If you have been keeping up with Google’s SEO changes – which is a full-time job in and of itself – then you might have caught wind of the company’s plans to continue prioritizing mobile accessibility and design when considering search engine results, otherwise known as mobile-first indexing. In summary, Google will pay not just an equal amount of attention to how your website appears on phones; it will pay more attention to mobile-friendly pages than outdated desktop-only sites.
What does that mean for you and your company? It means paying close attention to your mobile site optimization, not only to enable an ideal browsing experience for over half of the Internet’s total traffic, but to also keep up with Google’s growing standards and best practices for SEO purposes, and the benefits to be reaped therein.
The Importance of Mobile Site Optimization
Mobile traffic has grown consistently since the introduction of web-browsing on mobile platforms, from relatively ancient tech like the iconic Nokia 9000 (aptly dubbed the “Communicator”), to the modern iPhone or Android devices. Today, more than half of all Internet traffic comes from mobile devices, and as much as 96 percent of Americans aged 18-29 own a smartphone.
There will be a projected 4.3 billion smartphone users worldwide in 2023, and crucially, Google accounts for 93.22 percent of the mobile search market in the US.
This positions the platform in an ideal place to make the most out of this market dominance, and that is what they plan on doing – galvanizing their ability to dictate best practices to push businesses towards developing websites and web content with a mobile first approach.
That doesn’t mean Google is abandoning what websites are supposed to look like on a bigger monitor screen – in fact, they’ve recently rolled out an update for their guidelines on the desktop page experience. But it does mean that web designers and content creators should be conscientious about how their content is appearing on the small screen, and how that experience then scales up to larger devices.
Optimizing for mobile in 2022 means more than just making a mobile-compatible website, or an m-dot URL. The modern website will strive for uniformity across web and desktop content, creating a site experience that is mobile-first, but still enjoyable on larger desktop screens.
Uniformity Across Mobile and Desktop Web Content
Uniformity across mobile and desktop web content means utilizing responsive design to turn a single URL web experience into an enjoyable and variable experience offering the same content across all screen types and resolutions.
That means doing away with mobile-only designs and instead utilizing media queries to dictate to a site how it should reorganize itself and present its content in an enjoyable way on different devices and resolutions.
High-quality CSS and scalable vector graphics (.SVG) are key to this, taking stiff and inflexible designs and graphic elements, and turning them into guidelines for a uniform experience that adapts to whatever the user is utilizing, scaling up and down instantly while utilizing code, rather than a hosted image file, massively cutting down on load times and data requirements.
An important part of responsive design is copious amounts of testing, as well as a mobile-first philosophy that begins in the early stages of development. When you begin creating your design by optimizing for a small screen, you get to get out in front of most of the problems that arise from creating a rich desktop environment, and then discovering bugs and problems when it’s adapted to a palm-sized device.
Focus on Your Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals are another set of guidelines Google uses to help webmasters prioritize website performance and user experience. Good Core Web Vitals are not just good UX, but are now key to good SEO, which means better traffic and higher rankings.
Your Core Web Vitals are summarized as a set of three different factors Google evaluates:
Largest contentful paint (LCP)
this is the time period needed for a website to display the majority of its content, specifically the largest content element visible in the viewport. This is usually either a large block of text, a large image, or a video. More time, worse score.
First input delay (FID)
this is the time period between when a user first interacts with your page, and the browser’s response to that interaction. It measures interactivity. More time, worse score.
Cumulative layout shift (CLS)
this is any instance of “page shift”, wherein elements of the website move around as it loads, causing errors such as clicking on the wrong button because it moved. Any instance of layout shift can result in a poor score.
Improving your user experience by prioritizing these Core Web Vitals is an important step towards an optimized mobile experience.
Minimize Page Load, Minimize Image Use
The heavier a website is, the longer it takes to load. Interactive and visually heavy websites can understandably take longer to load than a text-based page, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for optimization. Use better image file formats (such as .WEBP instead of .JPEG), utilize code wherever possible (prioritizing vector images and CSS/HTML), and compress your images.
There’s no need for a user to load the full resolution graphic of your company logo on every page. Smart image compression can drastically cut down on what a user needs to load without compromising quality in any meaningful way.
For e-commerce platforms where high-quality pictures are important, many e-commerce platforms use responsive resolutions to change the resolution of an image only when a user interacts with it.
Cut Out the Pop-Ups
Google penalizes websites for different practices, including paid backlinks, spamming your URL across countless platforms, comment spam, and plagiarism.
One important practice to avoid both for the sake of your ranking and for the sake of your users is unwanted pop-up ads or intrusive interstitial ad design. This is especially important on mobile, where it might be harder to click that “x” in the corner without accidentally clicking on the ad.
Review Your Content on Multiple Platforms
An easy way to do this is through emulators and testing tools. BrowserStack, for example, lets you test your design across thousands of platforms and multiple different browsers, so you can instantly check for errors and differences between devices in terms of load times, functionality, and user experience.
If possible, test on your own native devices in the office for a more authentic experience. Emulators can approximate the experience, but it isn’t always 100 percent accurate. Note that even between the same manufacturers, there can be differences in the way one phone’s OS and browser handles a website versus another.
Make Use of Schema to Identify Your Content Online
Schema markup creates a description of the webpage it is added to for browsers to use while indexing content, called a rich snippet. Schema is the result of a collaboration between top search engines back in 2011, and continues to be relevant today, if not more than ever.
What Schema does is create a more intelligent and descriptive snippet for search engines to categorize and sort content on the World Wide Web. Utilizing this to your advantage is a general SEO tip, one that is relevant to both web and mobile pages.
The last and most important mobile site optimization tip is to get to it! Mobile-first web development has been the best practice for a few years now and staying behind means missing out providing an optimal experience for the majority of web traffic on the net, which can cost you dearly.