Where Is SEO for Mobile Going?

Google iphone

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.

More Local Listings Equal More Ecommerce Traffic

The major web platforms are looking at targeting users with local functionality. Many see this as a major growth opportunity in 2011 due to the higher use of smart phones. Google is especially focused in this area as of late, arguably more than ever before. As online retailers, who may not have heavy connectivity with their brick and mortar counterparts, local SEO may not seem like something that provides much – if any – online traffic. But it does. Especially with recent Google changes.

If you haven’t noticed, Google changed the way they display their local searches. They appear to show up more often, and resemble traditional natural search listings. The result is that other non-local listings are getting pushed down under the fold, and more local listings are being clicked.

Each listing provides 2 destination links: the main link (which leads to your main site), and a places page.

When you show up in the local searches, the main link provides pretty good traffic. In most cases, the searchers that click a local link were looking for local information. The destination of this link doesn’t satisfy, but it’s a chance for your homepage to capture the users interest and maybe persuade them from getting off their couch and driving to the store to buying online.

The other link, Places (formerly called Local Business Center), is a nice thing to have because it provides opportunity to really sell your local store. You can provide an exclusive coupon, or promotion. Within the Places page, there’s yet another link that you can control.

There’s opportunity with this link since you control it. Maybe design a landing page displaying synergies between your web and brick and mortar stores. Can you buy online and return the product in the store if you’re not satisfied? Promote that here. Do you have exclusive in-store printable coupons? Display that here. Experiment with this traffic, and develop something special knowing that these are local-minded shoppers (at least they were at the time of entering their first query into Google.

Why I Think SEO Is Marketing

I was recently asked in an email why I consider SEO a marketing channel. Among several things, good marketing and advertising work to get messages out about the value of an item, and provide you with information. Most subscribe to this definition. Marketing helps those who are interested see if they really want and need it, and helps inform producers.

So does Google.

SEO helps those people who have interest, and are qualified enough to make a digital inquirey, find this information. SEO also helps create that two way, open engagement that more people are expecting of the maturing internet.Buy me I'm cheap

I work with a lot of huge brands, typically in the ecommerce space. It all holds very true for them. Doing SEO work is about caring for the customer more than the product. Hopefully the product was made with an audience segment in mind; SEO is bridging the gap using the internet’s elected hub – Google.

Yes. It’s textbook marketing taking you back to college. But it’s breathing on land now, and doesn’t require gills. The nervous system hasn’t changed. The song remains the same.

Once you make the site technically crawlable and findable, you need to make it work. Sure, you can pass it off to merchandisers or usability or any other group that should have an interest in what to do with the search traffic you deliver, but they won’t know what brought them there like an SEO will.

As far as I’m concerned, marketing is part of the broader definition of SEO in the modern age, still keeping it your most powerful acquisition channel by far… If done right.

The Difference Between Google And Bing Users

According to Hitwise, 81% of the searches done on Bing and Yahoo resulted in an actual visit to a website. Google only showed a 65% rate. This suggests that either Bing/Yahoo is more relevant and providing the best results more often for the bulk of users, or that people search differently with Google. I’m assuming the latter.

I think most people who use Google expect to do a little digging. I think the results you’re given require you to refine your search, and as a Google user, you’re used to that. You’ve come to expect that.

Andy Beal at Marketing Pilgrim says, “Google offers more opportunities right upfront to refine the search by time, type of result, even result loca tions. Because of this, I’d bet many people take a second or third try at finding exactly what they want before they start clicking through.” That makes sense. I also think without the options, google users would be more apt to refining their search anyway.

I believe Google’s results are more detailed in nature and require your queries to be more specific as well. I feel like I get broader, safer results out of Bing. Thats what theyre going for per their marketing, but it feels a little “Fisher Price” to me. Not my style. Maybe Bing users are more casual.

Google and Bing have segregated the search audience. Like democrat and republican, NFL and MLB, or beer and wine, the two parties are different, and will continue to be shaped by the structure of the engine to some degree. It’s interesting, really, just how big a role search engines play, and what we can tell about people who use them. It’s not just an information retrieval system, but an extension of your brain. Much like a car.

Google Adds Reading Levels To Listings

I found a new feature on Google.  If you click advanced search on the search page, you have a ‘reading level’ option. In the drop down, you can choose to annotate your search results. When you search, you can now see the reading level Google thinks these (and your) pages are at.

As a father of a six year old, this seems interesting.  It could potentially help me find pages that he would understand and enjoy.  Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work as I had hoped.  Apparently my about me page is at an intermediate reading level.  Hardly.  So is sesamestreet.com.  Wow.

