Important ranking factors for mobile sites

Want your mobile site to top the charts? We’ve shelled out a handful of ways which would help you achieve your goals.

Five months have passed by, but Google’s mobile-friendly update hasn’t showered in with the amount of success that was predicted. But as highlighted upon by the new Searchmetrics’ mobile SEO reports, it certainly has started to make an impact. For example, the number of mobile friendly sites in the top 30 results on Google has increased since the start of the year.
  • Before the mobile-friendly update, 68 percent of ranking URLs were found to be mobile-friendly.
  • This share stood tall accounting to 71 percent after the update.
The chart below paints a similar pictureShare of mobile friendly URLs At this juncture, small movements have come forth that defy Google’s attempt at gradually pushing site towards mobiles. This scenario might change in the future with a stricter approach stepping in the way. Average position change of urls Looking at the growth of mobile, sites shouldn’t have needed a new Google update to persuade them to optimize for mobile users. Their own customers and site analytics should have provided the answer. On the other hand, there was little need to rush one out in a panic if you didn’t have a mobile site before April 2015. Examples have been seen where sites have done exactly this and harmed their own sales or rankings.

Mobile Ranking Factors

Here are a few factors studied upon. Correlations between possible ranking factors and the appearance of the mobile SERPs have been focused upon by Searchmetrics.

Technical Factors

Speed is a massive factor, so sites need to minimise file sizes to improve page load times. Studies show the average mobile page file size to be around 25 percent smaller which allows faster load times. Flash design is not widely supported by mobile devices. And only 5 percent of mobile pages make use of it compared to the 14 percent of desktop pages. Look at the difference in page loading times between desktop and mobile is very clear featured in the chart. Site Speed

The smaller sizes now help mobile pages to load more quickly, in some cases by around one tenth of a second.

  • The average loading time in the mobile top 30 is 1.17 seconds
  • The top 10 load more quickly, with an average time of 1.10 seconds

User Experience

UX related factors are frequently used by Google in search rankings generally. And looking at the smaller screen sizes and variable mobile internet signals, a good user experience is perhaps even more vital for mobile sites. Very much like those pesky app interstitials, it has also been continued to clamp down on features which detract from mobile user experience. The study finds a correlation between UX factors, such as images, and mobile rankings. For example, the average number of internal links is much lower in the mobile than the desktop results as shown in the chart belowNumber of internal links

Space between links on mobile sites is important in order to avoid mistaken clicks from users, and is also a factor Google uses in its mobile friendly test.

Here are a few ranking factors that are found to be important:
  • Larger font size
  • Both responsive design and dedicated mobile versions of sites (m.domain.tld or mobile.domain.tld) rank in the mobile SERPS
  • Less structural and interactive elements; unordered lists used more often, but with less bullets than in desktop
  • Fewer ads
  • Fewer internal links
  • Fewer images than desktop


  • As the study suggests, backlinks were less of a ranking factor on mobiles than on desktops
  • The percentage of no-follow backlinks have increased this year, but still lie well below the desktop value
  • Mobile results are very rarely linked to news pages, which can in part be attributed to the separate mobile versions of websites (their desktop counterparts are the ones typically linked to news sites). This trend too is decreasing when compared to desktops

In Conclusion

A single study wouldn’t bring you a flurry of conclusions just five months or so after the mobile update, but it seems as though Google’s mobile rankings are in a transitional stage. Rather than the catastrophe some predicted before the mobile update, rankings do seem to be vacillating upward gradually, with more importance being placed on user experience while ranking sites.