What is Mobile-First Indexing
Mobile-first indexing has been the standard of SEO and web development for a while already. Google first announced that indexing is switching to mobile-first for all new websites in 2019.
Mobile-first indexing means that the mobile version of your websites is what Google visits and takes into account the first. No matter how great your site looks and works on a desktop computer, it’s the mobile version that matters the most for your indexation and ranking.
Take Mobile Design and SEO Very Seriously
As a local business, you should absolutely focus all of your development and SEO efforts on your mobile site and its discoverability.
Search results differ on mobile vs desktop. Obviously, the mobile-optimized sites are given a preferential treatment in the mobile SERPs.
At least 85% of Americans own a mobile phone of some kind, and most probably 100% of the target market for your products or services have a phone. Nearly 3/4th of all searchers visit a store within the 5-mile radius of their initial location.
Very few consumers are actually using desktop computers when looking for local products or services. Most just look things up on their phone.
So being present online as a business pretty much comes down to being online for mobile users.
Mobile Site Speed Above All
Site speed has been a confirmed ranking factor on Google for a while already. This is where web development and SEO intersect and are indistinguishable – which is why it’s extremely important to get expert SEO consulting before you have a website built.
There are no official page speed limits published anywhere, but you need to aim for 1-2 seconds maximum load time.
Most mobile site visitors abandon pages that take more than 3 seconds to load, so local business websites that load longer than that are liabilities, not assets.
Below is the list of tools to make your mobile SEO easier.
Must-Use Tools In Your Mobile-First Seo Strategy
GTMetrix offers a quick way to check the speed of your website and gives you a list of things to fix to improve it.
PageSpeed Insights is the web dev testing tool that Google offers you to check for mobile and desktop site speed issues. As we wrote above, site speed is an essential ranking factor you need to take seriously. Forward any issues you find to your web developers, and if they shrug them off – find new web developers.
Lighthouse is an automated tool, part of Chrome Development Tools. Most probably your web developer is well aware of it, but it’s still a great tool to benchmark your mobile site’s load speed.
Direction Local is our exclusive Local SEO software that lets you create & manage listings online. We’ve built it based on years of practice & having grown hundreds of local businesses online.
Google Search Console is the ultimate tech SEO analytics platform to point out all the issues your mobile website has. The mobile usability section will help you avoid mistakes in both web dev and SEO.
Building an SEO Strategy in the Mobile-First World
All tech aside, no matter what technology or platform you use to build out your mobile site, you need to make sure you have bulletproof SEO.
In practice, this means starting with great foundational on-page SEO and expanding to off-page promo activities. Let’s go over all the stages.
Keyword Research And Mapping
All your keywords need to be properly mapped to pages without conflicts or cannibalization. One page needs to be dedicated to not more than about 3 similar major keywords.
Pay attention to the search intent of your ‘dream’ keywords – are consumers searching for them to learn more or to buy products? Plan your pages accordingly.
What works for most local businesses in our experience is to create a set of conversion-optimized pages with high-end selling copy on them, and then produce informational blog posts that link to these pages.
The selling pages need to be designed accordingly – but plan for conversion elements on your informational blog posts as well (buttons, phone number, messenger icons, calls to action and links, forms, etc.)
Robust Title Tags
Your <title> tags need to be short, click-enticing, and at the same time keyword-rich.
It’s usually a challenge so consider using professional writers.
H1-H6 Headings That Expand And Strengthen Pages
Your headings need to make sense and expand the topic of your page.
The title tags that Google sees first are actually barely visible to mobile users, so you will have to use the H1-H6 headings to achieve the content goals of each page.
Make sure the headings design does not look too big on mobile — keep them short, keyword-rich, and addressing the main pains of your audience.
Again, that’s not an easy task.
Forget about “SEO content,” focus on producing natural, detailed, fun, engaging, and fresh content.
Have your main keyword used several times in the exact match at the top of your page, but don’t overthink it beyond that.
Great content gets indexed and ranks naturally, no matter if it’s on a desktop or a mobile page version.
Consistent Images and Tags
Your images need to make sense, because Google reads them better and better. Keep the alt tags consistent and relevant, and don’t keyword-stuff them.
Again, pay attention to the web page size and load speed — graphics can easily get out of control and slow down your site.
Plenty of Internal Links
Internal links give you a chance to achieve two goals: improve user experience with additional navigation, and give an SEO boost to any pages you choose.
Some internal links should be opened in a new tab so that they don’t distract users — think this through and make sure your decision is based on business logic.
Once you take care of the foundation of your mobile-first SEO strategy (site speed, tech SEO, and on-page), focus on backlinks.
Link acquisition is a tactic that gets neglected the most by local businesses. It’s also an activity that can get you the most edge over your competition and relatively easily.
With all the talk about backlinks becoming irrelevant, this won’t happen anytime soon. The Internet is basically made of hyperlinks from one page to another, and they will matter as long as web pages exist.
