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Where Mobile Web Design Meets SEO: Pre-Optimizing Your Mobile Site

As a guy who does mobile web design on a semi-regular basis and also does SEO, a lot of people ask me about how to optimize a mobile website. The
answer, of course, is “it depends”. It depends on a lot of factors, from your industry to your web servers. Pre-optimization, on the other hand, is arguably just as important and is much easier to discuss in generalities — so let’s have a look at how to get ready to create an optimized mobile site.

Mobile Pre-Optimization Step 1: Google Analytics
Google Analytics, for those of who are just waking up from a decade-long coma, is a tool offered by the big G that allows you to track a boatload of information about the people who visit your site. One of those bits of info is the type of device they visited from. Another is the pages and keywords that they entered from. The key is to filter those results against each other so that you can see which keywords and pages your mobile surfers are arriving from.

That not only gives you a good idea of what strengths you can build on, but it also (and importantly) tells you which pages your mobile customers are landing on — which means you can look at what it would take to turn those pages into mobile sites that would be more accessible to those users.

Mobile Pre-Optimization Step 2: The User’s Perspective
Now that you know what devices your most common mobile users are logging in from, you can figure out exactly what they see when they log in. First, go to Google Master Tools (if you have them) and use the Fetch as Googlebot feature to see exactly what code the Googlebot gets from your site. That’ll help you understand why your site is ranking well for some things and possibly not ranking for other variables that you thought you’d optimized for.

Then, snag the Agents add-on for FireFox (or use the built-in feature in Opera) and browse your way to your site under the Smartphone or Mobile Agent. This won’t mimic the display width, but with that exception, it will show you what your site looks like to a mobile browser. From there, you can more easily decide which elements need to be moved where and what can be trimmed completely.

Mobile Pre-Optimization Step 3: Decide How To Optimize
By far and away the most popular way of optimizing a website for mobile devices is responsively — meaning that the website asks the mobile device about
itself and then responds accordingly. Responsive websites are great for SEO, because they allow you to serve both mobile and desktop customers from a
single URL — meaning no doubling up on backlinks and so forth.

That does not mean, however, that responsive design is right for everyone. If you have a business that mobile users interact with very differently then at-home users do, you don’t want to try to build one site that fits both sets of needs. For example, let’s say you’re Blockbuster Video. Desktop users go to their website because they’re looking for information about movies or to sign up for their various loyalty programs — mobile users go to look for movies to watch tonight, and if possible, reserve them. The toolsets the user groups need are different enough that a responsive site simply wouldn’t fit the need correctly.

Once you’ve figured out where your mobile traffic is coming from and why, decided what your mobile users most use and how to arrange your pages to look
good from their perspective, and chosen an optimization technique that works for your client base, congratulations — you’re ready to generate a few mobile-optimized sites.

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