Two years ago, the web reached a tipping point. According to Similar Web’s 2015 “The State of Mobile Web” report, nearly 56% of U.S. traffic to sites featured in the study came from mobile devices. Predictably, mobile search traffic is also on the rise. A few months after Similar Web released its findings, Google reported that over half of searches performed on its platform are on mobile devices.
Recognizing that users are increasingly accessing and searching the web on mobile, the search giant has made some significant tweaks to its algorithm in recent years. In April 2015, Google rolled out its mobile-friendly algorithm tweak, dubbed “Mobilegeddon” by some publishers, which boosted the ranking of sites that were optimized for mobile. Since then, Google has continued to adjust its algorithm with mobile friendliness being top of mind.
Adam Sherk, VP of SEO and Social Media, Define Media Group and social media at Define Media Group, recently spoke during a Publishing Executive webinar on optimizing website UX and performance for mobile devices. He explained what Google’s algorithm changes mean for publishers and how they can implement mobile-friendly SEO practices. Here, Sherk explains 4 ways publishers can improve their SEO for a mobile-dominant future.
- For editorial content, a mobile responsive site is ideal. Some brands still direct mobile users to a different URL than their desktop experience. While that may work in certain industries, where consumers use a site for very different reasons on mobile than on desktop, it doesn’t necessarily work for publishers, says Sherk. By having two different websites for mobile and desktop, publishers diffuse the impact social sharing and links can have on their ranking. A responsive site, which adjusts and shrinks different site elements based on screen size, is the best way for publishers to serve mobile readers, argues Sherk.
- Use Google’s free tools to test mobile usability. Sherk says that Google provides a number of helpful tools that can test the mobile usability of publishers’ sites. Google Search Console, for example, scans a web page and documents usability issues like content that is too wide for a mobile screen or clickable links that are too close together. Sherk recommends that publishers do an audit of their website using the Google Search Console, starting with the homepage, then testing category pages, and then down to the article pages. Publishers should also test different types of content, says Sherk, like video and slideshows. Additionally, publishers can use Google Search Console to track what keywords are driving mobile users to their site.
- Avoid using interstitial ads, at least on high-search pages. In January Google introduced a Mobile Interstitial Penalty. The penalty lowers the mobile ranking of sites that use “intrusive interstitials,” or ads that prevent mobile users from being able to view content. Sherk advises publishers to eliminate intrusive interstitials altogether, as they do not provide a positive user experience. But if these types of ads are critical to a publisher’s business, Sherk says that the publisher can remove interstitials from the pages mobile users land on from search. Any subsequent pages those users access can feature interstitials without penalty from Google.
- Consider the impact of the Mobile-First Index. Google is in the process of transitioning to a Mobile-First Index, which will index sites on Google’s search platform based on the mobile version, rather than the desktop version as Google had in the past. This will not have a huge impact on mobile responsive websites because the desktop and mobile versions use the same URL, but if publishers have a mobile site and a desktop site, they will need to consider the usability and quality of their mobile version. “If the mobile version has considerably less content than the desktop version, that’s where you tend to get into trouble. The mobile version must have all of the same content that the desktop version has,” says Sherk. Likewise, a mobile version should have all of the same metadata and structured data markup (information Google uses to understand what content is on a page) as a desktop version.