How is Mobile SEO different from Desktop SEO?

Fast Web Media

Online traffic from mobile and tablet devices surpassed those on desktop last year as a report from Brightedge found that 57% of all online traffic came from mobile. More importantly, the report also found that 79% of all keywords and 47% of all keywords ranked in positions 1-20 rank differently on mobile compared to desktop.

This stark difference means that businesses with mobile-first ambitions will need to consider that although they may be ranking well for desktop consumers, those searching for their products or services on mobile may be having an entirely different experience.

How Do I Optimise Pages For Mobile?

Depending on how a website differentiates the mobile and desktop versions of its site, there are a few means of tackling this issue. Some websites prefer to have separate URLs, and in this manner, content can be optimised for the specific needs of both user sets.

Other sites prefer dynamic serving which presents the user with a different version of the page based on the device they are using, and some prefer responsive web design which has the same version of the content irrespective of the device but renders elements of the page differently depending on the screen size.

Responsive web design is Google’s recommended means of optimising content for SEO, but there are some benefits to each, and it is worth noting that Google's algorithm will not deliberately favour a page using this configuration over others.

Aside from indicating that a page is formatted for mobile and making a page crawlable by removing all robots.txt files, Google’s advice is to ensure the page is suitable for mobile users. Creating a page suitable for mobile users can be as simple as avoiding features that are incompatible with many mobile operating systems (e.g. Flash Video) but also extends to the UX (e.g. faulty redirects).

Issues like this can affect the ranking of a page, so it is imperative to check the functionality of a page when optimising for mobile. You can see how your page looks on mobile and check its suitability by using Google's free Mobile-Friendly Test site.

When creating your content for mobile, an important point to consider when optimising the metadata is that Google's official guidelines do not require the mobile and desktop versions to be identical. The wording use states it should be "equivalent" meaning that as long as the overall gist is the same, you can shorten your titles and descriptions to suit mobile users better.

How Important Is Load Speed On Mobile?

Having a good load speed is vital for any page looking to achieve a good ranking position, and this is especially true when optimising for mobile. Considering that the UK’s average broadband speed was reported at 16.5Mbps last year and that the equivalent typical speed for anything below 4G is less than half of this, users may become impatient waiting for a page to load on mobile if they do not have access to WiFi.

Google reported last year that the average time to fully load a mobile landing page is 22 seconds alongside its insight that 53% of mobile web pages are abandoned if the load time is longer than three seconds. If you want to see how fast your site is, Lighthouse is the best tool for checking out stats such as page load speed. Should you find the speed to be too high, some simple fixes should help bring this time down:

  • Compress image files before uploading
  • Use fewer images
  • Ensure redirects are in place
  • Reduce the size of content above the fold

There are many more ways to reduce site speed, but these few tips are typically an excellent place to start.

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Do Users Behave Differently On Mobile?

While user's behaviour will not fundamentally change from platform to platform, the information they are presented with will elicit different responses. The context of using a mobile rather than desktop often dictates the type of response, and, for more functional reasons, so does the size of the device.

With this in mind, Google can interpret user behaviour based on micro-moments and deliver information dependent on the context. For example, a user asking for a means of contacting your company on desktop will favour options such as submission forms or email addresses, whereas a user on mobile will prefer a phone number.

How Does This Affect The Way Users Search On Mobile?

The way people use search on mobile is different from how it used on desktop for several reasons. The main reason for this is that mobile searches are conducted in any forum, whereas desktop searches will mostly be limited to the office or home. One result of this is that mobile queries tend to be shorter on average compared to those on desktop, and the motivation for the search feeds directly into this differentiation.

An effective means of thinking about the types of product-driven searches is to break down the three search behaviours as per a study conducted by the Association for Computing Machinery in 2018:

  • Target-finding
  • Decision-making
  • Exploration

By using this categorisation, the study concluded that each type of search on mobile resulted in different behaviours. Target-finding searches tended to be more focused and much longer queries compared with decision-making and exploration searches. Decision-making searches were shorter, looked further down the list of results and had a higher CTR. Users conducting exploration searches entered a higher overall number of queries throughout any given session, and crucially it was also found that these searches had greater semantic diversity and a lower CTR.

With this information in mind, marketers can begin to optimise their content for mobile users based on the type of products, services or information. For example, if your site is used more by users conducting exploration searches, it may be worth having multiple pages optimised around a subject given the tendency to search for many different queries. Alternatively, if you have more target finding searches, it may be worth delving into Google Search Console to gain a better insight into the granular levels of search query used when looking for your product.

In a nutshell

Optimising for mobile may seem like a tricky task, but ultimately by following a few extra checkpoints when creating any page or website, you can ensure that you have all the bases covered when thinking about your mobile users’ journey from discovery to conversion.

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