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Part of my job at Econsultancy is collating digital marketing stats from across the web each week, and one of the most frequently cited points is that a rapidly increasing share of total online activity is happening on mobile devices. 

This trend towards mobile is set to continue in the coming years, so it is vital that marketers understand how to succeed in this channel and the different approaches required vs. marketing to desktop users. 

growth of mobile

The new Mobile Ranking Factors 2015 report by Searchmetrics, an analysis of the top 30 mobile phone search results for 10,000 relevant keywords on Google.com, highlights some of the main factors marketers can focus on to improve their mobile search rankings. 

While the study was carried out on the US version of Google, the points covered can almost certainly be applied to UK businesses and beyond. 

In this post I’m going to pull out some of the key findings and show you some examples of the sites covered in the report. 

The advice in the report is split into three key areas:

  • User experience (UX)
  • Technical
  • Content

Let’s take a look at each of those in greater detail.  

UX: adjust font size and use fewer menus, buttons and images

In terms of mobile UX, more than one in five (22%) of the top 30 pages in mobile search results use responsive design to automatically adjust the format to suit whichever device the user is on, while many have dedicated mobile sites. 

The highest-ranking mobile results used, on average, a significantly larger font size above the fold than the highest-ranking desktop results. 

mobile search font size

Yet this trend is reversed below the fold, with high-ranking mobile pages tending to use a much smaller main body font than those ranking highly on desktop searches. 

mobile search font size

Other UX factors for high-ranking mobile pages:

  • They tend to have fewer images and fewer interactive elements such as menus and buttons. 
  • 72% of top 30 mobile pages contain at least one unordered list such as bullet points (see what I’m doing here?) to help structure information, around a quarter more than on desktop pages.
  • Lists on mobile pages are usually much shorter, with fewer individual points.

mobile search more unordered lists

Technical: minimise file size and load time and avoid Flash

No matter how many ‘digital marketing best-in-class innovators’ tell you that content is king when it comes to search rankings, the technical stuff still matters. 

The average mobile page file size in the top 30 results was found to be around 25% smaller than on top-ranking desktop pages, allowing faster load times. 

mobile search minimise file size

Only 5% of mobile pages make use of flash design, compared with 14% of desktop pages.

This latter point is hardly surprising, however, given that flash is not widely supported by mobile devices. 

Content: create content that is relevant and high quality

Obviously we can’t talk about SEO these days without bringing up content. When it comes to ranking for mobile search, high quality content is just as important as on desktop. But there are some key differences in terms of what works best. 

High-ranking content on mobile pages tends to be shorter, coming out at an average of 867 words vs. 1,285 words for desktop results. 

Mobile search smaller word count for content

Top-30 mobile content also has fewer internal links to related content. This could be driven by the fact Google advises against placing links too close to each other on mobile pages. 

When looking at top-ranking pages overall, more than 70% of both desktop and mobile results contain ‘proof’ words strongly related to the search topic.

Around half also contain more distant ‘relevant terms’. 

Conclusion: plan a separate SEO strategy for mobile

They say the definition of insanity is repeatedly carrying out the same action but expecting a different result.

I’ve never quite been convinced of that statement’s validity, but it does serve as an effective metaphor for comparing mobile and desktop SEO. 

Mobile is growing at an exponential rate, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the techniques that might get your pages ranking highly on desktop searches won’t necessarily carry over onto mobile. 

For any business wanting a decent share of the mobile market, which should be pretty much all of them, it’s time to start looking at mobile and desktop SEO as two different channels requiring two separate strategies. 

Jack Simpson

Published 8 October, 2015 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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