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Mobile SEO – Just How Different Is It?

by Jacob Dawson on September 14, 2012

mobile SEO
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With the news that Google is officially supporting a unique mobile SEO strategy, the time for ambivalence has ended – it is now a necessity that you make an effort to understand the different techniques and methods that are required for an adequate mobile web development, in order to succeed in this niche. But amid all of the hype and the countless articles frantically waving their hands around, a simple, yet important question needs to be asked: just how different is mobile SEO? In this article I want to hit the nail on the head and detail the idiosyncrasies that set it apart from traditional SEO.

The Details

Mobile device usage is growing every single day, and that reality poses a challenge both to website owners and search engines – how do we deal with the wide-range of screen-sizes now available, and how do we restructure and represent the same information in a variety of ways? The answer for website owners has been to optimize their online-content for smart-phones by developing mobile-specific sites or by using responsive web design – websites that dynamically resize themselves or serve unique content from a single URL to accommodate different screen resolutions.

Building Smartphone-Optimized Websites – What Does Google Say?

The search-engine juggernaut has outlined some recommendations for website owners that state their preferred configurations (and presumably hinted that these configurations will be favored by their search algorithms). These recommendations include:

  • Where possible, websites should use responsive web-design that serves the same HTML from a single URL, with CSS media queries dictating the on-device layout of the website
  • Google can discover this content more efficiently as these sites are crawled by the same Googlebot that crawls ‘regular’ websites, and therefore only need to be crawled once to retrieve content
  • Sites that dynamically serve different HTML from a single URL should let Google know that a mobile Googlebot crawls the site by configuring the ‘Vary HTTP’ header on your server
  • Sites that have a separate mobile site (i.e. sitename.com AND m.sitename.com) should add desktop and mobile-specific ‘rel’ tags (see Google recommendations for specifics). Mobile-specific DocTypes that help the Googlebot discover mobile content should be added to headers, and to be safe you should also submit a Sitemap with a mobile-device adjustment to Google Webmaster Tools

What Does That Mean for SEO?

Smartphone SEO

Essentially Google has laid out its preferences, but it doesn’t mean that it will ignore sites that aren’t purely responsive. What it does mean is that if the sites you work with aren’t purely responsive, you’ll have to do some behind the scenes work in order to ensure that Google is crawling the content properly. Beyond these technical and design issues, optimizing websites for mobile devices also carries some other considerations that need to be taken into account:

1) You need to start analyzing how your visitors are split up. How many of them are visiting your site via mobile devices? Keep in mind that different industries are going to see different splits of mobile vs. desktop searches. For example, a restaurant directory is likely to see quite a high number of mobile searches due to its location-specific context, whereas an accounting firm’s site is likely to see a very low split of mobile searches.

2) In addition to the above information, most analytics programs will also allow you to see the most-used devices and resolutions, which can help form design choices and even keywords. You may see that mobile device users are coming to your site for a particular set of content or via very specific keywords, and this knowledge can help to inform your traffic.

3) When it comes to making search queries on a mobile device, it is apparent that there are 2 significant differences in the keywords used. The first is that misspellings are common! Due to the size of the keyboards and often atrocious auto-correct software, you will find that keywords coming from mobile users are consistently misspelled. It may sound odd, but you might consider optimizing for one or two of these common misspellings! The second is that searches on mobile devices are typically shorter (15 characters or less according to Google) than those carried out on desktops, so keywords and phrases will be shorter than normal, meaning that you may have to optimize for an extra set of keywords.

4) Predictive search / Google Instant becomes a consideration here. When users find entering searches frustrating, they’re likely to jump to a suggested search term more quickly, meaning that optimizing as well as possible for popular suggested phrases can help you to win the mobile SEO game.

5) The traditional goal of landing a spot on the 1st page is no longer enough. While everyone obviously covets the number one spot, when you’re dealing with mobile devices you really need to set a top 4 position as your minimum goal, as a lot of devices won’t show any more than 4 search results on the mobile ’1st page’, meaning that position 5 is akin to page 2.

Hopefully this article has cleared up some of the confusion about mobile SEO for you, and also given you some ideas for your current projects. Having said that, this is still a contentious subject and with some thought leaders even arguing that mobile SEO doesn’t exist (back then), I’m sure there will be some fireworks in the comments section!

