The six key components of mobile SEO in 2016
Are you doing mobile SEO the right way? Columnist Bryson Meunier outlines the key elements that will help drive more organic mobile search traffic to your content.
I recently read a droll quote in The Wall Street Journal from the always-entertaining aimClear CEO Marty Weintraub, who said, “The best mobile SEO these days is writing a check to Google.”
Weintraub was, of course, referring to shrinking real estate on smartphone search results in Google due to paid listings like product results, and maybe even to the disappearance of search results in mobile search altogether, as Google strives to get mobile searchers answers quickly, without forcing them to click through to a web page.
The absurdity of it is that giving Google money for search visibility is not SEO, but paid search, and the quote implies that mobile SEO might not be worth doing if you have a budget for paid search.
Look, it’s funny, and the last thing I want to do is ruin the joke. But as Shakespeare once said, “In jest, there is truth.” Weintraub’s definitely onto something with his take on the greatest woes of today’s mobile SEOs: lack of visibility relative to paid search.
The WSJ column proposed app indexing as an antidote, profiling one agency that’s doing as much as it can to get visibility in Google smartphone search by indexing its app. But in this column, I want to step back even farther and look at what we mean when we talk about mobile SEO in 2016.
It’s not paid search, but what actually is it? Just app indexing?
I know Weintraub understands what mobile SEO is and is not, but I’ve seen too many agencies in my time include things like “mobile sitemaps” as part of their scope, when mobile sitemaps are for feature phone content only and are not really necessary in today’s smartphone-dominant world. Not to mention they hardly warrant a line item, given that they take two minutes to create.
If you’re looking at agencies, and they’re selling you mobile SEO, this is what they should be doing for you in 2016. If you’re looking for mobile visibility in search results, and you’re not doing these six things, I would go so far as to say that you’re probably not doing mobile SEO.
These are listed in order of most effective to least effective, based on my experience:
- Focus on core ranking.
- Fix mobile-friendly errors.
- Do mobile keyword research and content creation.
- Do app store optimization.
- Do app indexing.
- Use AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages).
Focus on core ranking
Mobile SEO and traditional SEO have always had core ranking in common. While Google does have separate algorithms to rank mobile-friendly content higher in mobile search results, if you’re just paying attention to what makes mobile different without focusing first on the relevance, usefulness and authority that defines core ranking, you’re going to be losing to your competitor who is doing so.
If your site isn’t indexed, no amount of mobile keyword research and content creation is going to help you get more traffic from search, and that is why this is the most important part of mobile SEO to get right.
It’s worth noting that I would also put increasing page speed in this category. Though it’s more important for mobile searchers, it’s a ranking factor in desktop, as well.
Core SEO is a key part of mobile SEO, though there are things that are mobile-specific.
Fix mobile-friendly errors
Pundits like me have paid a lot of attention to different mobile configurations (responsive design vs. dynamic serving vs. separate URL) in the past, but studies have shown (and Google has said) that there is no significant ranking difference between websites that use responsive design vs. some other mobile configuration. And regardless of which configuration you use, you could have mobile-friendly errors that will reduce your visibility in organic search.
Focus on fixing those errors, as it is worthwhile. Though the business wishes to remain anonymous, one company contacted me after reading my column to tell me that they had grown their smartphone traffic 84 percent after Google’s 2015 mobile update just by working to decrease the number of mobile-friendly errors in Search Console.
No paid search needed.
Bonus points for increasing the page speed while you’re at it, using GTMetrix, Google’s Page Speed Insights tool or similar tools. Page speed increases are not exclusive to mobile search results, as page speed is a desktop ranking factor, as well, but it is critical to get right for mobile searchers.
Do mobile keyword research and content creation
If Google releases its mobile index this year, this point may shoot to number one on this list, but for now, it is still important to pay attention to queries that searchers either use more often on mobile devices (or are exclusive to mobile devices). Then optimize for those keywords and the user intent that they signify.