Maybe this is just more Google fluff, and maybe it will improve.  But it has me wondering about the signals and algorithm that determines this labeling.   Are there any clues here for the reverse engineers to understand more how Google thinks?  Likely, Google would be very careful putting this out… but still.

Update: Looks like Google gave us a little insight. Looks like a model was built off decisions made by teachers. I’m now thinking this is simply another algorithm strand layered into the Google rope.

Bill Sebald Reading Level

My Search Engine Land Article – How To SEO A Vending Machine

Hey all – my new article is up at Search Engine Land. Enjoy.

How To SEO A Vending Machine.

I’m A DoFollow Blog, And Proud Of It

Matt Cutts says a small majority of the web is nofollowed (which is confirmed by Linkscape data). He doesn’t say that a huge majority of the social web is dofollowed. I firmly believe it isn’t. And since Google loves editorial links, they should love the good social links – forums, blogs, voting site comments, etc.

So why is so much of the social web still nofollowed? In theory, it helps us webmasters to rank better when we link out. It helps our social contributors receive link love. It’s great for Google in general.

Oh, right… SPAM. The applications that auto-spam WordPress blogs and Pligg, and the SEnuke’s of the world. There’s plenty of them. So, Google gave us the nofollow microformat to let us help them keep the web clean(er). But is slapping an automatic “nofollow” script really that helpful?

It’s a social web. I believe it’s our responsibility as good, contributing webmasters to monitor our user-generated links. If you’d like, put up rules about what you’ll accept and don’t accept (for example, no business names in the anchor text, or no links to product sites, etc). Make these rules simple and visible. Then, routinely prune anything that fails to meet the criteria. It’s a little extra work, but it’s worth it if you love your site.

I’m a dofollow SEO blog, and though Akismet (in WordPress) catches most my obvious automated spam, I still routinely go through my comments and make edits to rule breakers. Oh well. Clearly most don’t see it my way.

But as Google grows into a more contextual, learning machine, I think these nofollows are going to be a hindrance. I have heard of the tests that claim Google may be opting to follow certain links that are marked nofollow when it suits their needs,
but I haven’t seen it yet in my tests. As Google’s algorithm gets better, and they start to better understand what they read, while simultaneously finding other ways to defend against spam, I’m sure they’re going to start hopping the nofollow fence more often.

10 Chrome Extensions That Make SEO Easier

Google Chrome extensions

When I say “makes SEO easier,” I don’t just mean performing SEO, but also living as an SEO.

A few years ago I wrote a post about how great Firefox was for SEO. Oh, I was such a fanboy. Especially due to the huge amount of Greasemonkey scripts I was finding.  This is in the early days of extending browsers, mind you.

But since January of 2009, Firefox started to get slower, and Chrome started to get less buggy.  I’m not sure when I made the switch, but Chrome is my BOC (browser of choice).  I really love how the extensions run independently of the browser.  Smart move – my RAM thanks you.  Plus, most of the time they update on their own and don’t even bother you unless something is new or notable.

So here’s 10 SEO chrome extensions I’m running (in the order they appear on my toolbar).  Granted, some aren’t necessarily all about SEO, but provides productivity nonetheless.