Let’s hear what you’ve got to say…

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Article by

Jacob E. Dawson is an entrepreneur and inbound-marketing / SEO consultant and works with Delivery Hero. He has a passion for creating value and you can follow him on twitter @jacobedawson and on Google+.

Jacob has written 1 articles at iBlogzone.com

1 Aditi September 14, 2012 at 11:23 am

Hey Jacob,
Yes Mobile SEO is definitely different and innovative too. With the evolution of smart phone, it is easy to optimize for SEO even when you are on the go. I like the tips that you have highlighted.Thanks for the share!!

2 Jacob E. Dawson September 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Hi Aditi,

I think the biggest takeaway from this is that we should be building responsive sites and save ourselves the hassles of building m.example.com mobile sites separately!

Thanks for your feedback:)

Cheers,

Jake

3 Aditya September 14, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Hi Jacob,
Now a days If a site is not compatible to the browse through mobile phones it has no relevance as almost everybody has now access to web in their hands.They can access anything from anywhere.Thanks to Smartphones.It is very useful to have the website work on both mobile and PC platforms.

4 Jacob E. Dawson September 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Hi Aditya,

Yes you’re right – if you’re not optimizing for mobile, or your site doesn’t translate well to a mobile device, you’re shooting yourself in the foot – I’m currently working on translating several of my sites to responsive layouts so they don’t suffer!

Thanks for your feedback:)

Cheers,

Jake

5 Jack September 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I was not known about this blasting one so i am feeling happy to know this now.It is easy to optimize the work when you are on vacations.will give a try for my work.

6 Andrew M. September 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm

It’s true that lately it has become a must to take mobile devices into consideration when you’re thinking about SEO. Truth is, browsing from a mobile device continues to become more and more popular.

I’m sure there isn’t long until mobile device browsing will become just as important, or even go above desktops’ usage as the no. 1 form of internet browsing.

7 Jacob E. Dawson September 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Hi Andrew,

I agree with you – mobile is going to continue to grow over the next few years, and analysts say that it will indeed overtake desktop internet usage in the near future. It’s time for us to understand that mobile browsing is equally important, not just a niche!

Cheers,

Jake

8 Jessica Johnson September 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm

I just started getting into the mobile side of websites and setting it up with niche content. Thanks for the tips you have outlined.

9 Jacob E. Dawson September 15, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Hi Jessica,

I’m happy you found the article useful, good luck with your mobile sites!

All the best,

Jake

10 Alvita September 14, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Browsing from mobiles is becoming huge, I remember my friend called me a couple of days ago, she switched her smartphone on to find an order placed at 3AM, what a wonderful way the start the day eh!

11 Jacob E. Dawson September 15, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Hi Alvita,

Absolutely – the mobile industry is booming and will continue to grow in the coming years – having the ability to conduct searches on the run is fantastic – and for people like us it’s a necessity!

Cheers,

Jake

12 Steven September 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Hi Jacob,

Fantastic article, it’s something worth thinking about that I’m guessing a lot of people haven’t considered just yet. I haven’t really put much thought into it for my site just yet and I really should. Will probably run some tests over the next few weeks and see how it works out.

13 Jacob E. Dawson September 15, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Hi Steven,

Thanks for your feedback:) It’s definitely something that we need to implement as the market is growing bigger every day – if we’re not optimizing for mobile we’re missing out on huge amounts of traffic!

Good luck with your website!

Cheers,

Jake

14 Suzanne September 14, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Jacob, Thanks for your informative article. I am noticing from my web stats that more and more of my visitors are coming in via a mobile device. Through networking events I’ve run into consultants who specialize in .mobi websites. Do you think this type of site is the way to go? Suzanne

15 Jacob E. Dawson September 15, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Hi Suzanne,

I really do think that the best way to go is with a responsive website, as per Google’s guidelines. It may take some time, money and effort now, but in the long run it will save you all of the above as your content only needs to be produced one time to cater for all devices.

In my opinion, .mobi sites were a stepping stone over the past few years as the mobile market transitioned from infancy. With the introduction of HTML5 and CSS3, responsive is the right choice.

I’d love to hear how you go, good luck!

Cheers,

Jake

16 Joe Seals September 15, 2012 at 5:02 pm

From what I have read and what I am being told is that at some point Google will drop sites that do not have a mobile version of their sites. Google’s goal is to provide their searchers with the best results and with the number of searchers now searching from mobile devices google has to make moves to bring those who have mobile friendly sites to the top of the rankings.

