According to Google, mobile search is growing much faster than desktop search… in fact, it’s grown so fast that it’s even beating Google’s predictions.
As Google’s Zero Moment of Truth ebook says, mobile is “not ‘the wave of the future’ any more — it’s right now”.
With mobile search becoming such a dramatic part of online search, it’s absolutely crucial that you optimize your site so that it is seen by searchers and engines. But before we get into that, here are some statistics for you:
Statistics every mobile SEO marketer needs to know
Let’s look at some stats…
- In a Google Smartphone User study, mobile searches will make up 25% of all searches in the world this year.
- A Compuware study said that over 50% of consumers would not recommend a business with a bad mobile site. In fact, over 40% said they would use a competitor with a better mobile experience.
- 60% of consumers use mobile searches before buying.
- Close to 50% of mobile searchers made a mobile purchase in the last six months.
- 51% of mobile users will buy from a retailer with a site specifically for mobile users…but only 4.8% of brands have a mobile site.
- In the “Mobile Movement,” a study by Google, 77% of smart phone users visit search engines and then social sites.
- Over 90% of mobile searches end in some type of action…visiting a business or purchasing, for example.
As you can see, being mobile ready is super important. Now let’s explore the differences between mobile and desktop search and SEO.
The difference between mobile and desktop SEO
Some people might say that because they are doing traditional SEO, they are doing SEO. Basically, they say, there is no difference between the two.
This usually leads to the perception that someone with a traditional SEO background could do mobile SEO by using methods like relevance, accessibility, usability and marketing. And it’s true that these general principles apply to mobile search, but there are subtle differences in optimizing for mobile that you wouldn’t apply to desktop.
With normal SEO, people push for keyword-rich content as that helps the search engines determine the relevancy of a page. When it comes to mobile sites, you have to throw the general principle of 250 words or more on a web page for proper SEO out the window.
The main reason why mobile sites demand different SEO standards is that the mobile experience is very different from the desktop version. If you try to apply traditional principles, you aren’t going to get the same results. However, apply mobile-centric SEO practices to mobile search, and you’ll start to win the game.
Mobile users behave differently and use different keywords
In traditional searches, people are using keywords. This is not always the case in mobile search. Searchers can use a variety of methods like Gesture Search, Voice Search or Google Goggles. In other words, they don’t necessarily go to their mobile browsers.
And if they do use keywords, those may have different meanings in different contexts. Also, mobile searchers do searches in different settings and at different times from desktop searchers.
What this means is that you need to make mobile keyword research a high priority…instead of just focusing on traditional keyword research exclusively.
Mobile users engage differently
According to Google’s book, the top three positions on a search page matter even more in mobile world since the digital shelf gets really small on mobile devices.
In fact, according to Google’s Zero Moment of Truth, a drop to the first (below paid ads) position can result in a conversion plunge of 90% or more! This means that your SEO campaigns need to take into account click-through rates and search volume in the mobile realm.
The other big difference is that mobile users do not want to scroll.
So, if you do not have a top three position on search…and this includes ads…and you’re not optimizing for it, then you are not doing mobile SEO.
Debunking common SEO mobile myths
Since mobile SEO is such a new discipline, there are a lot of differing opinions about it. For example, Ryan Jones wrote an article called Mobile SEO is a myth in which he said that “mobile SEO” was a concept created by salespeople who wanted to sell more SEO services.
Here is a summary of the main points of his article:
- Creating a site that works on all devices is the best mobile strategy.
- If you can’t do that, then use m.yourdomain.com, canonical tags and device detection to redirect.
- Give users a link to switch to a traditional version of the site.
- Create an app if you want to deliver a true device experience.
- Local SEO is really want we mean when we say “mobile SEO.”
While there is some truth to some of the things he said, the overall notion that there is no such thing as “mobile SEO” was debunked by Brian Meunier in an article called 7 Mobile SEO Myths Exposed:
- Myth #1: A Dotmobi TLD is necessary for indexing and ranking – The company behind Dotmobi TLD wants you to believe that building a mobile site through their product is the best approach. The truth is that whether you build it on Dotmobi TLD or m.domain.com or another alternative, you are no better or worse. However, Google has indexed more m.domain.com sites than any other.
