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Where Is SEO for Mobile Going?

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Updated: Feb 23 2011
Customers still rely heavily on search engines to find web-based mobile sites.  It’s not unlike traditional SEO in many technical ways (Google still cares about the keywords and the links), but is very different when optimizing for user or customer value.  To optimize for search engines on behalf of the mobile user or customer, you have to think about what the mobile searcher is looking for when searching on a phone.  The answer:  relevancy, speed, and good usability.  Identify your landing pages that are best suited for them and think about how you can optimize for the phone.  We’re trying to attract mobile users in addition to desktop/laptop users.  But mobile users have a larger sense of urgency.

Phones are not used like desktops and laptops.  They’re not even like iPads.  Customers on the mobile are on the move.  Assume they’re short on time; they may quickly be approaching a bus stop, or walking into a store.  Maybe the light just turned green (scary but true) and they need to get back to driving.  When we optimize for a mobile page, we need to identify and provide the key answer in the title, meta description, and body copy with as few words (and keywords) as possible.  We need to be much more concise and specific so the mobile user can identify the best results faster.  We need to spend closer attention to the query intent.  If that means more specific mobile landing pages (and less general, high-keyword frequency pages), so be it.  Granted, that goes against some traditional SEO strategies.  From the little data that’s been revealed from Google about differences in the way they approach mobile sites, it’s our best hypothesis that they’ll continue reevaluating your keyword choice from a mobile perspective.  You already get personalized, GPS powered mobile results from Google sniffing your smart phone browser now, so this isn’t really a stretch.

The mobile searcher is likely searching for a quick one sentence answer.  Or a  price.  Or a location.  Or a quick review.  Microformats and location tagging will likely take a larger role.  Mobile users don’t want to zoom in/out of a page all the time (if their phone even enables it); they’ll often back out and view other Google results for the best visual snapshot (even if it’s not the most relevant page to the query).  Usability plays a different, but equally as important role as it does now.  In general, if our goal as SEOs are about driving qualified traffic from the query all the way to the shopping cart, sometimes we need to be focused on design and usability.

Old school technical SEO still needs to be a factor.  Most developers create a different URL for mobile sites when it’s not necessary.  I see the “m.” subdomain used.  If you share your mobile link through an online social channel, you’re sharing the m. version.  If your logic properly redirects a user through that link to your desktop version, you’re still being served a redirect.  Some loss in link juice there even if its a 301.  At least use an /m/ directory and turn off internal linking user agent switching so you can get some links that help your overall domain authority.  Currently Google has their normal Googlebot, and Googlebot-Mobile which crawls content for traditional phones – not smart phones (with the exception of a recent iPhone Googlebot that’s been testing).  Google believes that smart phones can see the web just fine and doesn’t need their own bot.  If that’s the case, there really isn’t much reason to create a new URL anyway if the content you want a person to see on the phone is the same as the content on the desktop.  Just create a different CSS sheet to create a more mobile layout.

Mobile will only continue to grow.  Additionally, more iPad-like tablets are slated to come out, which blurs the lines a little more between what is a mobile device and what is a desktop device.  Google will continue to take the non-desktop search and web experience seriously.  So should we.

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    The comments are do-follow. However, any comments that use keyword anchor text as the name will be removed.

    1. Simon
      March 15, 2011

      Great post thanks, it quite amazing how fast mobile internet has taken off over the last couple of years. I think it is massively important to any SEO company to get involved in mobiles as many companies will be requesting .mobi sites to increase their audience.


    2. Franco Maffei
      May 18, 2011

      I’m really glad that you emphasized the point about urgency being a priority when you are looking to optimize your site for mobile search rankings. Mobile users definitely have a much shorter attention span when it comes to finding the information that they are looking for because they are usually multitasking when they are searching the web on their mobile device. With that being said, do you think that Google’s mobile search result page layout takes away from the importance of top level rankings? I mean, local listings, video, news and image search results could potentially reach the user before the first natural ranking even has a chance to make an impression. Users have to scan through these listings while they are on the go, and might not actually make it to the natural listings because they find what they are looking for beforehand or they give up their search because something in the outside world has taken them off of the trail. And also, will this layout impact the value of Google’s #1 spot as more users go mobile?