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A leading concern for any website in the modern online ecosystem is to optimize content for search engines. Further, optimizing for mobile is a key part of modern SEO.
In the past, mobile optimization was often an afterthought in web design. However, in 2018, optimizing content for mobile directly affects a website’s SEO metrics. Ever since Google’s mobile-friendly update, mobile optimization has been a factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. And any sites that haven’t optimized for mobile run the risk of penalties from the search engine.
But mobile content optimization isn’t just about pleasing Googlebot. Mobile devices account for more than half of all global web traffic. Therefore, mobile optimization is as much about making a site user-friendly as it is about pleasing search engines. Plus, search engines today use sophisticated ranking algorithms. This makes it easier than ever to optimize content on your website to appeal to search engines and users alike. This is true whether the traffic comes from a desktop computer, a mobile phone, or, yes, Googlebot.
Looking to soup up your website for mobile users and search engines in 2018? Here are a few key principles to optimize content on mobile for search engines and people.
Rely on Responsive Web Design
One of the central commandments of mobile optimization is responsive web design (RWD). Responsive design means that your website detects the size of the visitor’s device screen. Then it reshuffles and resizes the content automatically to suit that screen size. RWD stands in contrast to the two other primary methods for mobile optimization: dynamic serving and using separate URL’s.
Dynamic serving involves using separate HTML code for your mobile and desktop site. You first program the website to detect the user’s device type. Then your website will serve either the desktop or mobile code accordingly. The URL stays the same with dynamic serving, but the CSS and HTML code change.
Separate URL’s, on the other hand, require the use of a subdomain for your mobile site. This means that if your website is normally located at www.exampleURL.com, your mobile site would live at m.exampleURL.com. Similar to dynamic serving, this involves using separate CSS and HTML code for both websites. Only this time, the URL changes as well.
Which Is Better?
From a user’s perspective, any of these approaches can work, but RWD and dynamic serving are preferable. Using separate URL’s can cause issues if users try to share your website by copying and pasting the link. If they send the mobile site to a desktop user, the desktop user may see the mobile site on their desktop. This could cause confusion. Dynamic serving allows for a streamlined experience on one URL. On the other hand, RWD is virtually seamless on any device.
From an SEO perspective, responsive design wins out. That’s because RWD is simpler and more elegant from a search engine’s perspective. Plus, it makes it entirely clear to Googlebot that your site is optimized for mobile. This alone will boost your rankings significantly. Responsive design is also entirely doable. Any reputable web development agency should have no problem implementing responsive design on your website. Even popular website builders like Squarespace offer responsive designs. Plus, Google recommends responsive design as a best practice.
Watch Your Page Load Times
One of the most neglected factors for SEO is the speed of your website. This is especially important for mobile optimization. Google carefully measures the speed of your website from a performance perspective. What’s more, this has a direct effect on your search rankings. But speed is about more than pleasing Googlebot.
Mobile users are often accessing content on the go. This means they’re likely to be impatient. If a page takes too long to load, users aren’t apt to wait around. In fact, one study found that 40% of users will leave if a page takes more than three seconds to load. Combine that with the fact that many mobile users are on slower, lower-bandwidth cell network connections. Therefore, it’s easy to see why speed is so important.
Optimize Content, Not Just the Website
Beyond back-end specifics like responsive design and site performance, how you structure and lay out the actual content of your site can have a dramatic effect on both search rankings and user experience (UX).
The easier your content is to read and interact with on a mobile device, the better your site will perform in terms of UX and SEO. This is largely because since Google’s RankBrain update, a big part of Google’s rankings is how users behave on a page. If Google thinks a website is frustrating mobile users based on user behavior, that will turn into a negative ranking signal to the algorithm. This means that the layout of your content—which is a major UX factor on mobile devices—can directly affect rankings.
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So what does this mean in a practical sense? In short, if you want to optimize content for mobile, it needs to be easy to read on a tiny screen. Here are a few guidelines for making that happen:
15 or 16 point fonts are more than appropriate for body content. Don’t be afraid to write big and bold.
Optimize Paragraphs for Mobile Readers
This means using a line break after every one or two sentences, instead of the traditional four- to six-sentence paragraph you learned in English class. Because text wrapping is tight on a mobile device, these short paragraphs are much easier to read.
If you really want to optimize content, the color of text and the color of the background should be dramatically different. This is easier to read on mobile devices, which may get glare from the sun if a user is outside.
It’s All About the User
Following these tips will help make your site more enticing to search engines. Ultimately, however, it’s the user who really counts. Search engines like Google are increasingly determining page ranks based on user behavior. This means that the only true form of SEO is having an excellent website. As the ranking algorithms get more sophisticated, this will only be more true.
And as more and more web users migrate from traditional desktop PC’s to ever-smaller mobile devices, optimizing for the user is increasingly synonymous with optimizing for mobile. No matter what industry you operate in, mobile optimization is one of the highest-leverage ways to improve your website and make it more appealing—both for search engines and for people.
Ben Lee is a tech influencer, one of Inc.’s 30 Under 30 Most Brilliant Entrepreneurs. He is also cofounder of Rootstrap, a digital creative studio that helps clients with strategy, development, and growth. Rootstrap works with clients to develop mobile apps, web platforms, chatbots, and emerging tech projects. Their clients include Fortune 100 companies and early-stage startups, and past clients range from Snoop Dogg to Google and Spotify.