Mobile SEO In 2024: Table Stakes For Organic Success

For the first time, mobile sales surpassed desktop sales in the 2023 holiday season. Google is now prioritizing mobile-supported webpages over desktop-first sites.

Yet we’re still seeing brands build websites for the desktop experience and retrofit them for mobile.

Let’s explore the differences between mobile and desktop SEO, the costs of falling behind in mobile SEO, and the areas to prioritize as the Web 3.0 era dawns.

Mobile SEO vs. traditional SEO: the costs of misalignment

SEO is the discipline of building a website’s visibility in search engines to increase organic visits. Search engine algorithms are hidden, but user experience is a major ranking factor. Mobile-oriented SEO is a driver of good user experience for those visiting sites using a mobile device. 

The concept of site “visits” is misleading. When a user goes to a site via a browser (Chrome, Safari, etc.), that site sends its assets, including scripts and resources, to the user’s device. Even though the device storage is temporary, it requires memory, space, and processing capacity -- all in shorter supply on mobile devices.



From a user perspective, this means that sites that aren’t optimized for mobile consume more data (which can lead to bigger phone and internet bills) and juice from a phone’s battery. For a brand, the lack of responsiveness that makes for small, hard-to-read text, misaligned layouts, and poor mobile user experience will tank SERP ranking.

For brands, other costs incurred include the excessive bandwidth tool from using larger files; storage costs for servers housing those same files; and missed revenue from users who find the site and bounce out of frustration. Page speed on mobile for unoptimized sites is also considerably slower, and that carries real costs -- as shown in an Amazon study from 2006, before the first iPhone was launched. 

Prioritizing mobile-friendly SEO initiatives

So how do you get started? I’ll lay out the most critical initiatives, in the recommended order:

Images. Most images are uploaded at a size that is way too big for desktop, let alone mobile, and many are using old technologies. Since mobile devices were built for Web 2.0, any images using formats from a previous era will be extremely inefficient to process.

Webpage Resource files (e.g., CSS and JavaScript). A common web developer practice is to layer updates and customizations on top of existing site code. If your existing code isn’t optimized for mobile, it’s just heavy baggage for mobile browsers, so plan an overhaul that prioritizes mobile.

Prioritization of HTML elements. Desktop browsers don’t need to prioritize which elements load first, since their capacity and processing power is greater. But for mobile browsers, which have more limitations, the order matters. Make sure your above-the-fold elements load first. Otherwise, you risk giving your users a glitchy first view.

Content design. What looks good on desktop might not work for mobile. Consider text size and readability, the way font renders on smaller screens, and whether color schemes become problematic in smaller formats.

Start with a diagnosis

If you’re not sure how mobile-friendly your site is, start by getting an assessment. Google’s free PageSpeed Insights analyzes a URL and drills into four segments of optimization.

If you’re feeling a little pressure after reading this, good. A mobile-first site experience might have been a nice option in 2014, but it’s a necessity in 2024 -- and will only get more important as mobile usage continues to gobble a greater proportion of online activity.

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