17 Jacob E. Dawson September 17, 2012 at 9:38 am

Hey Joe,

I’m not sure that Google will drop non-mobile sites, but it may provide different rankings for people searching on mobiles vs desktop, and no matter what it’s really important that we all cater for mobile in the short-term.

Thanks for your comment!

Cheers,

Jake

18 Naziman Blogger Malaysia September 15, 2012 at 6:42 pm

But for me, the first thing to optimize for mobile device and smartphone is speed load time the blog. We can use WP touch plugin but to insert some ads beside adsence not good enough for free. Maybe we can use responsive theme but the bad thing is if the blog slow in laptop, how can we optimize to make it more fast in smartphone. So for traffic anything is good. but to make some money by ads. I don’t know.

19 Jacob E. Dawson September 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Hi Naziman,

It’s true that some users have run into speed /loading issues with responsive sites, but they are in the minority and it usually has to do with image compression.

As for generating revenue via mobile sites, that’s a topic for an entire post of its own!

Cheers,

Jake

20 Deni Saputra September 16, 2012 at 11:56 am

Great source Jacob!
I was one of the mobile users, although not yet had to think about Mobile SEO. It sounds very interesting and potent, especially lately where searchers users from mobile are increased.
What I wonder is, is there any way in which the normal SEO can run concurrently with Mobile SEO without having to ignore one of them?

Sincerely,
Deny!

21 Jacob E. Dawson September 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Hi Deni,

Thanks for your compliment! Normal SEO is able to run concurrently with ‘mobile’ SEO only when the site is responsive and therefore serves the same code no matter which device. When you start creating alternative code or a separate site, some changes have to be made to ensure that the mobile versions are crawled.

I hope that helps,

Cheers,

Jake

22 Heather Stone September 17, 2012 at 8:24 am

Hi Jacob,
Some blog platforms, Blogger and WordPress for example, offer simple tools to create mobile sites. Presumably these meet many of Google’s specs already (especially since Blogger is a Google company and WordPress has traditionally placed emphasis on a search-friendly design.) A bit of attention to any blog’s stats will reveal that a larger and larger share of the audience comes from mobile devices, so making sites mobile friendly theoretically lets you keep an ever larger share.

23 Jacob E. Dawson September 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Hi Heather,

Tools that enable people publishing on Wordpres and other popular platforms to quickly enable mobile versions of their site are great; for those of us on custom platforms we’ll just have to put in a bit of extra work!

Cheers,

Jake

24 Vijayraj Reddy September 17, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Hi Jacob,

A useful article. SEO always is a life line for bloggers. Mobile SEO is new and should be explored to understand completely. When Google is supporting this strategy it becomes inevitable for all concerned to know what is about.

Regards,
Vijay

25 Jacob E. Dawson September 19, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Hi Vijayraj,

Yes, you’re right – whether we like it or not, once Google starts supporting or suggesting we follow a particular strategy, that’s what we have to do!

Thanks for your comment,

Jake

26 Emmanuel Gonot, SEO September 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Thank you for sharing these great pointers about mobile optimization. It’s an area I’m trying to get a handle on and I find this article very helpful. It’s the future, whether we like it or not, the sooner I get to master this beast the better, I guess.

27 Jacob E. Dawson October 2, 2012 at 10:05 am

Hi Emmanuel,

I’m glad you found the article useful! Yes – the sooner we all get up to scratch on mobile SEO, the better!

Cheers,

Jake

28 Adeline Yuboco September 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Thanks for the heads up about this, Jacob! I never realized that there was a difference between traditional SEO and mobile SEO. I’ve bookmarked your article so that I can keep going back to it, while I study more about how to apply it to my blog.

29 Jacob E. Dawson October 2, 2012 at 10:07 am

Hi Adeline,

The differences can be quite small but important, and they’re only going to become more important over the next couple of years!

Thanks for your comment,

Jake

30 erda September 20, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Hey Jacob
Mobile SEO is definitely different and innovative too.It is easy to optimize the work when you are on vacations.I think browsing from a mobile device continues to become more and more popular.

31 Akshay Makadiya November 29, 2012 at 8:52 am

Thank you man for sharing such a valuable post with us cause I was under the impression that the onpage SEO is enough for mobile as well desktop but from your post I come to realize about the Mobile SEO guide .
Thanks

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