  1. Chromed Bird – I loved TweetDeck, and still use it on my iPhone, but other than posting to Facebook at the same time, Chromed Bird does everything Tweetdeck does for me.  Partitions my conversations, searches, and manages my lists.  Whenever someone tweets something in my list (like SEO for example), a little box pops up at the bottom of my browser with the tweet.  I never miss what my favorite SEOs have to say – helps me stay up with SEO news, especially since I can’t find the time to hit Google Reader every day.
  2. Webpage Screenshot – Though Google built one that seems very robust, I’m still partial to the Webpage Screenshot extension.  Let’s me edit and save a shot as JPG or PNG (which I love, because I hate JPG compression!!!).  I can choose from the usual options – full page or visible screenshot.  Then, a new tab will open with an editor.  Very similar to Snagit.  I use Webpage Screenshot all the time to record before and after SEO work.
  3. Google Mail Checker Plus – Won’t go into much detail here… it’s a Gmail previewer/bookmark.
  4. Google Reader Notifier – Like the Google Mail Checker Plus above, it lets me know what articles I have left to read, and simply opens up a Google Reader tab.  It maxes out at 1,000 which is where I’m always at.  Again… I just can’t get caught up on my newsreader.
  5. SEO Site Tools – Love this one.  First off, it’s my PageRank snapshot of choice (right there on the magnifying glass icon).  But clicking this gives you a drop down with a lot of cool pieces of information.  External page data, social media stats, page terms, page elements, server info, and suggestions.  There are a lot of free sites that give you this same, mostly fluff data, but it’s nice having it on the fly.  Especially when trying to figure out answers to client questions.
  6. Meta SEO Inspector – Like this one too.  It stays open in the bottom right, and gives you meta and head data.  Nice if you’re running through a bunch of pages.  It gives quick warnings as well.  Helpful.
  7. SEO Chrome Mozbar – When SEOmoz turned off their agency machine, and went exclusively into software/appware, they really kicked it up.  If you’re finding their suite useful, you’ll find this extension useful too.
  8. Firebug is one of my go-to tools.  Unfortunately, at this point, the version they built for Chrome (called “lite”) isn’t quite as robust as the Firefox version.  I still flip to Firefox’s Firebug most of the time, but since I always have Chrome open, there are occasions I know I can get away without leaving my browser.  I expect this to grow, and can’t wait until it does.  With Firebug I can inspect (and edit) code without having to boot up Dreamweaver.  I like that.
  9. Web Developer is another must have in Firefox, that has recently been ported over to chrome.  Pretty sure I use this every day.  Want to see what a site looks like without Javascript, or CSS?  Want to get deeper into the spider’s eye view of the world?  This is the tool you need.  Need to resize, validate, or highlight sections of your site?  You got it.  A lot you can do, and really essential for web designers/developers, but since SEO gets technical, it’s great for us too.
  10. Note Anywhere is a great extension that allows you to tag pages with a big, yellow stick-em.  Why is this good for SEO?  Well, if you’ve optimized a page and want to make note of it for the next time you browse that page, stick a note on it.  My desk is full of sticky notes – now, so are my clients’ pages.


The Good, The Bad, and The Ugliness Of Conversion Code

Conversion code - best and worstIn my mind, one of the best and worst inventions for Internet marketing conversion code.

I remember it well, about 5 years ago, when it was released to AdWords. I could qualify the work I’ve been doing for an old eCcommerce employer. He was very ROI focused because he was, well, cheap (not at all generalizing a business who rightfully cares about revenue as cheap). This boss didn’t buy into internet marketing even though he was running an internet store. So this code – which I had to map cart variables too – helped me justified the good work I was doing in my job. While many industry peers were frustrated by the extra scrutiny they were getting, I was actually saved.

But conversion code isn’t everything. It’s not supposed to be. It has its place.

Online analytics is still really young. Now, we have great conversion tracking, and more advanced attribution modeling. But only a few years ago, it was all about impressions and CTR. Basic analytics told us a little of the story, and forced us to take chances. Now, with more of the story, I truly believe many of us find ourselves backed into an ROI corner in which we are afraid to press against. Did these better bullets make us cocky?

“Bullets are great. But you don’t win a war with firepower. It’s with strategy and tactics.”

I had three fortune cookies today with lunch, and this is what they said:

  • All channels are not created equal
  • Old school marketing isn’t dead, it’s been reinvented
  • AdWords is advertising – a “piece” of marketing

I think for many conversion tracking created and atmosphere for marketers to worry about performance to the dollar versus creativity on the web. On the web, creativity is vital and clearly yields bigger results when you strike gold. Creativity with focus speaks to more segmented audiences, which we now know are even more plentiful than we did before the web. General analytics and demos let us focus on those audiences, but data on whether they convert on the last click does not tell the full story. It answers the immediate need of passing a report to your boss, but it doesn’t always lead to the lifetime value.

Marketing is, and should always be about risk taking. If you’re not taking risks, you’re playing on the same level as not hundreds, but hundreds of thousands of other tepid companies. Marketing is also about developing strategies as you build. Tying yourself to ROI alone hurts you in the long run if you’re the kind of company that needs to be competitive. If you disagree, are you really being effective marketers and doing the w0rk the internet demands? Is it our job to encourage options and opportunity? Or is our job to keep stay in a box?

Would love your opinions.

How Do Most Consumers Discover Products? Still Search!

ATG (a large commerce platform) just put out some interesting studies. 53% (of 1,002 total people) cited search engines as their key source for discovering new products.

Is this news? Not really. But I was interested to see how competitive email still is. I was also interested to see where social media (as a channel) resides. Social is under In-store displays and offline signs. Wow. Even though it’s fertile, this is a reminder that social still has a long road until full maturity.

Click for larger image:

ATG - online shopping study

Check out Search Engine Land for more stats.

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