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Three key insights to improve how your company ranks in mobile phone searches

In just over a decade, mobile access to the Internet - once a distant dream - has become a searing reality. And with data from Google suggesting that 42% of organisations use a mobile device during the B2B purchasing process, mobile needs to be a key component of your online marketing strategy, with search playing a major role. 

But last year’s Google Mobile-friendly update means web pages that don’t meet the search giant’s mobile usability guidelines have been downgraded in the results in order to give mobile phone searchers a better experience.

If your content is not well positioned when your prospects search online with their phones, the writing could be on the wall. So what are the factors that drive high rankings in mobile phone searches?

Based on an analysis of the top 30 results for 10,000 relevant keywords on Google.com, we came up with three important areas you should be paying attention to:

1. User experience

First off, ensure you are giving searchers that land on your website a great user experience, regardless of the device they are using.  While this can be challenging, given the limitations of a smaller screen size and touch-based navigation on mobile phones, our research suggests that those who are succeeding are focusing on a number of important user experience elements.

For example, we found that one in five pages ranking in the top 30 search results on smartphones use responsive design to automatically adjust the page format to suit a mobile, tablet or desktop. Many also use dedicated mobile sites.

The average font size for text above the fold (the visible area without scrolling) tends to be significantly bigger on sites that rank high on mobile phones (compared with those that rank higher on desktops and laptops) – but as you scroll down, the fonts size is smaller. This is because the above the fold text often includes clickable navigation links that let visitors click through to different parts of the site. Obviously using larger text  makes this easier to do on smaller mobile phone screens.

Similarly, using fewer interactive elements such as menus and buttons, as well as images, keeps things simple and seems to play a role in boosting mobile phone rankings. However, 72% of mobile pages in the top 30 search results contain at least one unordered list, such as bullet points to help structure information better for users. This is around a quarter more than in desktop search results.

2. Technical

Technical aspects have a particularly big influence on phone search results.

Speed is important, with average page file sizes in searches generally around 25% smaller than on those appearing in desktop results. Along with other factors, this translates into faster load times, with the average loading time of sites in the top 30 search results on phones being 1.17 seconds. The top 10 load even quicker, with an average time of 1.10 seconds, which is up to one tenth of a second faster than on desktop.

3. Content

As you would expect, across both desktop and mobile phone searches, holistic, relevant content remains one of the most important requirements for high Google rankings. Analysis of the words in high ranking pages in both desktop and mobile searches indicates that these pages contain a higher percentage (above 70%) of important “proof terms” strongly related to the search topic. And the better a page ranks, the higher the proportion of slightly more distant “relevant terms” it contains.

But there are some differences in the content that ranks well on phones compared with desktops. For example, high ranking content on mobile phone pages tends to be shorter on average, with 867 words compared with 1285 words on desktops. They also have fewer internal links to related content on the same domain, presumably because it’s awkward to click on these links on a mobile screen.

Given the differences between mobile phone and desktop search results and the factors that seem to influence them, it is important that you treat each device separately, evolving different strategies to deliver the best performance. The data indicates that by focusing on user experience, content and technical considerations, you can give your site the best chance of ranking highly and attracting traffic through phone searches.