Google uses sophisticated methods to locate, gather, and consolidate vast data to give users relevant results. The search engine is restricted by response time and various other factors when working with these various data types. The search results vary frequently based on factors such as search history, location, interests, and the device used.
Google search results can vary not only on different devices but also on the same device, even when using the same search term. Google also changes the order of search results based on user experience considerations. Therefore, on mobile phones, various elements are removed and replaced by visual elements to avoid distraction. So, mobile SEO can be vastly different from desktop SEO.
Since people spend more than 70% of their internet time on mobile phones, its impact is visible on Google SERPs. Google has also announced its mobile-first indexing policy. So, it’s crucial to know the difference between mobile SEO and desktop SEO.
With Google’s mobile-first indexing policy, search results may vary on different devices. Google gives you results based on search intent, which changes according to the device you use. Therefore, your mobile SEO and desktop SEO need different strategies for optimal results.
Since mobile is not as text-friendly as a desktop, you should emphasize the visual elements such as images and videos. That’s why test results are shown in big sizes on mobile devices.
To scroll through the search results, a mobile user has to swipe multiple times. With shorter swipes, users feel reluctant to go to the bottom of search results. That’s why Google displays the most relevant results on top of mobile search and removes some elements shown only to desktop users. The results may also vary according to the mobile responsiveness of websites. For example, if a website has good content but isn’t mobile-friendly, Google will downgrade its mobile ranking.
There are no space issues with desktop screens; they can display multiple search results simultaneously. Since they allow users to see a lot more content, they find it easier to scroll through the results and reach the page’s end. So, the generic SERP layout can be different for desktop users. For example, if you search for “what was the civil war,” the desktop results will appear as shown below in the screenshot.
Meanwhile, the mobile results for the exact search will appear something like this:
It clearly shows that visual elements are prominent in mobile search results. There is one more difference in mobile search results. The “people also search for” section immediately follows the Wikipedia result on top, accompanied by visual elements, including battles other than the American Civil War.
“People also ask” is placed below “people also search for” in mobile search. It means visual elements and search intent are crucial for mobile SERP, as smartphone users have shorter attention spans than desktop users.
The placement of the search results in the SERPs is SEO’s ultimate objective, and it’s crucial to figure out how you can help your website appear in the top three results, especially for mobile devices.
The click-through rate (CTR) for SERPs drops at a slower pace on mobile devices than on desktops. Several reasons can explain a CTR drop on mobile search results. The results that appear like individualized cards have higher visibility; visual elements such as photos and video thumbnails further boost it. A visually appealing graphic attracts attention even if the result appears lower in the SERPs.
Since desktops have bigger screens than smartphones, search results have more space and clarity, allowing you to view several results at one time. But the CTR sharply drops as you go down the page. For example, if the first position has a CTR of 31%, the second will most likely have just 15%. It mainly happens because users can see more results at a time on a desktop.
Search layout also affects your website’s SEO. Let’s discuss it for both the mobile and desktop versions.
Google displays search results differently on mobile phones and desktops. On smartphones, it shows text and pictures with more room for visual elements. That’s why you can’t see more than 2-3 results on your mobile screen at a time.
Mobile also offers more features than desktop in terms of search results. For example, “knowledge panels” appear on top of mobile devices, whereas they appear to the right on desktops. As a result, the other organic results are pushed down.
Mobile results also have “Interesting Finds” snippets to display relevant web pages that a user can find helpful and exciting. Mobile results also show the site path and the website’s name with a favicon. However, it doesn’t display the URL
The desktop offers almost all the features that mobiles do, such as featured snippets, people also ask section, knowledge panels, and local 3-packs. However, other organic results don’t get pushed down as desktops have enough space to display several listings.
User experience is a prime concern for Google, and that’s why search results appear differently on different devices. However, it’s important to note that it doesn’t affect the website rankings. The only difference is the way search results appear.
The search results also vary because people want information quickly on mobile devices. As a result, the search engine has to break up listings and add visual elements like images to make it convenient for users to go through the results and find the most appropriate ones. Desktop users have more time to browse and analyze. Therefore, desktop listings have fewer visual elements and more text-based content because users can spend more time.
Given the difference in the search results for both mobile and desktop, you should develop SEO strategies accordingly. But the best practice would be to develop a comprehensive SEO strategy that works for both device types. When you have a device-specific SEO strategy in place, you are more likely to rank higher and attract steady traffic.
Here are a few steps you can take to build an effective SEO strategy for mobile and desktop:
The best SEO strategy starts with ranking well on local searches. So, focus on the local and “near me” keywords and Google My Business listing.
When you create a responsive design, you optimize your site for all device sizes. You won’t have to design different versions of the same website for every device. It’s an important Google ranking factor; the better the user experience, the better will be your rankings.
Your website speed is of paramount importance for higher rankings and a better user experience. Therefore, you must remove all elements that can affect its loading time. You can use page speed insights to improve website performance.
Research and understand user intent to find the best keywords for mobile and desktop versions. Voice search keywords are also important for mobile users. Use it to see if it works for you.
When forecasting traffic for your SEO campaigns, you must also consider mobile CTRs and search volume. Mobile SEO can be vastly different, as a mobile user is more engaged than a desktop user because of factors such as urgency and accessibility.
However, mobile users are more reluctant to scroll down compared to desktop users. So, if you don’t rank on the top spot and haven’t optimized your website, you must implement mobile SEO. You should add more visual elements on a mobile site for greater visibility.
Furthermore, it’s essential to optimize your mobile site for local SEO, as most searches made using mobile devices are local. Instead of creating and maintaining a separate mobile site, choose a mobile configuration first involving a responsive web design that Google recommends.