With the rise of mobile in the collective marketing consciousness, there are some that might think they need a separate mobile SEO strategy. For most sites, this approach would be entirely unnecessary and in fact might even force them to split their resources unnecessarily. At its core, any mobile marketing strategy is just a traditional web marketing effort made for a smaller screen.
When it comes to SEO this reality is the same. Google ranks websites on mobile the same way they do on a desktop. The nuances between SEO for desktop and mobile are in how users interact with search and websites after they click.
From a search perspective, websites that rank highly for a query on desktop are going to rank equally on a mobile screen; however, the downside is that there are less results meaning a number five slot is essentially like being on page two of results.
Google announced last year that they are using a mobile first index which isn’t as ominous as it sounds. This just means that they are ranking the content of a website that is visible to a crawler which emulates a mobile browser. If a website were to have content that is only visible to desktop users AND the website was included in Google’s mobile first index, this desktop content would be invisible to Google.
Google’s motivation behind having a mobile (first) index is that in a mobile first world, webmasters should make every effort to make all of their content or at least their best content visible to mobile browsers. Google recommends having a mobile responsive site that will look and function great on a mobile, tablet or desktop environment. Longer menus should be collapsed rather than hidden completely. Content should be paginated or scaled rather than removed. Although it might take some effort to implement a responsive site, this approach might end up costing significantly less than having a mobile-only and a desktop-only site or worse just not having a great mobile experience.
In this light a mobile SEO strategy is really just optimizing content as anyone might do on a desktop only site, but ensure that the technology serving the content is friendly to mobile users.
User experience optimization
The second part of optimizing for mobile is where the focus is on the user, and this is far more critical. If a significant portion of the users are going to be using mobile devices, the entire layout and content have to be mobile user friendly. This means that buttons have to be easy to tap, images should load quickly, and the page should scale to the size of the screen.
Optimizing for user experience is a key part of any SEO strategy and this should be done for any user regardless of the device they use. In scenarios where there are more mobile than desktop users, optimizing for smaller devices should take precedence.
In this light, there are going to be sites that should not bother with any mobile optimization at all. If there are primarily desktop users – something like a complex web utility or a B2B tool, it may not be worth the effort and resources to optimize for mobile. Not to say if a website was started from scratch that mobile should not play a role, its more that in an existing website the tradeoffs to optimize for mobile may not be worth the expense.
I find it hard to believe that there will be sites that could completely ignore mobile, but if expenses and resources are a concern it is worthwhile to calculate the ROI before making a substantial investment in mobile.