At the end of 2016 and into early 2017, I’ve seen an increased focus on mobile for SEOs. Yes, the advertising world might have moved on to augmented reality, but the search world is still catching up to ever-changing Google SERPs and the slow cranking up of mobile’s weight in Google’s ranking algorithm.
 
And it makes sense – the pressure for search marketers to focus on mobile has never been greater than now, especially after Google’s mobile-first update this fall. Even though Google’s announcement that it was seeing more mobile than desktop searches was almost two years ago, its algorithm continued to use desktop content when determining mobile rankings.
 
Not only are we now seeing more mobile than desktop searches, but people are also spending more time with their smartphones and less time with their desktop computers.
 


The update means that Google will now look at the mobile version of your site, including content and internal linking structure, to determine rankings. In the announcement, Google stated:
 
“To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.”
 
Since Google hasn’t fully rolled out its mobile-first index rankings, there is still time to get you site ready.
 

If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, now is the time to get one.

 
Since 2015, Google has featured specific requirements for making sure you’re found in search by using the best practices for mobile SEO. There are three main types of mobile website implementations that Google covers in its guidelines, including:
 
Responsive Web Design (RWD): The same code on the same URL is used for all viewing devices, including phones, tablets, and desktops, using this implementation. Based on breakpoints and style sheets, the content is resized to fit each screen size.
 
Dynamic Serving: Instead of serving the same code for all devices, dynamic serving is a setup where the server responds with unique HTML and CSS on the same URL depending on the user agent requesting the page.
 
Separate Mobile Site: An implementation that detects the user device and redirects them to a mobile-optimized site, which is typically a subdomain like m.example.com.
 
I’m personally a fan of RWD and dynamic serving, but I’ve seen some brands who’ve managed to pull-off separate URLs. If you’re trying to decide on what implementation to use for your mobile website, then Google has created a guide for Building Websites for Multi-Screen Consumers and provided specific pros and cons of each mobile-friendly site implementation.
 
 

Design Type Pros Cons Who It’s For
Responsive Web Design
  • Same URL for each device
  • Easier for search engines to discover and index your content
  • Same URLs make your content more shareable for users
  • Fast load time
  • Design optimal performance for each device type
  • Businesses with the resources to invest in cross-device design
  • Websites with less frequent design changes
Dynamic Serving
  • Uniquely generated content and layout.
  • Dynamic pages without having to change design for all page types.
  • Single URL.
  • Configure the server to send a hint to request that the Googlebot for smartphones also crawl the page and discover the mobile content using the Vary HTTP header
  • More difficult to prevent duplicate content
  • Must maintain scripts to recognize user devices
  • Crate custom designs for each user orientation
  • Websites with frequent site design changes
Separate Mobile Site
  • Greatest freedom to customize a mobile experience
  • Mobile design has no impact on desktop design
  • Create and maintain redirects and canonical logic between your mobile and non-mobile site
  • Longer page load times
  • Duplicate content issues
  • Less value from link building efforts
  • Businesses that, for some reason, need to manage a mobile site independently

 

If you have a mobile-friendly site, make sure it’s mobile-friendly.

 
Your mobile-friendly site might have been implemented somewhere between 2012 and 2015 when the buzz around mobile was palpable. Maybe you haven’t looked at your mobile code base since after going mobile, well now is the time. If you already have a mobile-friendly site then:

  1. Create a checklist of your most important SEO features for each page type.
  2. Review the mobile source code for each page type to make sure your SEO elements are present on the page.
  3. Verify Vary HTTP header is set-up using Chrome Development Tools if you’re using dynamic serving.
  4. Verify bidirectional domain mapping if you’re using separate mobile URLs by reviewing canonical tags between mobile and desktop site.

Even though we’re in a transition period from this desktop-first to mobile-first search rankings, it’s better to start making these changes now rather than later. By getting mobile right off the bat, you’ll prevent yourself from having to recover from a ranking loss later.