mobile optimization

Over the last decade, online traffic generated by mobile devices has been slowly increasing, currently reaching about 60%!

Search engines have also picked up on this trend and have switched their outlook towards providing results that can accommodate the experience of mobile users globally.

These changes have consequently brought more concerns to webmasters and site owners worldwide, especially with the introduction of mobile-first indexing.

In one of our previous articles we focused on 4 reasons why you need to make your website mobile-friendly and today we want to discuss some of them in more detail. Additionally, we also want to provide you with some additional tips when it comes to optimizing your website for mobile devices so that you can stay on top of the curve and make sure that you are performing better than your competition.

Making a separate mobile version of your website

Once a very good option when it came to separating mobile and Web content, this alternative has started to fall out of favor over the last couple of years due to the additional amount of work that needs to be done for this method to function successfully and most importantly - as intended.

The principles behind it include hosting the website on a given subdomain, usually something like m.examplesite.com. Each desktop page is then also recreated with exactly the same design and content and uploaded to that subdomain. However, that is not all, as there is a lot more that needs to be done in order for everything to work as it should.

Firstly, you need to make sure you utilize the appropriate tags to ensure that search engine crawlers will not mark your mobile version’s content as duplicate. This is done by making use of the rel=’canonical’ attribute. Attaching this meta tag to a given page and then adding the link to the original page will guarantee that your content will not be flagged as duplicate and you will not be penalized by search engine crawlers.

Additionally, this becomes even more complicated and even more of a hassle if you have multiple language versions of your website. To indicate that a given webpage is a translated copy of another, you need to use the rel=’alternate’ attribute in conjunction with the correct hreflang tag to indicate to the browser and the web crawlers that a given page’s content is the same as another one’s, but translated in a specific language.

Keeping these two things in mind, it is unsurprising that you might end up having to create multiple instances of the same page just to display them to specific users. Also, each web page needs to have exactly one mobile page and vice versa, meaning if you forget which pages are created and interlinked, which is something that can happen if you have a large team that is working together on the same project.

Additionally, there is also the problem of each mobile device having its own specific resolution, meaning that you need to design everything in such a way that nothing will be left of, regardless of the device screen’s size. Not only that, but mobile functionality and user experience are now key ranking factors for some of the more popular search engines, which makes things even more complicated when it comes to managing multiple domains and subdomains.

Furthermore, with two separate instances of the same site, you always have to worry about how you are going to serve the given user with the correct version. You will need to create quite a few redirects, which is a lot of extra work. These redirects need to be set up using either HTTP requests, through the use of JavaScript or through the framework that you are using to create and manage your website. It is recommended to use the 302 temporary redirects, however, as we already mentioned, it is a lot of additional work and effort. Moreover, such redirects can take extra time to load up the correct page, meaning that you can lose on that precious loading time, which is now becoming a quite important metric.

Overall, while this method was preferred before, technology has come a long way and using scalable and adaptable designs along with new image formats and more capable frameworks, it is now better to create one page and have it respond to the user’s device and their actions. This is exactly why we want to focus on the second way in which you can make sure that you provide the best possible experience both for your users as well as for search engine crawlers - using responsive design.

Responsive design - definition, principles and best practices

Rather than trying to manage two separate websites, you can easily make use of responsive design. By definition, responsive design is the ability of a given website or webpage to appear the same in terms of content, functionality and interactivity across all devices, regardless of the size of their screen.

Responsive design is currently more applicable and achievable than ever before due to the large number of programming languages and the frameworks that exist, which can easily help make your website responsive. Previously, designers and developers needed to take great caution when trying to make a page available to all devices, especially when it came to interactivity and content. But why does this particular design type matter?

Firstly, it saves a lot of time and effort. As we already mentioned, making your website responsive will save you the trouble of having to manage multiple iterations of your web pages in order to accommodate the different users and their devices. Given that with responsive design the URL and the HTML code remains the same across all screens, the only things that need to change are essentially the CSS and potentially some JS functions that might trigger certain events such as changing clicking to tapping and so forth.

