Mobile SEO Basics

Since the advent of smartphones, our day-to-day lives have significantly changed. We’ve conquered communication issues and established a vast network connecting people across the globe. Modern smartphones allow users to do pretty much anything they previously had accomplished on a laptop computer. From the palm of your hand, you can purchase goods, pay utility bills, and much more. 

Because smartphones are so convenient, more and more online business owners need to ensure their sites are optimized correctly—so consumers can find their sites when they’re using their smartphone’s browser.

The following guide outlines important mobile SEO optimization essentials for helping your business excel in today’s mobile-first, e-commerce environment.  

What Is Mobile SEO?

Mobile SEO is the process of optimizing a website’s content to make it easily accessible for smartphone and tablet users. 

Mobile-first indexing was introduced just a few years ago and references how Google looks first at the mobile version of a content piece to index for SEO ranking. Up until recently, most Google indexing reviewed only desktop versions of a web page when crawling for page relevance and ranking to a search engine results page, or SERP.

Although mobile SEO has only been the standard for a few years, it’s already exerting a massive influence on all mobile users’ experiences. 

By default, websites published after July 1, 2019, are generally compatible with mobile-first indexing. So, only old websites need to be reset for mobile-first indexing (newer sites are already equipped with these default capabilities).

How Does Mobile-First Indexing Work?

As of 2019, 63% of U.S. search traffic originates from a mobile device. For online businesses to stay afloat, a mobile-first mentality is increasingly necessary.

Mobile-first indexing is conducted with the help of Google bots. The bots crawl mobile versions of websites and then use that information to rank and index pages, according to their SEO optimization. 

What Are Some Strategies for Developing a Strong Mobile-First SEO?

To help ensure your site has an impactful mobile-first presence, consider the following three techniques:  

  1. Check Your Site’s Crawlability

Crawlability refers to how easily accessible the keywords tied to your images and graphics are to Google bots and search engine spiders. All of your content—including images, text, and videos—should be crawlable and indexable on mobile phones. 

For example, graphic content should be optimized with appropriate keywords, so that search engines can recognize and prioritize the images across your website. Sites that are crawlable will draw crawlers that can then easily access, read, and index the content.  

You can help search engines crawl by supplying metadata for your pages and images. This descriptive content (including title, tags, keywords, and more), helps search engines “see” your site’s images and graphics.

With newer voice search trends, it’s particularly important to optimize your meta titles and metadata accordingly, so your site pops up for users that leverage voice search options on their phones.

  1. Optimize for Featured Snippets

Google featured snippets are the content served on SERP pages within the featured box, filled with 3-5 answers to your search query. Google’s automated systems crawl content and pull the best answer targets to feature in the snippet box.

Featured snippets are being used more and more often because users are leveraging more long-form questions and queries in search. The featured snippet gives the user a quick and accurate answer to their searched question. 

Winning a featured snippet can do wonders for your website’s SEO—and boost your traffic and resulting revenue. If you are interested in winning more traffic, you can acquire high-quality content services with SEO from Topcontent.

  1. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP are open-source coding projects designed by Google. These pages are utilized to improve page load times and website speed without compromising your site’s creativity or appearance. Responsive design and AMPs are recommended to make the website mobile-friendly.

How Can I Optimize My Website To Be More Mobile Friendly?

Three major approaches that can be optimized to make your website more mobile-friendly for mobile-first search include optimizing for:

  • Responsive website design
  • Adaptive website design
  • Separate desktop vs. mobile designs

Let’s take a closer look at these three important optimization efforts.

  1. Responsive Design Optimization for Mobile Searches

When we talk about optimizing a website for search, we’re referencing ways to improve your website’s performance, boost traffic and conversion rates, and make the site both more usable and accessible to users and search engines. 

There are a few requirements that can significantly improve your website’s optimization, and user experience, and also let Google know that your website is valuable to users. The following are important mobile-based considerations that can help boost your search:  

  • Image scale: It’s important to scale your site images to fit both desktop and mobile views. And alternate images should be created for different viewports when you’re using responsive design.
  • Clean navigation: Monitoring your mobile user’s behavior can help give you a good idea of how users are interacting with your site and what they’re searching for from their mobile devices. Use this info to customize your site’s navigation according to your mobile user’s needs. It’s a good idea to make your website menu easy to use and clickable, and keep the navigation bar simple and readable.
  • Delete mobile pop-ups: According to a Google January 2017 update, pages that are not easily accessible will not be ranked in top mobile searches. And pop-ups can definitely impact the accessibility of pages to many mobile users. For this reason, pop-ups should be avoided on your site, as to not compromise your rank with mobile users. If you have to use pop-ups on your mobile site, ensure they’re scaled appropriately and don’t cover the whole screen. 
  • Shorten copy: Desktop copy is often longer and laid out differently from mobile copy. Your mobile text should be very clean and easy to read. It’s a good idea to keep your mobile-first text short, precise, and adjustable for mobile users. (For example, It’s common best practice to make your mobile site copy vertically scrollable.) 
  • Design CTAs: Call-to-action (CTA) means a specific phrase that encourages a mobile user to take necessary action while they’re visiting your site. Language suggesting your site visitors “click here”, “sign in”, and so on, should be especially prominent and clear on your mobile site.
  1. Adaptive Website Optimization for Mobile Search

An adaptive site utilizes the same URL as the core website, but the server replaces it with a different mobile-only version, depending on the type of device requesting the page. (For example, there can be three different versions of your site: Desktop, Mobile, and Tablet.) 