If you doubt this is important to Google, reread part 2 of the Search Quality Rating Guidelines (PDF) it released last year called “Understanding Mobile User Needs.” Now that more than half of Google’s US search traffic comes from mobile devices, it’s critical that Google serves mobile searchers’ needs, and the more your site can help it do that, the better you will do in search results.
If you’re a local business, think of searchers performing what Google calls “Visit-In-Person Queries,” as they’re doing these far more often on mobile devices than on desktops. Think “near me” and “nearby” queries, which Google reported last year grew 34x since 2011 and doubled in a year.
Make sure you understand “Device Action” and “Do” queries and how they affect your business, as well as what Google calls “Know Simple” queries. All of these can radically affect traffic patterns on smartphone search results in a way that they don’t on a desktop.
If Google does introduce the mobile index, we may be able to address different user intent even more precisely than we can today, when Google mostly uses the desktop site for mobile ranking. But in the interim, it does help to understand differences between desktop and smartphone search intent and add or edit content as appropriate.
There are a lot of great tools to help us do this, some paid (like BrightEdge and SEMRush) and some free. Anyone can do this today in Search Console for free by selecting Devices > Compare Devices in Search Analytics and sorting by the difference.
If something has a lot more mobile than desktop clicks, it’s likely that it’s a keyword worth paying attention to for mobile SEO.
Do app store optimization
App Store Optimization (or ASO) is SEO for app store search engines. Doing this can also help you with app indexing, as you are ensuring that your app content is keyword-rich and able to be returned for relevant content.
If you have an app, you can increase ranking in the app store and downloads by paying attention to the words people use when they are looking for apps, and ensuring those words appear where app store search engines are looking for them.
Because app store optimization is an old technique (I’ve been writing about it since at least April 2009), there are many case studies available online of businesses who have done it successfully:
If you want to learn how App Store Optimization is done today, check out these great articles on the subject:
- App Developer App Store Optimization Cheat Sheet (PDF)
- App Store Optimization: A Crucial Part of the Mobile Marketing Puzzle
Do app indexing
I listed App Indexing and AMP as less important for mobile SEO than the first four points, not because they can’t be an effective means to drive organic mobile search traffic to your site, but because they are relatively new tactics, and there’s less evidence that marketers have used them successfully for this purpose. In fact, the evidence suggests that for many queries, engagement is low, though it’s not going away and still worth doing to increase your visibility in smartphone search.
Still, the fact that App Indexing was the subject of that Wall Street Journal article should tell you just how far it’s come since it was introduced not even three years ago.
Simply put, app indexing is SEO for app content. By fixing crawl errors and ensuring as many pages of your app are indexed as possible and being careful to put keywords searchers are using when they’re looking for that app content in the app, it is possible to improve the ranking, traffic and downloads to your app.
Mariya Moeva, the product manager for app indexing at Google, has a great optimization video here, and Emily Grossman and Cindy Krum of Mobile Moxie go into detail in this great article.
Google just turned this on, so not much is known about the effect of AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) HTML in search results. But anytime something is as visible as AMP pages are in search results, the more likely they are to bring traffic to a site.
If you haven’t seen them yet in search results, compare the query [ben carson] on desktop with no AMP listings…
… to the same query in mobile search with AMP listings enabled:MSNBC, which wasn’t listed on desktop, now takes up half the page with a colorful, hard-to-miss AMP listing.
Google is giving more visibility to these pages today and could give a ranking boost in the future.
The catch? AMP is for publishers only at this point, so if you’re not in Google News, it likely won’t have the benefit that you need to justify the resources needed to create the pages. Plus, if you can make the pages lightning-quick without AMP, that might be preferable.
Sure, do paid search to get visibility in Google smartphone search, but don’t forget to do mobile SEO for additional visibility. These six actions — focus on core ranking, fix mobile-friendly errors, do mobile keyword research and content creation, do app store optimization and app indexing, and use AMP — can help bring more organic traffic to your content from mobile searchers.
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