Guide To Mobile SEO: URLS, Usability and User Testing.

Usability is one of the most important factors in mobile SEO.  When I say “usable”, I am not just talking about how humans use your site.  I am also talking about search-bots.  It is crucial to correctly set up your site’s URL structure and your mobile site map.  The two most important aspects of mobile SEO are  the way your URLs are configured, and  how your organize your content.

From a human-usability perspective, you need to make sure your site is fast, you need to serve up the right parts of your site to the right user, and you need to make sure your designs are built for hand-guessers instead of mouse clicks. Google has recently released a mobile-bot that crawls your site with a smartphone user agent.  This lets them “look” at your site like humans, and allows them to rank you for usability factors as well as link-graph signals.  In my opinion, the disparity between desktop and mobile SERPS has just begun.  In the next year, we should see a dramatic shift in the results Google shows mobile browsers.

robots vs human usability for mobile seo

Mobile SEO is almost entirely about Usability (both humans and bots.)

When it comes to your URLs, Google suggests that you use one of three methods, and we will discuss them in some depth.  Keep in mind that even if you choose not to follow Google’s suggestions for structuring a mobile-ready site, you might “end up” with one anyway.  Google reserves the right to modify your page.  They can re-format your code (through a browser) to make it mobile friendly. Google has a transcoder that resizes images, and re-formats text to help you create a better browsing experience.

Honestly, I am hesitant to letting Google  decide what your website should look like. Sometimes this will work out, and sometimes it will backfire. If you want to maintain control of your website’s design you can add a line of code to your <head></head> to keep them from making unwanted changes to your site.

<link rel=”alternate” media=”handheld” href=”alternate_page.htm” />

Before we start, I want to mention a recent (self-serving, but true none-the-less) study conducted by Google. They revealed that search engines are the most visited sites on smartphones.  In fact, 77% of smartphone users admit that they visit search engines more than they visit Facebook, shopping sites, or any other website.  This article will explore the best ways to make your site mobile ready.

All About The Three Mobile SEO Site Structures.

1 Responsive: (Google’s preferred configuration) 

Sites that use responsive web design, i.e. sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device.This is a great option (and it is what we use at BrewSEO) but it is limited.  Despite what Google suggests, I am going to go out on a limb and say it is not the best option.  There are too many limitations to the way you can control your content with this option.  Responsive web design makes your site fit into any sized screen, but it isn’t always the best in terms of usability, and usability is crucial in Mobile SEO.

The goal of a responsive site is to create a browsing experience that is vertical.  Responsive designs remove all horizontal scrolling, and instead they stack elements.  Content based sites actually receive a huge boost in their engagement rates when they implement “flip-through” horizontal scrolling (think flipboard.)  Before you jump on the responsive band wagon, ask yourself if a vertical heavy site is going to serve your business goals, and user intent.

The reason Mobile SEO revolves around usability is because mobile browsers are looking for different parts of your site, and you should be showing them what they need above the fold.

By the way, if you want to learn more about responsive web design, you should watch this video series at Tree House: If you click the video’s thumbnail, it will take you to their blog. 

2 Dynamic: (My recommendation) 

Sites that dynamically serve all devices on the same set of URLs, but each URL serves different HTML (and CSS) depending on whether the user agent is a desktop or a mobile device. This is the best of both worlds.  You get the SEO benefit of having the same URL, but you get the UX benefit of displaying your content in a way that is tailored to mobile visitors.  You can do this through defining what HTML  you show different “user agents.”  Google will not look at this as cloaking, but you obviously need make sure the content is relevant, and related to each other.

In my opinion, this is the best option for most websites.  Dynamic content will allow you to keep your URL the same, but show mobile browsers the information that is the most important to them. You will also be able to show it to them in a format that is optimized for a smaller screen.


examples of dynamic mobile websites

This is one of my favorite examples of dynamic mobile websites. In fact, I like’s mobile site even more than I like their desktop site.

The easiest way to see what parts of your site a mobile visitors wants, is to look at your Google Analytics.  Segment out your mobile browsers, and make a list of the most popular information on your site.  For example, if you are a local business, most mobile visitors are looking for your contact information.  If you are a restaurant, they most likely want to see your menu, your hours of operation and your location.  Find out what information is important to your mobile visitors, and give it to them.

3: Different: 

Sites that have a separate mobile and desktop sites. This option is the hardest to configure (from an SEO’s perspective) but it can still work.

The third option is to have two different URLs.  There are multiple downsides to this option, but if you are unable to develop one of the preferred choices, this is better than doing nothing.  The most obvious downside to having two different URLs, is that each URL can create duplicate content of each other, they will each have their own link graphs and they each need their own site map.  If you choose to use two different URLs, the first thing you need to do is put a rel=alternate tag on your desktop site, and a rel=canonical URL on your mobile site.  This will stop each URL from conflicting with each other in Google’s index.

The second thing you should do is create a mobile sitemap.  This will allow  Google to crawl and index your mobile site.  One tactic that Google uses to reduce site-load times, is to crawl your Mobile URLs, and serve them to mobile searchers.  They prefer to send visitors directly to the destination URL because 301 re-directs take a long time on mobile devices.  Creating a mobile site map will speed up your page load times, and makes your site more likely to rank in mobile SERPs.  In the world of mobile, instant gratification is paramount.  In fact, a study by Kiss Metrics found that even a 1 second delay will decrease customer customer satisfaction by 16%.

Example Of  Mobile Sitemap: 

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
 <urlset xmlns=""
Clarification: You do not need a mobile sitemap for responsive websites: future of Mobile SEO is clear.  You will need a mobile SEO strategy if you want to rank in Mobile SERPS.  Recent developments in Google’s SEO guide even include a section dedicated to Mobile SEO.  Now that Google allows you to define different HTML for different users, I think they will start showing “Samsung Galaxy” optimized pages for users who search from their Samsung Galaxy (obviously, there will be other facts involved in their ranking algorithm as well as mobile optimization.)  If you are unsure how to start your Mobile SEO strategy, I suggest you invest time into understanding your mobile visitors.

Mobile UX Testing. 

Hopefully, by now  you understand that Mobile SEO revolves around usability, and a clearly defined HTML/CSS practice.  Sometimes, starting off in a whole new sub-segment of SEO can seem overwhelming.  Well, it doesn’t have to be.  Here is the easiest way that I know of creating a bullet-proof usability test, to find out what part of your site mobile visitors are the most interested in.  I call it, “spying” but it is really just mobile conversion rate optimization.

Step #1: Create a temporary version of your site on a mobile subdomain (

Step #2 : Install CrazzyEgg, Mouseflow, or another “spy on your visitors” type of analytics program on the mobile site.

Step #3: Watch visitors browse your site, and find out what elements they are interacting with the most.  Watch to see if there are parts of your site that cause “hang ups” for mobile browsers.  Lastly, use Google Analytics to analyze their page views.

Step#4: Once you have an accurate understanding of what your mobile visitors are looking for, remove your m.examle subdomain, and optimize your primary site to serve dynamic HTML.

Step #5 : Test quickly, and test often.

More Reading On Mobile SEO:

The New SEO Strategy By Ben Goodshell
One of the most read Mobile SEO Blogs by Bryson Meunier
5 Critical SEO Tips by DNA
And of course, an SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday video.



@Bryant is the founder/owner of BrewSEO. I have the privilege of helping companies grow their revenue with creative inbound marketing strategies. I love marketing, working with great people and the thrill of helping businesses make money.

One thought on “Guide To Mobile SEO: URLS, Usability and User Testing.

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