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The so-called “mobile optimization” refers to measures that are aimed at optimal display and use of web contents on mobile devices. Since the optimization for mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets, contributes to improving the usability, Google adopted the "Mobile Friendliness" as a ranking factor.
As statistics in Germany and other places depict, the use of smartphones and tablets for surfing or online shopping is increasing steadily. It is, therefore, logical that webmasters and shop owners increasingly focus on optimizing their websites for mobile internet surfers as well in order to offer their users the best possible mobile usability. Particularly in mobile e-commerce, i.e. shopping using smartphones or tablets, the usability is becoming more and more important. Here, not only contents that are optimized for mobile devices are important but also optimizations in the mobile payment options.
Aspects of mobile internet usage
Compared to desktop PCs or notebooks, different conditions apply if a user is online on a mobile device:
- The visitor does not use a mouse to navigate but a touchscreen.
- The display is significantly smaller.
- Many mobile devices generally do not support Flash or Java.
- The internet connection is mostly slower on mobile Internet connections (this will remain true until LTE is widely available).
Mobile optimization for a website
Generally, anyone who wants to optimize his/her website for mobile devices has two viable options:
- Programming a website and all its functions in the responsive design: Here, web contents, such as the window, text elements, or frames, automatically adapt themselves to the screen size. It, therefore, does not make a difference if a user is browsing with a 10-inch tablet or a smartphone with a 4-inch display. The disadvantage with the responsive design lies in the fact that not all contents can be adapted to every display size without losses.
- The other page version is specifically created for mobile contents: Here, the content must be transferred to a mobile URL. Moving all content that is accessible from a desktop to a mobile URL is, however, difficult.
In practice, the second option will mainly looks like this:
The third option is a mixture of a mobile website and a desktop version. Here, the mobile website is basically a “scaled-down” version. This is, however, discouraged since visitors using a tablet or smartphone usually have a poorer usability.
Mobile optimization is particularly essential for companies that create their website based on the “mobile first” concept.
Common errors in mobile optimization
Avoidable errors are often made in mobile optimization:
- Videos cannot be played on the mobile device: Anyone who wants to also optimize videos for mobile devices should ensure they make as few preconditions as possible for any software or licenses. For example, video formats that are playable on all devices should be chosen. It is also recommended to work according to the HTML5 standard or create video transcripts if these cannot be played.
- Interstitials that require downloading the app: If these are installed incorrectly, mobile contents mainly cannot be indexed correctly by Google and other search engines. Banners are recommended as alternatives.
- Error with redirects: In the case of two URL versions for the mobile and desktop page, redirects must be setup correctly. Otherwise, the user will receive an error message or a wrong page after clicking on the URL. Therefore, before setting up the mobile version, the technicians should come up with a precise plan for the redirect. Moreover, mobile versions should refer to the original desktop URL with rel=alternate.
- Mobile devices are not recognized: The user agent must be requested for the mobile website to also be loaded. Most mobile browsers pass this on with the server request.
- Very large files are loaded: The file size of the mobile version also plays a crucial role in mobile optimization. Since the bandwidth is not always sufficient when surfing over a mobile network, it is important to keep the mobile website “leaner” and, for example, work with more compressed images.
Tips for mobile optimization
Many elements for the optimization can be derived from the aforementioned errors. These are listed below and are not exhaustive:
- Optimizing and compressing images
- Customizing the head area on smaller displays
- Adjusting font sizes such that texts are also readable on small displays
- Restricting multimedia since additional animations or sound files require additional loading time
- Avoiding hover menus in the navigation
After implementation of the mobile website, the functionality should first be tested in a simulator. There are different tools that can be used for this. An example is the simulator by Startmobile.de, which is an initiative of Google.
Importance for SEO
Mobile optimization has become an important part of search engine optimization. This is because mobile surfing is not only becoming more and more common, but it can also be increasingly observed with the second screen phenomenon. Since Google is additionally promoting the optimization of mobile content through assistance in the Google Search Console and has confirmed that mobile availability of a website is, as of April 2015, a ranking factor, mobile optimization should be given at least just as much attention as the optimization for desktop PCs. This applies to mobile search results above all. In some branches and segments, it can even be useful to adopt the strategy "mobile first", and act on the principle of progressive enhancement. With this, content will be gradually adapted to the technical possibilities of the end device.
In 2016, Google once again confirmed that orientation towards mobile devices plays an important role. Therefore, search engine companies have established the mobile index as the primary index for search engines.
At the same time, further options for mobile optimization such as Accelerated Mobile Pages are possible. This is about mobile websites that load in real time, with a slim source code and are delivered via Content Delivery Networks.
Progressive web apps provide a further option for the optimization of website content. With this, websites are almost usable like native apps, and are therefore easier to use.
Test for optimization for mobile devices
Google offers webmasters the opportunity to check whether their website is optimized for mobile devices. The tool is free and can be found here: https://search.google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly
- Statement by Google about mobile optimization in June 2013. Accessed on 11/30/2013