Is Your Mobile Site Ranking? New Research You Can Use

October 27, 2015

Ever since Google’s “Mobilegeddon” event in April 2015, most businesses have worked to improve their mobile rankings.

Despite knowing the importance of ranking for mobile and desktop search queries, many remain uncertain about which factors most heavily influence mobile rankings, or assume they can carry over optimization from desktop to mobile.

The Facts about Making It Mobile

New research from Searchmetrics sheds light on which elements are actually determining rankings. This study represents the first time the firm has done a separate annual ranking factors study for mobile, similar to their usual desktop study, even structuring it around the same categories.

In case you wonder how relevant mobile ranking is to your site’s overall success, it might help to know that, as Google announced earlier this month, mobile searches now exceed desktop searches worldwide—that means all countries, all searches.

By comparing pre- and post-Mobilegeddon data for the top 10 landing pages, the report comes up with five key areas to address when analyzing a site’s mobile-friendliness, including: technical components, user experience, content, backlinks, and social signals. All of these factors are affected by the smaller screen size and different ways users interact with their mobile devices.

Highlights from the three main categories, as shared by Search Engine Land, break down the specifics, indicating which factors most heavily influence mobile SERPs.

Technical factors show:

  • Site speed is crucial, with the top 10 sites taking an average 1.1 seconds to load.
  • Use of Flash is falling off, as more sites convert to HTML5 to optimize displays (both for mobile and desktop).
  • Use of keywords in domain name continues to fall among top ranking sites, reinforcing the admonition to peg domain names to branding rather than to keywords.

User experience is helped by:

  • Unordered lists are valuable, but should be made highly scannable by keeping them short and using bullets.
  • Internal links should be used more carefully than in desktop content. It should be easy to click on them accurately, and with fewer links than in desktop.
  • Images are fewer, with under four per page (compared with nine for desktop).

Content boosts mobile rankings when it is optimized for:

  • The average number of keywords at around 5.5, lower than the average for desktop but more than in 2014.
  • The average word count grows to 868, long enough to fully cover the topic but much shorter than average for desktop (1,285).
  • More use of proof terms, those closely related to primary keywords.
  • Readability score, using the Flesch-Kincaid system, in the middle 70s.

Social Signals do not necessarily influence mobile rankings. There is a high degree of correlation between mobile rankings and social shares, but it is likely that higher visibility of pages already ranking leads to more shares. Also, inbound links continue to decline in mobile content, again owing to the predominance of social sharing.

A Mobile-Friendliness Timeline

Given the growing importance of mobile search rankings, keeping up with the fast-moving flow of related updates is a challenge. Here’s a handy timeline of mobile search developments to explore for further background.

• October 20, 2015 – Searchmetrics research reveals first ranking factors study for mobile search results.
• October 8, 2015 – The tipping point is reached. Google announces half of all searches worldwide happen on mobile.
• May 14, 2015 – Bing follows Google’s lead, announces its mobile-friendly search algorithm.
• April 21, 2015 – MOBILEGEDDON. Google announces mobile-friendly ranking update has gone global.
• February 26, 2015 – Google announces future mobile-friendly changes and urges sites to prepare.

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