- Myth #2: Metatext is necessary for mobile SEO – Metatext files are like robots.txt or an XML sitemap in that they help a search engine find and index content. The only problem is that metatext isn’t supported by Google or Bing. That’s significant since they command over 99% of mobile market share. If your content is already indexed well, you don’t need metatext.
- Myth #3: Code validation is necessary for mobile SEO – In a nutshell, when it comes to smartphones, validation doesn’t matter.
- Myth #4: Mobile site maps are necessary for mobile SEO – Google’s John Mueller said that if you are indexing smartphone content, you don’t need the mobile site map. Now, mobile site maps probably can’t hurt, but they aren’t necessary.
- Myth #5: Mobile formatting is enough for mobile SEO – Just formatting your desktop site for mobile misses a key part in mobile SEO. A site that develops content based on mobile-centric information architecture and keyword principles will always be better optimized.
- Myth #6: Mobile queries are shorter – Research from 2009 by Google shows that these queries are only slightly shorter…2.44 words versus 2.93 words for computers. In 2011, they found that longer queries are more likely to be used than shorter ones.
- Myth #7: People Aren’t Searching On Mobile Devices – This myth isn’t as common as others, but it was made famous by Steve Jobs who said in 2010, “search hasn’t happened on mobile devices.” Early this year, Google reported that 1 in 7 queries comes from devices. Some industries like restaurants receive even higher percentage of searches on mobile phones. Jobs was actually saying that most of the search occurs through apps, but Google reported that mobile searches were actually conducted by 77% of smartphone users on their phones and not through apps, which was 66%.
Mobile search strategy
Now, let’s look at some high-level mobile SEO strategies.
Develop sites that can be used across all devices
Search engines rank a page based on some common criteria like page download speed, screen rendering, site performance and usability. What this means is that a fully optimized mobile site will outperform a site that has been reformatted for a smaller screen.
Here is a site that Jakob Neilson tested called allkpop:
The site did many things right. For example, the mobile version of the site is rendered when the site detects that a mobile phone is visiting the page…and it also has large touch targets.
It’s important to note that key content can be stripped away from a page if you transcode it via a cookie-cutter template. This produces poor usability, incomplete or broken pages and bad navigation, all of which leads to lower rankings and lower repeat visits, resulting in even lower rankings.
Device type also informs search engines about search rankings since different mobile web browsers will render pages differently. That’s why it’s critical that brands develop a mobile strategy that works across all devices…and mobile operating systems.
Use traditional SEO practices
Although there are SEO techniques unique to mobile, if you apply these traditional SEO practices to your mobile site, you should see an increase in rankings:
- Relevant keywords in headlines and copy – Mobile search by consumers focuses on tasks like finding a specific location or researching a specific product. This is different from how searches are conducted on a desktop, so it’s important to understand the behavior of mobile searchers and how they perform searches. Armed with that research, you can start crafting headlines and copy that reflect these needs.
- Relevant page titles – Page titles are the first things that mobile searchers evaluate when searching on their phone. The closer you can match your titles to their search queries, the higher your content will rank.
- Accurate page descriptions – Next to title tags, page descriptions provide another opportunity to deliver relevant, high-quality content to mobile searchers.
- Outbound links – Even though there are usability concerns with large links, you want to include outbound links that lead to relevant information that provides a better user experience. This will also build a connection and a sense of trust when you link to authority brands.
- Standard coding – You must follow valid HTML coding since there are a variety of mobile operating systems. These web browsers still look through the code to determine the relevancy of a page. Broken pages are the result of a bad or invalid code and lead to lower rankings. This seems like common sense, but it’s worth repeating that you need to build all sites according to standards to provide the same experience across all devices.
Create mobile-friendly content
After the site architecture and design is determined, your next step is to figure out how you are going to host your mobile site.
You can find lots of options, but I think the best way to do it is simply park your homepage and mobile-only pages on m.domain.com subdomain or /m subfolder.