Secondly, the only thing you need to worry about or consider is how the different elements and the content on the page are going to be displayed, you don’t need any meta tags such as ‘canonical’ or ‘hreflang’ because you are essentially making changes to one single webpage. Usually this is done with the help of the ‘viewport’ meta tag, however some frameworks utilize different alternatives of content adaptation.

Ever since the search engines switched to mobile-first indexing, many websites have started to implement responsive design in order to make sure that they do not inadvertently miss incorporating some elements in the mobile version that are present on the Web version. Remember that crawlers can interpret this as potentially hidden content and might punish websites as that goes against their policies.

Furthermore, with responsive design, you do not need to define any user agents or make any changes to crawling instructions by adding extra meta tags or making changes in the robots.txt file, which is something you need to ensure that you include when making two or more divergent copies of the same webpage if you wish to split up your website across multiple subdomains that display based on visitors’ screen size.

Some large search engines like Google also recommend using responsive design as it can help optimize the resources and the loading time of your website. Additionally, as we already mentioned, search engines have also started to focus a lot on user experience and have devised certain metrics that need to be up to a given standard. Such metrics can be influenced a lot by responsive design, especially the CLS (content layout shift), LCP (largest contentful paint) and the TTI (time to interactive).

You can learn more about the different UX metrics by checking out our blog!

So, keeping all of these things in mind, responsive design appears to be the better choice as it can be easier to manage and better overall as it can save you resources in the long run. The following is a number of useful tips that can be used when it comes to creating a responsive design.

Simplicity is key

The design trends that are circling around as of recently focus on making everything as simple and lean as possible. That’s why major companies are changing their logos and consequently - image, to a more basic, clean design. Simplicity is also important when it comes to Web design. The less clutter on a page, the quicker it is going to load and render on mobiles, tables and other devices with different screen sizes. 

You also need to take into account the fact that some users might be accessing the website using mobile data and that their connection might not always be the best. Because of this, make sure to optimize any resources to help such users by incorporating lazy-loading and delaying the load time for scripts that are not of high priority. Finally, make sure that you don’t overcomplicate the layout and that you stick to traditional reading sequences such as the ‘F’ or ‘Z’ patterns.

Ensure that the navigation bar is also responsive

If a user cannot find their way around a website, they will most likely leave immediately, which will result in high bounce rates and potentially lower rankings. The navigation aspect of any website is absolutely crucial and ensuring that it is also responsive guarantees you that visitors will at least have the opportunity to navigate appropriately. However, navigation doesn’t mean only making your top-level or side-bar menus responsive.

It also applies to any buttons, especially the call-to-action ones, clickable links and anything else that is designed to take the user elsewhere. The key factor to consider here is to design any navigation element in such a way that it is obvious that it is a clickable link or button, whilst not detracting from the user experience as a whole.

Compression tools can be your best friends

Some of the most popular online tools are the so-called HTML compressors. They can delete unnecessary white spaces, unused code, and inappropriate content from your website. Some other tools like CSS minifier are able to chain-link code in order to improve your website and boost its performance.

Do not neglect branding

While the desktop version of your website might be your primary source of incoming traffic, it is essential to make the mobile version of your website identify with your business as well. Because of this, ensure that you utilize the same color scheme and fonts as your desktop version and do not forget to install your logo and other branding features that are present on your desktop version.

Utilize the space

Do not overcrowd the screen with an excessive amount of content. This does not mean that you should limit the amount of content that you upload, but you should rather consider how it is going to be displayed on mobile and other different resolutions. Ensure that you have some space between the lines and that you structure your content using headings and paragraphs as that can help users understand the content on the page better.

In conclusion, as a final tip, we recommend that you check out PageSpeed Insights or Google Mobile-Friendly Test to see if your website is optimized for mobile devices.

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