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Mobile SEO Series: 6 UX Checks for Mobile SEO

I think we can all agree that unless you have the nimble fingers of a 7-year-old piano prodigy, navigating non-mobile-friendly sites on your smartphone can range from a bit annoying to  rage-inducing at levels that leave you yelling sarcastically at your smartphone.

User experience is one of the most important ranking factors for mobile SEO. Google has been playing this tune for a while, and a Google spokesperson has recently explained their thoughts on this:

Because at Google we are aiming to provide a great user experience on any device, we’re making a big push to ensure the search results we deliver reflect this principle. We want users to be able to enjoy the web wherever they are.

Studies have shown that 61% of users are unlikely to return to a difficult-to-navigate mobile site. In some cases, that could mean you’re alienating almost 50% of users. And that will only increase; mobile internet usage surpassed PC internet usage in January of 2014.This means the only way forward is to make mobile sites better, and fast. (Dare I say…and faster?)

Much like using touchscreen winter gloves while you’re waiting for the train or finding the perfect combination travel/food/cute animal app, the goal of this post is to make the mobile experience at large a bit more pleasant, your blood pressure levels a bit lower, and your mind a bit wider. Here is my late Christmas present to you: 7 seriously-useful checks to make your mobile user experience better, while improving your SEO.

1Be Smart About Site Speed

Any SEO knows that site speed has real effect on rankings, but sometimes we forget how that translates over into mobile. Google says that a good, engaging user experience is a page that loads in 1 second or less. Most pages fall quite short of that at 7 seconds.

6 extra seconds might not seem like a lot, but it can mean the difference of a click that converts and a bounce… for good.

So how do we make this better in a practical sense? Make sure your images sizes aren’t too large, ensure your site is optimised for mobile and read our Tech Talk for Mobile SEO post.


Usability Trumps Design

Conversions is the trump card here. If you have a gorgeous website that is a nightmare to navigate on mobile, users won’t stick around long enough to appreciate it, much less to convert or complete a goal.

There are two big areas that have recently come under fire: font sizes and tap targets.  

For the love of all that is legible, please use readable font sizes. The Google gods get a bit more technical with this and say that a base font of 16 CSS pixels is ideal, and that they recommend you “adjust as needed for the font used, to use appropriate vertical space between text characters (suggesting the browser default line-height of 1.2em is good),and to restrict the number of fonts used." So when you’re tempted to add in too many fonts and complex design features, remember one thing: KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Fun fact: the average adult finger pad size is about 10mm wide, or a half inch for any Americans who may have stumbled onto here (hi, friends!). Your tap targets should be about this size, 7mm at minimum. Common sense, right?

"Nothing’s more frustrating than trying to tap a button or link on a phone or tablet touchscreen, and accidentally hitting the wrong one because your finger pad is much bigger than a desktop mouse cursor." -Google (again) Google says in its help files here.


Use Your Technical SEO Spidey Sense

If Peter Parker hadn’t been bitten by that radioactive spider, there’s a chance he could have ended up in the vastly similar and exhilarating world of SEO (it’s kind of like a science, right?). 

And if he had, he would ask himself these types of questions and more when optimising a site for mobile:

  1. Have you placed your most important CTA button above the mobile fold?
  2. Is your site search returning relevant results? Is it easy to find?
  3. Have you done mobile-specific keyword research? (62% of keywords have different ranks between desktop and mobile.)
  4. Are your Meta tags optimized? When appropriate or necessary, are they optimized specifically for mobile? 

Google even has a whitepaper to walk you through their thought process:

technical checklist


Think Locally

We’ve already gone into this in depth in this series, but the points made in yesterday’s post on the importance of local optimisation in Google+ can’t be understated. Surely Apple would like to see use of Google maps and Google apps and search decline on iPhones, but until they or someone else can provide more competitive services and more accurate results, Google will continue to rule, or at the least highly influence, the way we navigate our way around.

Ask yourself: Why are mobile users on your site? To get a phone number? To get a location? To buy? Make sure your Google+ page is verified and plugged into your site and is optimised properly for these occasions. Google+ isn’t just a social tool, it’s a way to enhance your user experience by providing a way for users to get your phone number, address, or email quickly. As I said earlier, if users have a positive experience on mobile with your brand, they’re more likely to interact with it later.

One big point from Hannah’s post yesterday was around how she normally uses local search to locate and contact businesses around Dublin. Studies have backed this up: “1 in 3 mobile queries are local, and after looking up local business on a smartphone, 61 percent of users called a business and 59 percent actually visited a business.” This translates well for purchase intent and conversion rates offline.

Read The Importance of Google+ and Local Mobile SEO to learn more about how to ensure you're not swiped out of the running for online business because of a poorly-optimised G+ profile.


Actually have a mobile site

This might go without saying, but yes, please have a mobile site. Even as I write this, I think “who is stuck in the 90’s and doesn’t have a mobile site?” As it turns out, 79% of large online advertisers don’t. That translates to a miss for the 71% of smartphone users who are inclined to search when they see a TV, press or online ad. Even a basic mobile site is better than one that only operates in desktop.

Further, make sure your site isn’t throwing errors at visitors. Starting in July 2013, Google penalizes sites that generate errors for mobile visitors. This means that sites without mobile sites or ones that redirect to desktop pages might not even show up on mobile search. Ouch.


Content common sense

Put yourself in the mindset of people who use your site. They’re not all sitting calmly at their desktop, mouse in hand. Some will be en route to work, some will be in a restaurant or cafe, and others may just be sitting in a waiting room or airport on their smartphone.

Ask yourself: Is your content on site resonating with all kinds of mobile users? Are they getting the information they need? Is your content easy to read and navigate? These are things you can test and measure. If you see a lot of people are bouncing off your site and you’ve taken care of the technicalities, it may be your content that isn’t delivering.

Content isn’t just words, either. Make sure your users don’t have to pinch and zoom or scroll excessively, that your images, videos, site nav… all of these features are easy to see and access. You can curate the content that appears on each page based on the type of device the user is on.  

UX 2
Bruce Clay explains the needs of desktop vs. mobile users very well:

Keep in mind that a mobile user's search intentions may vary from that of a desktop user conducting a similar search. A mobile user searching for Chinese food may be looking for a phone number to order takeout, while a desktop user searching for the same thing may be looking for an online ordering option for delivery. Design [and write] to give users what they need.

It’s not always easy to keep mobile user experience in mind, especially because mobile use hasn’t really been the focus of much fuss in the SEO world in comparison to, say, Google algorithm updates. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not important. If you treat your mobile users well, they’ll return the favour, online and off.

Read the entire SEO Mobile Series to learn more about how to optimise your mobile site for SEO