Both desktop and mobile versions of any page will benefit from incoming links. Quality and relevance of the links matter the most.
There are dozens of ways to get backlinks, and even more creative tactics for building local links.
What most local businesses do when they are drafting their SEO strategy is they count only on the links they are getting from all their listings in the local directories.
Chances are, 90% of your competition also does just that as well. You can take it further and invest in building some true authority backlinks for your domain – which will immediately put your site above competition SEO-wise.
On-page vs Off-page SEO in the Mobile-First Era
On-page SEO means all the tweaking done to your website and page elements, and off-page is the process of backlink acquisition.
With the mobile-first ranking algo, you need to make sure you still focus on both aspects of local SEO.
The way on-page and off-page work in synergy is that off-page backlinks power up your domain and build up its authority, while on-page activities increase local relevance of your pages and make sure you use that domain authority to come up among the results in specific locations.
Mobile-Native Tricks That Work Well With Generic SEO
Apart from all the basic SEO techniques outlined above, you need to add several mobile-native tactics to your SEO strategy to make sure you are truly leveraging the mobile-first indexing rules.
These are not SEO techniques per se, but they work extremely well with SEO and make your overall promo strategy way more effective.
Be Accessible, Searchable, And Recognizable On Social Media
More and more consumers start to equate social media websites with the rest of the internet.
YouTube is the second highest traffic website in the world, Instagram is used for shopping and finding local services, and Twitter is where most of the fitness and nutrition content is brewing.
As a business, you have to be where your audience is, and so does Google. Once Googlebot sees your site’s URLs more and more present in social media discussions — you will be rewarded.
Depending on where you are and the local trends, some social media sites may be more popular than others. You may even need to consider enhancing your presence in messenger groups, e.g. Telegram for some niches and regions — traffic from messengers is “visible” to Google via Google Analytics and it’s a great authority signal and a behavioral ranking factor.
Make sure you have a uniform branded presence on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other major sites. Indicate your location and service area, indicate a way to contact you. Showcase your reviews and selling points in a clearly visible way.
Have A Strong And Optimized Presence On Google Maps
86% of consumers look up business locations on Google Maps before visiting them, and in 2023 that sounds like a very conservative number. In any case you absolutely need to maximize your Google Maps listing with all the techniques possible.
A non-obvious perk of being visible on Google Maps is that you can “hijack” some of the customers of your local competitors by standing out with your listing compared to them. Since your businesses are so close they are probably sharing the same screen of a mobile phone.
Study Google Maps of your area on a mobile device and see what competitors are listed nearby there. Stand out by getting more Google Reviews, having more details on your Maps listing, better images, clear opening hours, and so on.
Mobile Web Design Best Practices For Seo
There are certain best practices that make your mobile-first SEO a lot easier. Some instructions come from Google, other tips are practice-based.
Google has been clear about the recommended best practices for mobile design. Since Google is producing most of the search traffic in the world, lesting to their recommendations is a matter of survival.
Let’s start with Google’s suggestions for mobile-first optimization:
Have a working mobile version of the site
Duh – but you’d be surprised at how many local businesses are losing money because they created a desktop-only website 10 years ago.
With modern website builders and themes this one is pretty easy – no matter what site builder you use, you will get a mobile-friendly page as a result.
Most of the time responsive design is used, i.e. there is just one page that shifts the way it looks depending on the screen size and resolution of the visitor.
Responsive format of your pages is probably the best way to avoid issues with content synchronization, since you have one and the same page both for desktop and mobile audiences.
No Usability Issues, Same Meta Tags
Use the same structured data on your mobile and desktop pages – again, this is a non-issue for responsive websites.
Double-check all your ads placements, navigation elements, and page segments on all screen sizes.
In other words, both the content and the user experience need to be the same on mobile and desktop versions of your site.
Keep Conversions In Mind
This is the final tip for you — it is practical and coming from us. We’ve seen too many local businesses either completely neglect mobile SEO, or obsessively overdo it.
Instead, put your business interests first and don’t forget why you have a website in the first place.
Test your local business website on mobile thoroughly, and pay attention to the conversion elements and flow.
Here’s what it means in practice:
Easy to reach
Make sure you are easy to call or message.
Add buttons that can instantly launch messengers or a cell phone call – the less taps, the better!
No clumsy forms
Double-check all forms on your website and verify that they are easy to fill out and don’t have any glitches on mobile devices.
A form may be operational on a desktop version of the site but not on mobile, thus costing your business money.
Use your reviews heavily
People are known to trust reviews more than anything while using a mobile phone to look for local businesses and services.
Make sure your pages are designed in a way that showcases your past customers’ reviews, as they may be the conversion tipping point for new prospects.
You also need to make sure it’s easy to leave a review for your business online, but that’s a whole other story.
If you need any guidance with web development or a mobile SEO consultation — reach out to us! We’ve taken hundreds of mobile websites to the top of Google and will gladly use our expertise to get yours there as well.