Search for Mobile

24 October 2019

Is your website mobile responsive? How to maximise the potential of mobile search, provide a good user experience and avoid getting left behind by Google.

24 October 2019

Are you reading this article on your mobile phone?

If so you are not alone as in 2016 mobile overtook desktop as the primary method of browsing the web. From a Search Engine perspective this tipping point had already happened the year before when, in May 2015, Google announced that over half of all its searches were on mobile devices – and it shows no signs of slowing down.

This article discusses the key things you need to consider to ensure that you maximise the potential of mobile search. If you don’t yet have a mobile responsive site that provides a good experience for users then pretty soon you could be left behind by Google; abandoned by potential customers and beaten by your competitors.

How can I tell if my site is fully responsive in the eyes of Google?

Hopefully you all know what I mean by having a mobile responsive website (if not here’s a clear explanation). Your site may look completely mobile friendly but from an SEO perspective this is not always the case when Google comes to reviewing it. Luckily it is pretty easy to get a Google MOT of your site and pick up any problems – here are some of the free ways you can do this:

Google Console (Google Webmaster Tools)

One of the many good reasons that you should have your site validated with Google Console is that it provides a detailed report of any issues it finds with your site when viewing it on a mobile device.

These issues include any pages not resizing or adapting effectively to smaller screen sizes; the text being too small to read easily and the buttons or links being too close together for people with fat fingers. With Google Console all these factors will be picked up as it crawls your site and you’ll be provided with a list of the exact pages that are failing to meet each criteria.

Mobile Usability


Test My Site is another free tool that analyses your site and gives you a score as to how optimised it is for mobile.  As an interesting addition it also estimates the percentage of visitors you would have lost due to slow page load times.

From Mobilegeddon to Google Mobile First Index 

Google is all about bringing back the best possible results in the quickest possible time. It is therefore understandable that it does not want this slick experience ruined by a poorly optimised, non-responsive site taking forever to load.

For this reason on the 21st April 2015 Google released a mobile update that was designed to give ranking preference in its search results to sites that were mobile friendly. It was rather dramatically called Mobilegeddon but in reality it did not have as massive an impact as people feared. One of the reasons for this was that Google (rather unusually) gave several months’ notice which allowed most companies to get their websites in order before the deadline.

They also designed it to work on a page-by-page basis so if certain areas of the site were OK then those pages could still rank. The review of site pages also happens in real-time so, as soon as you fix any issues, your site can bounce back up again in the mobile search listings.

So what does the future hold?

The next big thing that Google has announced around mobile search (and again they have given months of notice) is that, from 2018, they are going to be splitting out their index into desktop and mobile – and will be using the mobile index as its primary ranking index. Here’s a nice succinct explanation:

“Google has ranked your mobile site based on many signals from your desktop site. That is going to flip, and Google will rank your mobile and desktop sites based on signals they get from crawling your site from a mobile view.

So the page speed of your mobile site will determine the rankings of your mobile site and desktop site in Google. Google will also likely look at your title, H1s, structured data and other tags and content generated from your mobile site, and use them over your desktop site.” Check out more information on this important upcoming change.

For those of you panicking that your mobile-friendly site is not going to be ready in time you’ll be relieved to hear that Google has decided to only use this mobile first indexation on sites it identifies as ready for it. This gives you a reprieve but I would not leave it too long to get your site up to speed:

Site Design for Mobile

Getting people top you site is only half the battle – the other half is providing them with a good experience that allows them to become a customer. How easily people can navigate a mobile site versus a desktop site can be very different and some things you should take into consideration are:

– If you use flash or other plug-ins then the user’s phone might not support it

– Slightly intrusive pop-ups on your desktop can be a real pain for users trying to close them on a mobile. Google is really cracking down on these interstitials so be careful how you use them.

– That easily navigable product filter you have on desktop version may turn into a scrolling nightmare on a mobile device. You may need to think about how this works and even if all the filters are absolutely necessary for mobile users.

– How will your images look when they are resized and smaller than the desktop view? Will users still be able to clearly see what they are (especially if you have important text in the image). For product images it is always a good idea to allow the users to expand them.

– How easy is it to fill in conversion forms – are they also responsive and is it something users find intuitive.

– Is the site search functionality easy to find and use?

This is a good checklist of things you should consider that you can download as a PDF.

Mobile Search and your Customers

As you can see from the chart below from LeadSquared, the percentage of site visitors using mobile can vary greatly depending on the industry you work in.  In certain industries such as banking (especially in the B2B sector) it is much more likely that your visitors are going to be office based and therefore on their desktops.  In the Food & Beverage industry, it could predominately be more B2C and people looking for information on local restaurants etc.

Whatever industry you are involved in, one thing that often tends to differ between your desktop and mobile visitors is the types of searches they are doing. Again using Google Console (filter by Devices in Search Analysis report) you can see your top Google searches driving traffic from Desktop or Mobile – allowing you to compare and contrast.

You may well find that your mobile searches will focus more on the research stage of your buyer funnel or that your blog pages show up more. The further you get towards the purchase stage of this journey the more you’ll possibly see your users reverting to desktop.

If you think about buying a holiday you’d probably happily sit on your phone researching destinations, reading reviews etc. but when it got closer to comparing hotels and actually paying for the holiday you’d find it easier or more comfortable doing it on your desktop.

By looking at the searches that are driving your mobile traffic and the pages that are getting the most visits you can make it a priority to ensure that these are fully optimised for mobile and that your intended conversion is easily achievable.

Local (near me searches)

One of the most common characteristics of searches on mobile phones is that they have local intent – i.e. you want to find something near you. Even if you don’t specifically ask Google for a location it will often infer it and bring back filtered results accordingly. You therefore need to ensure that you are catering for this by having your company name and address on your site and adding the details of all branches / offices to Google My Business.

Growth of voice search on mobiles

Finally, one other thing that has grown exponentially as a result of mobile is voice search. This provides you with another opportunity (or headache depending on how you look at it) to tailor your content to your audience. Think about how people would search for your products via voice search (it is typically the how, where, when type of questions) and then ensure that your site is set up to effectively answer them. Often this a best achieved with a well thought-out FAQ page.

Mobile is only going to grow and deliver us ever more chances to reach our customers at all times of the day and night. Just make sure you are ready to maximise these opportunities.


Author: Matt Lester, Associate Director – Search and Digital Performance at Fidelity International

Disclaimer: Please note that this blog only contains general information and insights about legal matters. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such.


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