Mobile SEO – The tool and optimization guide

Home / Mobile SEO – The tool and optimization guide

Optimizing your site for mobile

This article will cover each of these steps:

  1. Choosing a mobile method
  2. Updating website code
  3. Verify mobile friendliness
  4. Tell Google
  5. Optimize

1. Choosing a mobile method

There are four main ways a website becomes mobile…

  • Responsive design
  • AMP
  • Dynamic serving
  • Mobile URLs

Google recommends responsive design. 1

mobile chart

Responsive design

different device sizes

The reason both webmasters and Google like responsive design is because it is the simplest and least risky method.

For SEO purposes responsive design is a wise choice.

  • It is recommended by Google
  • It has no SEO risks
  • It is the easiest to implement
  • It is compatible with other methods

2. Updating website code

Often this is much easier than you might expect. In fact with WordPress and other such content management systems it is as simple as getting a new theme. If you are running a static site, there are many responsive html templates out there.

Good places to buy responsive mobile ready themes and templates…

hand holding phone

3. Verify mobile friendliness

The way Google determines if a site is mobile friendly depends on several mobile usability issues that are easily tested (the tool at the top of this page tests for all of these factors).

The mobile usability issues are…

viewport desktop and mobile
googlebot and mobile resources
text size on mobile and desktop screens
different screen sizes and css file
finger touching phone
content not sized to viewport

Make sure to check your pages using the official Google mobile friendly test.

google logo

4. Tell Google

Likely the most important step of mobile SEO is ensuring Googlebot understands your page.

If Google does not understand your mobile solution, it may not credit you for having a mobile site at all.

This is bad.

Making sure that Google understands your mobile configuration is essential to how your website will rank in Google.

The four ways of going mobile (responsive, dynamic, AMP and separate urls) each have their own way of letting Google know that your site is mobile.

Responsive Design

phone, tablet and desktop monitor

When your site uses responsive design, Google can understand it without any hints or extra code. The main thing that Google suggests when it comes to responsive websites is how to set the viewport. The viewport will typically already be set when you get a responsive theme or template.

Google recommends that your viewport has the following content:

<meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0″>

The viewport is simply the size of the window your webpage will display. In responsive design, the the size we want is whatever the size of the device screen is. By declaring a viewport, your web page can render correctly on any device.

Learn more about viewports and how they are set.

Dynamic serving

web server provide different code to phones and desktops

When a site is using dynamic serving it is providing different content to desktops users than it is to mobile users.

Google can not detect automatically when content is being dynamically served, so we have to tell Google specifically what is happening.

The way we tell Google is called the Vary HTTP header. It looks like this.

The Vary HTTP header tells Google that the content it is crawling may look different depending on who is looking at it. By declaring the Vary: User-Agent header you are telling Google your pages have a mobile alternative. Not using this header when your site is being dynamically served can hurt your rankings because Google will not know your site is mobile.

Learn more the Vary HTTP user agent header and how it is set.

Separate URLs

seperate urls for phone content and desktop

When a site is using different urls for mobile users than it is for desktop users, many things can go wrong as far as SEO goes.

Google will not detect automatically that your mobile pages are different versions of your desktop pages and because of this we must tell Google what is going on.

The way we tell Google about our separate urls requires some work.

  • On the desktop page, add a special link rel=”alternate” tag pointing to the
    corresponding mobile URL. This helps Googlebot discover the location of your
    site’s mobile pages.
  • On the mobile page, add a link rel=”canonical” tag pointing to the
    corresponding desktop URL.

Let’s look at that a bit deeper:

Desktop page

<link rel=”alternate” media=”only screen and (max-width: 640px)”
href=”″ >

Mobile page

<link rel=”canonical” href=”″ >

When you have two different urls, one for mobile, and one for desktop Google needs to know when each page is appropriate to use.

The desktop page with the above rel=alternate code tells Google that that if the screen is less than 640 px it should refer to the alternate mobile page.

The mobile page with the above rel=canonical code lets Google know that the page is a version of the desktop page listed.

Learn more about separate url mobile configuration.

