What Mobile First Means for Your SEO

30 January 2017

mobile phone


Users have gone mobile. Each and every year, studies are showing that mobile internet usage is on the rise and it’s not simply the predictions of the digital market and something tangible you notice in the behaviour of those around you and in your own behaviour.

Social media network usage is dominated by mobile, controlling the way that your users and potential customers are having conversations. And as mobile technology takes leaps forward every year in terms of features when compared to their desktop variants, more and more users will favour their mobile device for all their digital needs.

Google has had a focus on mobile for years, rewarding the best possible experience for mobile users with greater ranking potential. As mobile begins to overtake desktop in user base, digital marketing professionals need to evolve and shift to not simply accommodating mobile users with its strategies, but make sure that your SEO and digital architecture focuses on mobile first.

Google has announced the shift to mobile-first indexing, meaning that Google will rank its search listings based on the mobile versions of your site so marketers need to pivot in order to reach their customers.

What does this mean for your strategy and how do you continue to perform in this new digital SEO era?

What is mobile friendly SEO?

Much like any marketing strategy, digital or offline, you need to focus on the needs and the journey of the mobile user on your site, relating to the UX (user experience).

What makes the experience of the mobile user different to that of the desktop user that would influence their conversion potential? By isolating those variables and catering to the mobile user first, you can ensure that both search engines and users pay attention to your site.

Screen Size

Understanding the real estate that you’re working with ensures that you make the greatest impact for your users.
When optimising titles and meta descriptions for both websites and adwords, follow the guidelines set in place for mobile devices over those for desktop, if using a responsive website (one that caters for both mobile and desktop users). This means upping your title character limit to around 79 characters and your meta descriptions are reported to being seen on mobile devices around 200 characters.

Your written website content as well should be written with mobile screens in mind, taking care that the initial view of the landing page provides clear guidance for navigation, and that users are not forced to scroll through pages of text to find what they are looking for.

Mobile sites can still make use of expanding text blocks to improve usability while retaining content for users. It's important to realise that mobile users are even more focused on results than desktop users, as they are often using the device while on the go doing other things and won't have time to learn to how navigate your site. Do the hard work for them!


Page speed has long been a factor in the the way that Google ranks websites as it heavily impacts the experience for the user, both desktop and mobile.

While it's true that many sites that have a well-designed and highly interactive interface can improve the user experience,  factors like unoptimised graphics, overloaded scripting and autoplaying videos can cause many mobile users experience with your site to be an unpleasant one.

Many users will close a window should a page not fully load in around 5 seconds, opting to find another site for their needs, meaning that quick-loading sites not only have the ranking advantage when it comes to search engine results pages, but also in user response.

Make sure that you leverage browser caching on your sites and optimise your images to small files sizes that they load quicker. Dont overload mobile sites with too many widgets and media, and turn off any auto playing features. Not only do these delay page load times, but also will make a sizeable dent in a mobile users data plan.

Remember that most mobile users don't have speed that desktop users enjoy, so if something loads slowly on your desktop machine, it's definitely not suitable for mobile. Use Google’s Pagespeed test to see how your site performs and make the recommended changes.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

In the move towards mobile first SEO, Google has encouraged websites (specifically bloggers and news portals) to create AMP pages of their content by offering ranking boosts for AMP versions of pages in Search engine results pages.

The AMP project was created to be in competition with instant pages from Facebook that promotes pages with compressed images and bare bone site architecture to provide almost instantaneous content to users searching for information. The result of creating AMP versions of your pages (often done through the AMP plugin for Wordpress) can mean that your content will show up in news carousels above the organic results in search engine results pages, including images, providing an ideal platform for users to find your content quickly and easier, especially on mobile devices.

While the immediate benefits have been seen for news sources on the internet, as well as recipes and other specialist blogs, it's safe to assume that with the focus on the mobile first approach that Google is taking that businesses wanting to stay ahead of the competition should focus on getting their sites AMP compliant as soon as possible.

Multi-Domain or Responsive?

Depending on your business needs, Google’s mobile first push will influence the efforts of your digital marketing campaigns and how you manage your onsite SEO work. With separate sites for both mobile and desktop users, ie yourbusiness.com and m.yourbusiness.com, Google’s shift will mean that the mobile site ranking indicators will be the focus of Google’s attention and your desktop version may be ignored for ranking purposes. Switching to responsive would be the recommended course of action for most companies, however sometimes content specifically designed for desktop can create a better user experience for those users but seo focus should be on promoting your mobile version of the site.  

Responsive design is optimal as it caters for both mobile and desktop users, however the shift needs to be made towards focusing on the mobile user more than the desktop user for improved SEO performance. As stated previously in this article, focus need to be on the UX for the mobile users, with titles, descriptions, navigation and page speed all focused with optimal mobile practices in mind.

Tell me what to do!

With mobile first rolling up out in coming months, it’s crucial that you start changing your web strategies now. Audit and prioritise your mobile work by completing technical tests before moving onto user testing. If you haven’t already, shift your web presence to a responsive site and begin to optimise with mobile in mind. Re-write your onsite optimisation with mobile character restrictions for meta tags as guidelines, ensure that formatting, headings and styles all conform to the mobile screen size, and then reduce clutter to improve page speed time.

Begin running split testing for different mobile UX options, focusing on conversion paths and calls to action on your site, making sure that all functionality work for mobile devices. Making sure that buttons are not too close together, that your main navigation is intuitive and that calls to action are clear for all users.

Lastly, integrate AMP into your websites. This can be done simply through Wordpress plugins or through creating of AMP pages by tech-savvy developers. This is especially important for content-based sites and for blog sections of existing sites to get that extra push in Google results.

Mobile is no longer just an optional element of your business. With mobile now being the dominant force in everyone’s lives your online business needs to make the shift with it to cater to your audience.

Make the changes now, and reap the mobile SEO benefits for years to come.

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