Getting started with Mobile SEO

Since 2015, Google has been focused on ensuring that mobile friendly pages enjoy an unfair advantage in search results. Quite a few updates , including their “mobile first” mandate sends home the message loud & clear : “The future of SEO is Mobile SEO!”

So what has made Google so worried about mobile ? More than anything else it’s the numbers. 58% of Google searches currently happen on Mobile. It is on the rise. Especially in countries like India, the entire surge in internet usage is driven by mobile.

If mobile users end up landing on top ranking pages that either don’t load or isn’t fit for mobile viewing – they may stop having faith in the search engines. That would definitely not be desirable for Google and thus they are on a cleansing mission.

As a marketer , how do you get started with Mobile SEO? Before we get there lets logically understand what factors impact mobile users?

What factors impact mobile experience ?

Think about it. A mobile user is on the go and connected to the internet through a 4G network (or inferior) which definitely isn’t as lavish as a high speed wifi network that’s used by a typical desktop user. Thus a mobile user would find a ‘heavy site’ slow to load. When it comes to page load time the acceptable limit is 3 seconds. Anything slower than that is a problem.

Apart from page load, another issue happens to be a sites UX. Especially in the case of legacy sites, the design is unfit for mobile usage.

To get started with mobile SEO, it’s important to understand & fix the following issues:

  • Mobile Page load Speed
  • Mobile usability

Thankfully, Google has put out there a couple of free tools to check where you stand today on these parameters. These tools are a great starting point for your mobile SEO journey.

Mobile page speed test

Google currently has 2 tools up & running for testing page load speed:

  1. Page Speed Insights tool
  2. Test my site tool

Both the tools are free to use & openly available. I would suggest that you check out both. The page speed insights tool, provides details on development level fixes needed to speed up both your page load on desk top & mobile. On the other the hand Test my site allows you compare the load time on different networks (e.g. 3G & 4G). It also allows you to benchmark your performance with that of your competitor in a single report.

To explain the tools , I am going to use NTPC (National Thermal Power Corporation of India)’s website.

How the site performed on Page Speed Insights:

The site definitely isn’t up to the mark with respect to mobile speed & the homepage scored a dismal 20 overall. The tool classifies a score below 50 as poor.

NTPC's page speed insight performance screenshot.
NTPC’s homepage was slow to load on Mobile

The tool then goes on to explain the low score. The page took 9.9s to load on mobile. After 3 seconds (the acceptable wait time), all that the user would see is a blank screen.

The site page speed load details snapshot.
9.9s time taken to load on a 4G network

Thankfully , the tool then goes on to explain the steps that the site needs to take to fix the speed issues.

Opportunities to reduce page load time (screenshot)
Opportunities to reduce page load time

I will cover the details of the opportunity areas in a separate article. For now let’s check what the “Test my Site” tool has to say.

How the site performed on Testmysite:

Since the Page speed insight tool provide a detailed diagnosis already, I used the Testmysite tool just for some additional information. I wanted to check how the page loaded on 3G network (quite popular in India- NTPC’s primary market).

On 3G, the results were even more horrendous. The page took about 16.3 seconds to load!

Screenshot of the sites performance on testmysite tool.
16.3 seconds load time on Indian 3G network

Mobile Friendliness Test

Google has a tool to check mobile friendliness of a page. This tool again is free and open for use.

To test for mobile usability, I decided to use another site (that’s similar to NTPC in terms of Legacy) : Coal India

I ran the test on the homepage & the results revealed some serious issues with mobile usability.

Screenshot of sample output from mobile friendliness checker
Lack of Responsive design impacting mobile usability

On the whole , Google evaluates mobile friendliness on the following parameters :

  • Incompatible Plugins – Bad news for sites using Flash. Most mobile browsers don’t support it.
  • Content Wider Than Screen – Typically occurs when a site isn’t responsive
  • Links Too Close Together – Another issue that can be fixed by responsive design
  • Text Too Small To Read – Text smaller than 16px is not considered mobile friendly
  • Mobile Viewport Not Set

Most of the mobile friendliness issues can be tackled by implementing a responsive design. I will provide the details on responsive web design in another article.

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