Mobile is gaining momentum: If iPhone pre-orders, long lines of iPad early adopters, and the sheer volume of Android apps are any indications, we have legitimately started to move toward aggregating into more mainstream mobile services audiences.
These trends represent a distinct strategic shift for the future of mobile commerce in the U.S., as companies integrate mobile strategies into their marketing channels.
Before your company blazes down the RFP trail in search of a mobile solution provider, take a step back and consider where mobile search fits into your company’s overall online marketing strategy. Mobile search patterns are quite different from Web search trends.
Mobile search behavior
Fewer than 10% of mobile device users employ search engines to navigate to their desired online destinations. Nearly 40% of mobile device users type URLs directly into their phones, and many have favorite sites already bookmarked for easy surfing to clickable text links.
Most mobile device users now search for Websites by way of phone directory networks — the so-called on-deck portals preloaded by wireless carriers. Since these are usually fee-based service listings, some other division within your company might be holding the purse strings for your prelisted entry into mobile marketing.
To find out how well your organization is represented on mobile phone network sites, use your mobile phone and some friends’ mobile phones with service providers other than your own. If you prefer to see how your current Website renders for mobile devices, try using a mobile emulator (see box at left).
Mobile search usage
Google now enjoys a commanding lead in mobile search use in the U.S. According to Opera’s State of the Mobile Web Report, Google accounts for more than 9% of all page views on the mobile Web in the U.S. Google’s search portal easily outpaces Yahoo and Bing, with 4.3% and 0.03%, respectively, of all mobile page views.
Opera’s State of the Mobile Web Report is published monthly and provides information on the top global trends affecting the mobile Web. If your company already has a page, a MySpace or YouTube Channel, and produces optimized press releases syndicated on news hubs, you probably already receive mobile search referrals from popular mobile news and entertainment venues.
To understand just how many mobile search referrals your Website receives right now, you could crunch data from your log files. If you use your Website’s log files, you will see that Googlebot-Mobile currently has different user agents that emulate different mobile phones. It’s actually a lot easier to use Google Analytics to filter your way down to mobile visitor data.
After you’ve taken a look at your organization’s mobile footprint, it’s time to consider developing your mobile search engine optimization strategy with the knowledge that mobile search engines use bots and algorithms different from those used for traditional Web search.
Mobile search bots evaluate your mobile Web content as if it were being rendered on a mobile phone. They then rank results based in part on how well the content will render on the type of mobile device that was the source of the search query.
If the mobile marketplace is clearly part of your company’s overall online marketing matrix, it’s in your best interest to optimize your site not just for mobile device users, but also for mobile search engines.
Successful mobile site development is not at all dependent on using a .mobi domain to create a completely different online destination for your company, although you could follow that path if your business is entirely mobile centric, using these basic mobile coding guidelines:
- Use XHTML Mobile 1.0 Doctype: XHTML dialects are the newest and most expressive of markups, and are gaining usage in the U.S. XHTML Basic 1.1 and XHTML MP 1.2 are good for new development, but your choice will vary according to your primary geographic target market.
- Use UTF-8 character encoding.
- Use predominantly JPEG/GIF images, but remember that load time is critical for mobile sites. Think in terms of developing pages of less than 20KB.
For most companies, it is easier and far more cost-effective to work with what you already have. The first step is to create a secondary mobile stylesheet for your traditional site and call it something like “mobile.css.”
Doing so will allow you to format your existing pages for viewing on a mobile device without having to create separate mobile content.
You can use the mobile style sheet to block certain things from being rendered on a mobile device by using the “display:none” attribute in your stylesheet. Mobile phones will automatically pull the “mobile” stylesheet to display your mobile Web content.
The iPhones are, unfortunately, a bit different, since the devices do not look for “mobile” stylesheets. To address this issue, you will have to duplicate your mobile stylesheet to create programming that is specific to iPhones.
Even though the iPhone is meant to render complete Web pages, research has indicated that people still prefer mobile-formatted content on iPhones.
Optimizing your mobile Website
If you have already optimized your conventional Website, much of your work will readily translate to the mobile version of your site. (See Google’s SEO Starter Guide: http://googleWebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html.) This is part of the overall value of performing organic search engine optimization — your investment just keeps giving and giving over time.
But separating search engine optimization initiatives of your conventional Website from your mobile Web rendition would be a waste of time and money. Simply follow these basic design guidelines to develop a small, lightweight and fast-loading mobile transformation of your company’s Website that carries over all your conventional SEO initiatives:
- Validate the mobile site; W3C has a great mobile OK Checker (http://validator.w3.org/mobile/).
- Verify that the site is indexed by Google and create a mobile sitemap (http://googleWebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/11/help-google-index-your-mobile-site.html).
- Employ regular technical SEO principles, including keyword targeting that accentuates short title tags and small amounts of body copy.
- Monitor your mobile search referrals in Google Analytics.
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By making it easy for mobile search bots to crawl and index your Website’s mobile content, you’ve taken a big step toward optimizing your site for mobile devices and, consequently, mobile search engines.
It’s common knowledge that few users navigate beyond the first couple of pages of search results for any given query on a PC. If they haven’t found what they are looking for by the end of page two, they tend to rephrase the query and start over.
Keep in mind that mobile search queries tend to be even shorter, containing fewer keywords on average than PC-based equivalents.
Generally speaking, a vast majority of desktop search contains something between two and three keywords. In comparison, less than 15% of all searches carried out from mobile devices contain more than two keywords.
The onus is on mobile Website developers to take keystroke brevity into account by ensuring that mobile Web content is highly focused, relevant and, preferably, identifiable by a single keyword.
Make sure your mobile stylesheets and browser detection capabilities are in good working order, and put some effort into optimizing your nonmobile Website. You’ll be well on your way to producing a well-optimized mobile search site.
P.J. Fusco (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior search strategist at SEO firm Covario.
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