Webmasters already have a really difficult time figuring out how to promote their website for SEO. The search engine algorithms are complex and always changing. No sooner does the owner think he’s mastered the art of SEO and the rules change all over again.
The advent of mobile media has made SEO even harder. When they first came out, not too many people used mobile devices to search the web. Today, nearly 40% of visitors use mobile devices for social networking. As a webmaster, you can’t afford to ignore this overwhelmingly important source of traffic. When you develop your website, you need to make sure it is optimized for both desktop computers and mobile devices.
Life would be so much easier if mobile devices used the same algorithms and bots to search the web. Unfortunately, mobile devices are more limited in what they can do. Many of the tags, tools and blocks of code used in websites are ignored by mobile bots. Why would search engines make things so complicated? They want to make sure the most relevant data is provided to the user. If a particular site can’t provide the value to a specific mobile device that it provides to other users, it won’t rank as well. This isn’t a limitation of the search engine crawlers, it is intentionally done to improve the experience for all web users.
If you want to maximize the traffic to your site, you definitely want to take advantage of the potential from mobile devices. Also, the conversions from mobile devices tend to be much higher than those accessed from the main site. According to a study conducted by Google, 61% of users will call a business after they have found it through a mobile device. Therefore, websites need to take conversions into account just as much as the traffic. This may be due to the fact that more people are trying to find things on their mobile phone that they intend to do right away.
At the same time, a study conducted by Google found that 77% of mobile users use their phone to conduct searches. Some people are speculating that mobile media will be the death of the PC in a few years. Personally, I think that is hype. However, mobile searches are clearly going to play a greater and greater role in driving website traffic over the coming months and years. As a website owner, you can’t afford not to capitalize on that.
How Is Mobile SEO Different?
Although my focus in on the differences between mobile SEO and traditional SEO techniques, I think I should emphasize that the two practices are very similar. You don’t need to completely relearn the laws of search engine optimization. Rather, you need to tweak a few things and change your SEO process slightly. First, you will need to make sure your website is well optimized for traditional search engine bots. Afterwards, follow these tips to refine your strategy for mobile search engine bots:
1. Make your site functional for all devices.
The first thing you need to do is approach your SEO as if you didn’t have a specific device in mind. If you optimized your website for a specific screen size , you would be missing key traffic for all other sizes as well. By all means, make sure your site is functional for all users. I can’t think of any reason why you would want to limit your visitors to a single device, so make sure they can all take advantage of it. It’s a wise idea to make sure your site is set up for every major mobile device.
2. Go lighter on content.
When you develop a webpage for a mobile crawler, you are going to need to enhance SEO through conciseness. Articles will need to be lighter on content and you will want to make sure you can still get your keywords in the right places. You will need to balance brevity and conciseness if you want to implement a better SEO policy. Some sources will actually advocate using no more than 150 words for the mobile version of your website.
3. Create a secondary mobile style sheet.
You want to upload a style sheet for your site. You will want to call it mobile.css. If you use this style sheet, you can customize the settings for different mobile devices without having to create entirely new content for each device. You will also need to create an iPhone.css style sheet to optimize for iPhones, which unfortunately don’t look at the mobile.css style sheet. If you are interested in what a mobile.css style sheet should look like, you can find an example here.
4. Make sure your do your coding right.
Coding is always one of the most essential elements of SEO. Since mobile devices look at code differently, you may want to consider using straight XML. Bad coding practices can cause a number of problems for SEO, even more so than regular search engine bots. You can find details on developing a mobile site through our 5-Step Checklist.
5. Realize consumer behavior changes.
One of the things you need to take into consideration with mobile devices is that users search differently. They tend to be more impatient and probably less likely to use long-tail search terms. You want to make sure you optimize your site for users who are looking at these keywords on top of the ones you have already optimized for. You should also make sure you know what types of sites people are looking for when they are on their mobile devices. For example, a study by m-Spatial looked at theconducted on mobile phones in the UK. According to this study, they found that the most popular searches were cinema, fast food, drinking and taxis. Clearly, when people are looking for something on their mobile phone, they are going to want to find destinations they would visit while traveling.
6. Create a mobile site map.
Mobile site maps serve the same purpose as regular sites. Submit a mobile site map and make sure you have your mobile site map in your robot.txt file. You can submit a mobile site map through your Google webmaster tools. You can follow the steps outlined by Google. A sample of your mobile sitemap might look like this:
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″ ?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9" xmlns:mobile="http://www.google.com/schemas/sitemap-mobile/1.0"> <url> <loc>http://mobile.example.com/article100.html</loc> <mobile:mobile/> </url> </urlset>
As you submit your sitemap, you can use a single sitemap for different markup languages. However, you will need to make sure that you give a different name for each sitemap if you are uploading multiple ones.
7. Keep your site mobile friendly.
Mobile phones hate large files and excessive multimedia files. When you present your site for mobile devices, make sure you keep things as simple and manageable as possible. Search bots will rank your site better if you have smaller files. One of the best practices is to make sure you code in XHTML-MP. The second key element to making your site mobile friendly is knowing that you cannot put a whole bunch of content into it. You need to keep your site as simple as you possibly can. Cesar Keller made a post on Crazy Egg about how too many mobile sites make the mistake of trying to do way too much with their mobile sites. This ends up damaging the user experience and their search engine rankings in the long run.
8. Link the two versions of the site.
One of the biggest concerns with mobile search engines is that they have fewer links available. Link the two versions of the site together with a mobile redirect device. Oftentimes, a mobile bot will be looking for a traditional site. You can redirect it to the version of your site that is ranking better. According to a study conducted by Covario, the main site of one of their clients (Toolfetch) was able to increase traffic by 80% by driving traffic to the mobile site.
9. Use separate urls.
I know this is the opposite of everything you ever heard regarding duplicate content. You have probably always been told to use a single url for your site. If you used different urls, your site would be penalized. According to Pierre Far from Google, there are separate search engine bots for mobile sites and traditional sites. Hence, you will find that you need different urls to optimize your site properly.
As you can see, there are a lot of things you will need to take into consideration when you are optimizing your site for mobile SEO algorithms. However, you definitely don’t want to miss out on a core source of traffic. Take the time to understand what you need to do to get more visitors from mobile devices to your website.
There is a lot of literature on the topic. If you want to check out some of the other case studies, you can find them at the following sources:
- Business Case and Strategy for Executing Mobile SEO Programs by Large Advertisers
- Google Uses Single Url without Redirect
- Marketers Optimize Mobile Search with Better SEO Practices
- Google Pushes Mobile Optimization to Drive Search
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