The desktop pages you don’t change to mobile you can keep at your desktop URL. Just reformat them for mobile users.
You can also redirect, but when it comes to transcoded desktop URLs, you’ll want to use canonical tags so the link juice is directed back to desktop pages.
Cheat sheet for preparing your site for mobile readiness
Mobile SEO is a rapidly changing landscape…and I’ve provided you with a lot of information above. Here’s a summary of everything I talked about to make it easy for you to apply these steps to your mobile SEO strategy.
- Trigger mobile-formatted CSS – When someone accesses your site via a mobile phone, you’ll want to give them the mobile version, which happens through using user agent detection. This pulls up the CSS formatted version or sends the user to a mobile friendly version in your directory or sub domain. If you use WordPress, download the WPtouch plugin, which does this for you automatically.
- User opt out – Give users the option to opt out of this mobile-formatted CSS.
- Don’t block Googlebot-Mobile – Google will check your Doc Type to see if you are using Compact HTML type or XHTML mobile. Depending on the answer, it will be indexed in the mobile version.
- Image rendering – When it comes to images, use percentage or relative rather than pixel or absolute.
- Minimize the length of links – Links that are too long will not look good in a mobile view.
- Position calls to action in the top left section of the site rather than the top right - The top right, which is where the calls to action are positioned normally, may be cut off in the mobile version.
- Minimize the number of click-throughs – Unlike with desktop search, where users are happy to click as long as they sense they are going down the right path, mobile users do not like to click more than two times.
- Test your site’s mobile readiness – Use MobiReady for load times and device rendering and W3C mobileOK Validator for validation.
The Future of Mobile Search
As mobile gets faster and easier to use and the mobile experience improves, the adoption of mobile phones will continue to rise.
This is no different than the rise of the personal computer.
This means mobile SEO is powerful and can mean big business for you. Getting mobile SEO right can help you gain and increase mobile traffic.
In the same vein, search engines are trying to keep up. They do a lot of testing and changing of algorithms, so you’ll need to keep up too.
- Pulling in personal, real-time results – Search results are getting increasingly personal with real-time content like tweets and wall posts. This is great for the mobile user because it gives him or her the information he or she wants quickly. Think Facebook’s Sponsored Stories. The level of personalization will be high since phones aren’t shared like computers, so results will focus on the mobile user even when the user is not actually logged in.
- Mobile SEO can also be very focused on location - GPS is not used in normal web searches unless you have actually set your location…but eventually it will be. This will make the results of mobile search even tougher to predict. When it comes to driving traffic to your brick-and-mortar store, you need to consider the fact that people may never even click through to your mobile site since they can get everything they need from the map: your address and phone number are provided on the search result.
- Apps change mobile SEO - Mobile users are also skipping mobile web search in favor of search engine apps like UrbanSpoon, WikiTude, Shazam and RedLaser, providing a search experience centered around an industry like restaurants. These apps will also rank in search results. That means another mobile strategy to consider is to create an app. If it does well in the app store, it may get pulled into universal results on a mobile search.
- Search engines on one URL for mobile SEO – On the Bing Search blog Microsoft said that Bing proposes a one URL per content item strategy. The benefits include more ranking signals coming to one URL. This doesn’t mean that every single mobile URL should be a desktop URL. Sometimes you’ll need a mobile-specific landing page…and if you do, Bing says to block it via robots.txt. Google hasn’t made such a definitive statement. Google says to treat Googlebot mobile like it were a mobile user…but how exactly to structure your site? Google says you can do both by using mobile URLs and a desktop URL with a mobile template. Is one better than the other? John Mueller at Google said to use one URL with a template.
The mobile world is changing fast, which means you need to be on top of the SEO mobile game by looking at your web analytics constantly and following the industry experts for every piece of news you can get.
Falling behind this rapidly growing market could be very costly. Doing it wrong can be just as costly. Make sure you have the right information and the right tools to get the job done correctly and in a timely fashion.
So, have you optimized your mobile site for search engines?