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What Is Mobile-Friendliness? Your Quick Guide to Mobile SEO

Mobile-friendliness has evolved since it first emerged as a ranking signal. With Google defaulting to mobile-first indexing, having a mobile-friendly site is more crucial than ever — especially if you’re hoping to rank on page one. Not sure how well your site performs on mobile? Discover how to test and monitor your mobile friendliness below, then implement our tips to improve your site.

Oct 18, 2022

6 m read

If you want your website to rank, it must be mobile friendly. But what exactly does that mean, and why does it matter for ranking? If you’re confused about mobile-friendliness, read on to discover what having a mobile-friendly website means, how it impacts your SEO, and the crucial best practices you should implement right now.

What Does Mobile Friendly Mean?

In web design and SEO, mobile friendly means that a website works the same and provides a seamless user experience (UX) regardless of the device it’s accessed on. Users can see all the same images, copy, and text on a desktop, tablet, or phone. 

Over the past several years, optimizing for mobile has become a natural part of web design. Unfortunately, older sites that were created before this was the case may still lag behind on responsiveness, and new sites may miss the mark after adding pop-ups and images that negatively impact the mobile user experience.

While mobile web design has become an integral component of establishing a website, evaluating and maintaining mobile usability is an ongoing process. 

A Note on Terminology

In addition to the phrases “mobile-friendly” or “mobile-friendliness,” you may also come across “mobile-optimized” and “mobile-responsive.” These terms are semantically related and are all used to describe the same concept. For web developers, though, the terms are outdated since it’s assumed that mobile optimization is a part of your design strategy and that you’ve planned for mobile responsiveness in your redesign.

In SEO, we still focus on the idea of mobile-friendliness, so I’ll continue using that term in this piece.

Why Mobile-Friendliness Matters for SEO

Tablets and smartphones make up 56% of website traffic. With over half of your customers potentially reaching your site on a mobile device, it’s critical that they have a positive experience with your mobile interface. 

Mobile-First Indexing

To ensure users have a positive experience on their preferred device, Google crawls, indexes, and ranks the mobile version of sites first. This is known as mobile-first indexing and has been the default for all new websites since 2019. If your site has poor mobile UX, its Google rankings will likely suffer because of mobile-first indexing. 

With over 90% of mobile searches occurring on Google, failing to focus on your mobile SEO may have a huge impact on your organic traffic.

Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals became a ranking factor in 2021. This update introduced three metrics that aim to measure:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): How fast does a page load?
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): How quickly does the page become stable?
  • First Input Delay (FID): How responsive are interactive elements on the page?

Google wants to connect users with the information they’re seeking, and it wants them to have a positive experience throughout the process so they’ll come back and search again. By focusing on these three metrics, Google hopes to identify what users will experience when they click through on SERPs. Is the searcher going to find the info they want, or will they be sitting around waiting for the page to load? 

If Google feels a page will take too long to load and frustrate a visitor based on the LCP, CLW, and FID, they’ll probably send them elsewhere and rank that slow-loading site lower in SERPs. 

Thankfully, since you know what metrics Google is using and can use their tools to audit page speed, your web developers can work to improve your site’s mobile optimization.

Getting Started with Mobile SEO

Ideally, you want to plan your mobile site as you plan your desktop version. But even if you’ve launched your site already, you can improve your site to maximize its mobile-friendliness. 

Is Your Site Mobile Friendly?

If you aren’t sure whether your site qualifies as mobile friendly, input the URL of a page in Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

Google mobile-friendly test screenshot

Google Search Console’s Mobile Usability Report

Alternatively, Google Search Console’s Mobile Usability report lets you know which of your pages are considered mobile-friendly. Rather than periodically using the tester to spot-check pages, GSC allows you to continuously monitor your website performance and alerts you to issues. To check your Mobile Usability, select the report from the left-hand menu.

GSC menu mobile usability

You’ll then see a chart showcasing how many URLs are usable in green and unusable in red. If any issues are detected, they’ll be listed beneath the bar chart.

using GSC mobile usability report to measure mobile-friendliness

“Usable” is really a baseline, though. For a more in-depth look at how well your website performs on mobile, check out your Core Web Vitals in GSC.

Core Web Vitals Report

Your Core Web Vitals report shows whether Google considers your pages to be good, in need of improvement, or poor. To make this determination, Google looks at three metrics: largest contentful paint (LCP), first input delay (FID), and cumulative layout shift (CLS). You can read more about them in our technical SEO primer.

If your site exceeds Google’s load time expectations, it will flag the offending URLs in your Core Web Vitals Report. 

To access the report, go to GSC, expand the ‘Experience’ section, and click ‘Core Web Vitals.’

core web vitals in GSC menu

You’ll now see a bar graph showing how many of your URLs are good, need improvement, or are poor. Beneath is a list of issues Google has identified.

core web vitals report for measuring mobile-friendliness

Clicking on the issue will take you to a list of the problematic URLs with more information regarding the LCP, FID, or CLS. For example, when I clicked on the first line that said ‘Need improvement,’ I saw a list of affected URLs and their average FID, which was over 200ms.

This information will allow your web developer to troubleshoot page load issues to improve mobile usability. Once they’ve done so, they can validate the fix in GSC.  

Mobile-Friendliness: Best Practices

Follow these best practices to make your site more mobile-friendly.

1. Incorporate Responsive Website Design

A good mobile page will have easy-to-see (and click) links, readable fonts, and appropriately-size images. It should look attractive and be easy to navigate on any device. In addition to designing the page for mobile, format copy so the text can be read on a mobile phone or tablet. Keep paragraphs short and break up big blocks of text with headers and bullet points.

Tip: Preview pages and blog posts on a mobile device before publishing.

2. Reduce Page Load Speed 

Page load speed plays a large role in mobile UX. If it takes too long for your page to load, mobile users may become frustrated and bounce. Make sure your images are sized properly and that you aren’t running any unnecessary scripts that could slow your page load speed. 

You can test your page load speed here. Toggle between Mobile and Desktop to see how your page performs on both.

3. Monitor Page Experience & Core Web Vitals

Minor website updates can have an outsized impact on your Page Experience Signals. Monitor your Core Web Vitals to ensure your website updates aren’t negatively impacting your mobile UX.

For example, if you decide to add a pop-up, make sure it isn’t obscuring too much of a page on mobile. Overusing interstitials or pop-ups that completely cover the screen will negatively affect your core web vitals.

4. Follow General SEO Best Practices

Many SEO best practices are the same for all devices. Following them will increase the likelihood of your web pages ranking well. 

In terms of on-page optimizations, the only difference for mobile is the length of page titles and meta descriptions. Pages optimized for mobile should have titles around 45 characters or less and meta descriptions around 120 characters or less. However, since Google rewrites many page titles and meta descriptions, it will likely trim them for you.

5. Integrate Mobile SEO into Your Web & Content Creation Processes

Don’t let mobile SEO become an afterthought. Integrate it into your processes so that any new pages or future updates keep mobile UX front and center. Ensure every page looks good on phones and other mobile devices. 

Improve Your Mobile SEO

Concerned your site isn’t as mobile-friendly as it should be? If your core web vitals are coming up red, it’s time to investigate your mobile SEO, troubleshoot issues, and create a plan to help you boost your rankings. Partner with an SEO agency like Victorious to maximize your SEO strategy and improve your mobile-friendliness. Learn more — schedule a free consultation today.

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