5. Optimization

Mobile optimizations for the purposes of this article refer to optimizations for users, search engines and avoiding search engine penalties.

stopwatch and phone

Mobile page speed

Page speed is a Google ranking factor and nowhere is speed as important as it is for mobile.

Mobile networks are much less fast and reliable than our home internet. The mobile seo tool at the top of this page will let you know if you have page speed problems on your pages.

Learn how each of the three mobile methods affect speed.

Examine your pages for speed using the mobile seo tool at the top of this page or the Google pagespeed insights tool and get a list of what is affecting your page speed.

Once you know that, refer to the page speed section to learn how to fix those speed issues.

A slow website will make an even slower mobile website.

google scanning page resources

Blocked page resources

Make sure all css, javascript and images can be seen by Googlebot.

Blocking page resources can give Google an incomplete picture of your web site.

This issue often happens when your robots.txt file is blocking access to some or all of your page resources.

This happens often.

WordPress sites will often have important folders containing the css and javascript files blocked.

To check for this problem you can use the mobile seo tool at the top of this page. To learn more my page resource article is here


Interstitials / popups / modals

Having a window pop up to request you subscribe to a newsletter or download an app are irritating enough on desktops. On mobile devices they are a nightmare and sometimes can not even be closed.

Any offers, requests or any other reason you would open a window to a desktop user just will not work for mobile users.

Google suggests using an information bar or simple banner instead.

Google further warns that mobile interstitials can cause indexing issues and says it disrupts users.

phone and arrows

Mobile redirects

Make sure mobile redirects are not hurting your page speed.

Redirects on mobile networks are very slow and you may find that some of your redirects are not even needed in the first place.

Learn about reducing mobile redirects so your users will get their pages faster.

Mobile SEO Articles

In depth articles about mobile challenges and optimizations.

google scanning site

Blocking resources like CSS and javascript can keep Google from seeing that your site is mobile.

viewport desktop and mobile

The viewport defines how your webpage will display on mobile devices and different sized screens.

text size on mobile and desktop screens

The text of your pages should be easily readable on mobile devices regardless of screen size.

content not sized to viewport

Your page content should fit properly within the viewport width to render well.

different screen sizes and css file

Plugins like Flash, Java and Quicktime don’t work well (if at all) on mobile devices. Make sure your content is accessible to mobile users.

finger touching phone

The size of your tap targets and the space between your tap targets determine how easily a user can interact with your webpage on a mobile device.

googlebot and mobile resources

Overlays and ads that block users from seeing or interacting with content are not recommended by Google and users hate them.

google looking at javascript file

The way your mobile solution uses javascript will determine what technical mobile seo recommendations from Google you should follow.

mobile and desktop different content

Make sure that Googlebot and your users are seeing the right version of your webpages.

mobile and desktop different js

How to load less things for your mobile users than you do for your desktop users for faster mobile page views and a better user experience.

mobile and desktop screen and css file

CSS instructions that display the same webpage differently to desktop users and mobile users.

mobile screen in front of desktop screen

Mobile pages need to satisfy mobile users. Mobile first methods ensure that your mobile strategy is not just “make things fit on a smaller screen”.

mobile device and clock

A big part of mobile SEO is speed. This article illustrates different mobile methods from the standpoint of pagespeed.

server and mobile device

An overview of common mobile redirect issues and how to solve them for a better mobile experience for your users.

mobile devices and amp logo

In-depth guide to the optimizations used by AMP to deliver mobile pages quickly.

html file and amp file

rel=amphtml is used to help Google discover your AMP enabled pages.

Resources from Google


Provides the Google overview of their mobile seo options for a general audience.


The official Google mobile friendly test which evaluates if a website meets the minimum requirements for viewing on mobile devices.


The official Google mobile SEO overview page linking to many articles about mobile seo problems and solutions.


The Google overview of multi-device website best practices. A guide to doing things right responsively.


Mobile specific pagespeed overview of the challenges of mobile networks.


Site design guidelines, recommendations and articles for mobile websites.


In a crowded market, how does an app attract new customers, gain loyalty, and deliver value? With great design for a delightful app experience.

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