Mobile, mobile, mobile

In 2013 ‘mobile’ is having a big impact on the web. You’ve probably read something about it or have direct, first-hand experience of your own. The facts are undeniable; you probably see it everywhere you go.

The number of people with smartphones is constantly on the rise. You probably own a smartphone, or a ‘mobile’ device like a tablet, maybe even both. More and more people have them and more importantly - they are using them to surf, browse and purchase on the web, rather than using a traditional desktop computer.

In recent years, this has led to an influx of companies and agencies designing ‘mobile’ optimised websites and there is good reason to do so. Despite the rise of 4G and faster 3G speeds, smartphones are still lagging behind in terms of download speeds and processing power compared to desktop computers and home/business broadband connections.

In short this has meant that if you want to get customers to your website and keep them there then you need to a website that loads quickly and is easy to use. There are plenty of considerations:

  • Operating screen size - many mobiles have different screen sizes so you’ll need to think about how your website will display and behave on these screens.
  • Mobile data speeds - slow connections or poor signal areas may mean sites don’t load properly or on time leading to frustrated users and lost customers.
  • Usability - websites viewed on mobiles need to be user-friendly. Pinching, zooming or constant scrolling annoys your customers.
  • Navigation - unlike their desktop counterparts, mobile websites are navigated with fingers and thumbs and so need to have a menu system that is ‘finger friendly’ and not fiddly or frustrating.
  • Image sizes - large images look great on desktop websites, but they are likely to get in the way on mobile phones. So that’s another consideration.

Responsive, Flexible Websites

The result of all the above is the need for fast, flexible and responsive website designs. And if you have a good design company, that is just what they’ll build. However, there are numerous mistakes that companies might make (inadvertently) that will harm your search engine rankings.

Even Google have been trying to highlight some these dangers:

“Many sites have dedicated smartphone-optimized pages and redirect smartphone users based on the user-agent. A common error is to redirect a user trying to access a URL on the desktop site to an irrelevant URL on the smartphone site.

Some common examples:

  • Your desktop site's server is configured to redirect smartphone users to the smartphone site's homepage, regardless of which URL they originally requested, even if the mobile site has the equivalent page to the redirecting desktop page.
  • Desktop URLs with dynamically generated content and URL parameters that don't map well to the equivalent mobile URL. For example, if a user is looking for a train timetable on a specific date on the desktop site and gets redirected to the general timetable search page on the smartphone-optimized site instead of the actual search.

We recommend that you configure the redirection correctly if you do have an equivalent smartphone URL so that users end up on the page they were looking for.”

(Common mistakes in smartphone sites - Google Developers Webmaster Guidance)

In layman’s terms, these mobile websites are often designed as cut down versions of the main (desktop) website. They have fewer images, smarter navigation and far fewer pages - all of which sounds great (in principle). The problem is failure to consider the search engine repercussions.
If a website is ranked in Google on desktop, then it will appear on mobile search as well. That means that potentially every page of your site will be indexed for one search term or another and when a user searches on a mobile they will expect to find it. However, when they click that link in the search results, they land on a 404 (error) page on your mobile website, or worse, get redirected to your home page. This is all because you don’t have that page on the mobile version of your website. What happens then? They click back to the search engine and go find a website that actually works for them - probably your competitors.

Google notices this sort of thing and judges your site accordingly - so you’ll soon find your website dropping in the rankings and you’ll be wondering why.

So what’s the solution? Well, technically there are a few.

If you’ve already got a mobile website, make sure it is capable of delivering ALL your desktop website pages, even if that means delivering the desktop version rather than the mobile version. It might not be as responsive or as pretty to look at, but it’s better than losing customers! The other options are ensuring you have a responsive site that works well on both mobile and desktop or just returning your standard website whenever someone browses from a mobile but make sure it’s optimised as well as possible (i.e. fast loading).

Page Speed is now even more important

Each month, when we’re completing our client’s reports we are seeing a regular rise in mobile traffic. That’s no surprise, considering what I’ve discussed in this article. However, with this rise in mobile traffic site speed is even more important. How quickly a website loads can make all the difference to your business and it can be the deciding factor as to whether a customer buys from you or goes elsewhere.

Google have highlighted that point even further with changes to their page speed tool. Now the tool will give you different ranking results (and recommendations) based on how your website performs on desktop and mobile.

page speed

It’s instantly clear that this is now an essential part of on-page optimisation for your website. If you are not optimising for page speed, you will suffer in the search rankings, it’s almost inevitable.

Conclusion

The moral of the story is simple - if you want your site to perform well don’t neglect the mobile web. Make sure you strike the essential balance between usability and speed and take care to avoid the common mistakes.

At the end of the day it’s an exercise in common sense - your website needs to be quickly and easily accessible by all.

Here's the word direct from the horse's mouth:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I4rWnQxxkM&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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