How to reach the top with SEO – part 3: Mobile

You may have heard rumours that Google may be testing a ‘mobile-first index’. Well, it’s true!

Google IS officially testing a new index system. It will rank search results based on the mobile version of content instead of the current PC version.

Last year, Google staff suggested that some time this year mobile search queries would overtake PC search queries. Well, as of May of this year it happened. To quote Google:

“more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.”

Google lumps tablets in to ‘computers’ by the way so makes the news even more compelling.

What it means?

Quite a few things, but firstly you need to make sure a) you have a mobile version of your site and b) it is as good (if not better) than your PC version.

You should anyway because for most of us mobile represents around 40% of our traffic now, but this new initiative from Google should give the extra incentive.

Google recommends you build a responsive site – i.e. the content is the same as your PC version so you don’t lose any of the all important page structure and content.

Is this a way to do better on SEO?

In some ways yes – with desktop sites Google tends to ignore/down-weight content sitting within tabs, accordions, expandable boxes; all the areas we tend to refer as “expandable content”. Google says content like this on mobile will be given full weight if done for the benefit of the user; the idea being this type of design of content makes far more sense for a mobile user than a desktop user.

(This last point is what I was saying in my part 1 article – Google puts a lot of importance on the user experience – remember this as we go through these articles – get your UX right through analytics and test and learn work and you are more than half way there! We showed this with the Open University’s international site – with all of the UX design and content improvements and very little increase in links we moved to 4th for ‘degree’ in the UK (if you take Wikipedia results as one) and 2nd for ‘diploma’ – an achievement made more significant by the fact that this site is primarily optimised for Europe, not the UK)


Google is still in testing mode at the moment, and having worked with the Google development team in the US before we are probably looking at at least 3-4 months before we see anything live. Just enough time to get your mobile proposition sorted!

Can I test my current mobile offering?

Well yes – the best way is Webmaster Tools using the Fetch and Render tool – use the ‘mobile:smartphone’ user-agent. If you see content missing, then look at how to fix and test again.

What things should I do to optimise my mobile site?

OK, here are some checklist items you need to work through..

First, Site speed – this is a biggie for me. If you improve site speed you get three benefits: ranking, user experience (lower bounce rates especially), and conversions. As I have said before if the user experience is better Google will rank your site better, and this is a prime example. 2 seconds page load time should be the max. In fact aim for 0.5 seconds, this is what Google do. Not only will this help ranking but evidence suggests a +10% increase in site conversions. To do this you should:

  1. Optimise your images – make sure they are not too large – some tips here. You can test your page loading and see what is taking the time – test the page using, it shows how each part of your page loads element by element so you can see what needs to be optimised/removed going forward. Also use the Site Performance option in Webmaster Tools. You can also use Google’s Page Speed. The good thing about this tool is it gives a list of actions and fixes to pass to your coders.
  2. Minify code – removing all unnecessary characters from coding. Ask your coders to check through your page coding, some of it may be old and no longer needed.
  3. Increase browser caching – go to your hosting provider and find out how you can increase the amount of time yur web pages are stored on user’s PCs, this will greatly increase page load times
  4. Cut down on redirects – the more the site has to reload the slower it becomes
  5. Use ‘Progressive Rendering’ – this is where the page loads in stages – it means the user sees content sooner not having to wait until the whole page content is loaded.

Google’s Steve Souders book ‘Even Faster Websites’ is a good read, and one of his points is that site speed comes mainly from front end work, not things like database or site architecture tweeks.

For more on the site speed watch this Google video.

Second, remove blocks – in the past coders would block things like CSS, Javacript and images to remove errors and increase site speed but with the modern mobile often the mobile is more powerful than a typical PC. So bring them back. Googlebots also don’t like to see blocks on your site.

Third, improve the design. I know I keep saying it but design (UX) does drive ranking. So just a few ideas..

  1. Don’t use flash – Apple refuses flash, instead use HTML5 or Java is you need to add animations etc.
  2. No pop ups – pop ups = bounce rate = poor UX = (you guessed it!) lower ranking J
  3. Make it finger friendly – some of us have fat fingers so keep in mind

Fourth, keep your page titles and descriptions clear and structured

Fifth, local search optimisation. Local is key. If any of you have done SEO or PPC on a local basis you will know how local searchs lead to much higher conversions than national. So locational content and site strucuture is important to do, especially since the release of Possum in September, Google’s latest algorithm change release. More here. This Google doc is also good bedtime reading.


Hope it helps! And stay tuned for more!

Matthew Brown


See my previous articles:

Part 1

Part 2

Also if you want more info/advice, contact me through my personal site

Matthew Brown
Matthew Brown
Matthew has 20 years director level experience in digital marketing and website development (working at a number of ecommerce businesses including Scholastic, Dada, McAfee and The Open University). Matthew founded Jam in 2000 in parallel to his digital marketing career but over time has moved to 100% focus on building the Jam business and a team of highly qualified digital experts.