "In the competitive e-commerce industry, marketers must continue providing consistent and personalized content across channels to ensure their content on these channels is built to run as fast and efficiently as possible."
Mobile optimization is crucial to maintain or increase your SERP ranking. Loading time, design, font size, a mobile app and optimized content all play a role in boosting your ranking. Moreover, an optimized website for mobile devices can dovetail with your larger digital marketing strategy and support remarketing efforts.
In a mobile-first age, your small business can't afford to ignore mobile users. Whether your site is already mobile-friendly and you want to improve it further or you're playing catch-up when it comes to capturing mobile visits, staying on top of search engine algorithms' approach to mobile websites is imperative.
Additional reporting by Sammi Caramela and Sara Angeles. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.