Adaptive design boosts page speed on mobile sites, but it can require additional bandwidth, resources, and funds. For this reason, it may be a good idea for small business sites with fewer resources to consider using a responsive design rather than an adaptive design.

Additional considerations include:

  • Cloaking: Cloaking is when the content shown to search engines is different from the content seen by your site users. To avoid cloaking, developers recommend you search for hidden CSS or JavaScript content—and instead use HTML.
  • Customize design: Adaptive design allows full control over graphics, layout, and display. If the website is designed to be region specific, it may require manual updates to each version of the site. Mobile-specific users can be targeted by customizing meta titles and descriptions.
  • Combine adaptive with responsive design: Client-side JavaScript can be used to customize mobile websites by combining both adaptive and responsive designs. 
  1. Optimization of Separate Mobile vs. Desktop Sites

Mobile and desktop sites should be optimized differently, but they’re based on the same basic SEO principles–with a few differences: 

  • Separate URLs: The URLs for desktop sites should serve as mobile site URLs. Mobile URLs are identified by ‘m’ before the website name. So, for example, if the website is on a desktop, the mobile-optimized version would be

With these similar, but separate, site URLs, it’s best practice to use a canonical URL tab, like rel=”canonical”, which points users landing on that URL to the core  Desktop URL.

For example:

 <link rel=”alternate” media=”only screen and (max-width: 640px)”


This can also be done through sitemaps.

  • Mobile Switchboard Tags: Switchboard tags notify Google about the existence of mobile URLs with a “rel=alternate” tag (as explained earlier in canonical tags). Switchboard tags are almost the same as canonical tags. Google is unable to crawl the mobile version URL if switchboard tags are not used. 
  • User-agent strings: Be sure to check the coordination between desktop and mobile site URLs, so that they redirect for a mobile user. For example, if the desktop site URL is then it should redirect to the mobile site URL, If the redirected URL is different from the desktop site URL, then the URL becomes faulty. (Google Search Console can help to detect these faulty redirected URLs, so you can implement the correct URL fix.)
  • Search console verification: Use the Google Search Console to verify the mobile site version and avoid URL crashes. Verification helps confirm your site is indeed valid so that Google will crawl and index it properly.
  • Structured data: Structured data must be the same on both desktop and mobile websites.
  • Hreflang: For global companies, it is recommended you use a “rel=hreflang” tag so that the mobile URL points towards the mobile version of the appropriate country.
  • XML Sitemaps and Robots.txt: All links including sitemaps and robots.txt files should be accessible from the mobile website version.

What Mobile SEO Tools Should I Use?

Make sure that your mobile website is perfectly optimized so that Google indexes it as top-ranked materials. Several tools are available to check the website’s speed and functional capability. 

Even if the page speed is boosted to 0.1% seconds, search engine crawlers will benefit from easier access to your mobile website content. 

Mobile SEO tools can be applied to your site to help boost functionality and increase your rank. A few popular and effective options to consider include: 

  • Google Test My Site: This is a free Google that can test how easily your site visitor can use your page on a mobile device. You can also dive deeper into your site and sync with Google Search Console to test all your domain pages. 
  • Google Search Console: This tool offers mobile usability reports for mobile website optimization along with recommendations to fix the issues. It also provides functionality or performance reports.

  • Mobile Friendly Test: This tool helps you to check whether your website is mobile-friendly and accessible. After putting the URL into the tool to test it, you receive one of the following results:
    • Your page is mobile friendly
    • Your page is not mobile friendly
    • Viewport not set
    • The viewport is not set to the Device width
    • Content wider than the screen
    • Clickable elements too close together
    • Uses incompatible plugins
    • Text too small to read
    • No data available 

The result you receive will help guide you to the next appropriate steps, to help make your website more mobile-friendly.

  • Merkle’s Mobile-First Index Tool (Mobile vs. Desktop Test): This tool helps you to compare both Desktop and Mobile pages side by side. It also includes reports on discrepancies between contents, structured data markups, and SEO signals. After entering the URL to be tested, you may get the following results:
    • Crawling/indexing
    • Google tests
    • Contents
    • Images
    • Structured data
    • Links
  • Mobile First Index Checker: This tool facilitates you to check mobile-first-indexing through comparable questions on differences between a mobile website and desktop websites. There might be an “X” next to one or more of the following questions indicating problems that need to be fixed:
    • Do you have the same number of images for both desktop and mobile versions?
    • Is your metadata the same for both devices?
    • Do you have the same number of internal links for both versions?
    • Does the AMP page have a proper canonical to the valid page?
    • Are all structured data types identical on both desktop and mobile versions?

Final Thoughts

In the online world, your first impressions and website experiences matter a lot. Having a subpar website can negatively impact your business, and impair your ability to make money. 

We hope these mobile SEO basics can help you develop strong mobile SEO techniques, and launch responsive and beautiful websites that will draw and grow your mobile user traffic.