I Need Mobile SEO!

6 comments

You need what?! Mobile search engine optimization (SEO) is actually a misnomer. While it is impressive to hear stats like mobile search is growing faster than desktop search and over 60% of searchers use mobile search before buying, let’s get back to fundamentals.

Mobile Technical Requirements

Google, the largest search engine with about 90% global search share, essentially says there are no mobile-specific technical requirements from a SEO standpoint because their Googlebot and Googlebot-Mobile view desktop and smartphones the same:

“For now, we expect smartphones to handle desktop experience content so there is no real need for mobile-specific effort from webmasters. However, for many websites it may still make sense for the content to be formatted differently for smartphones, and the decision to do so should be based on how you can best serve your users.”

That being said, Google calls out a difference between “smartphones” and “mobile phones”, the latter being phones with browsers that cannot render normal desktop webpages (think the phones your parents or grandparents might be using!). Googlebot-Mobile does crawl mobile phone content, in which case following their technical requirements would be helpful. This might be a good time to take a look at your site analytics for the composition of smartphone and mobile phone users.

Mobile URLs

You may have seen mobile URLs like m.sitename.com in increasing use. Don’t worry, you don’t have to run out just yet to get yourself one of these hot off the griddle. The URL structure does not matter to Google from a technical standpoint.

“For Googlebot and Googlebot-Mobile, it does not matter what the URL structure is as long as it returns exactly what a user sees too. For example, if you redirect mobile users from www.example.com to m.example.com, that will be recognized by Googlebot-Mobile and both websites will be crawled and added to the correct index. In this case, use a 301 redirect for both users and Googlebot-Mobile.

If you serve all types of content from www.example.com, i.e. serving desktop-optimized content or mobile-optimized content from the same URL depending on the User-agent, this will also lead to correct crawling by Googlebot and Googlebot-Mobile. This is not considered cloaking by Google.”

Having two different domains with similar content is bad for SEO. If you must have separate content for mobile, just be sure to do a 301-redirect to your primary domain. Don’t just throw all that SEO hard work out the window! The take-away here is it is perfectly okay to use the same URL and content for the web and mobile for SEO purposes. Do keep in mind creating a great user experience, which is what truly matters.

Multi-Sites for Multi-Screens

This is another misnomer that we hope to save you time, expense and headache. When was the last time you created multiple versions of your website for different PCs and monitor sizes? Mobile screens are just smaller versions of desktop screens. Okay, while that might be too simplistic, the easiest trick is to use device detection and canonicals. John Mueller from Google best tells it:

“John Mueller – @Paul If you have “smartphone” content (which we see as normal web-content, as it’s generally a normal HTML page, just tweaked in layout for smaller displays) you can use the rel=canonical to point to your desktop version. This helps us to focus on the desktop version for web-search. When users visit that desktop version with a smartphone, you can redirect them to the mobile version. This works regardless of the URL structure, so you don’t need to use subdomains / subdirectories for smartphone-mobile sites.”

In Summary

The same fundamental SEO best practices for a desktop website applies to mobile sites. If you want your users to get the most out of their mobile experience, then build an app. If you have any mobile optimization stories and myths to share, do tell.

About the Author

Loriann Ikeda is a digital marketing expert and founder of Strawberry Jam Marketing, a consulting agency based in Seattle, WA specializing in mobile, search and social media strategies. She can be reached at loriann@strawberryjammarketing.com and @loriannikeda.

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6 Comments

  1. Booming

    so , please could you help figure out why the SERPs are different in Google desktop, and Google mobile web? you can search "sports" , "music" and compare the rankings , they are quite different. and how Google will do with those mobile sites that don't have counterpart desktop sites. they are only in mobile. They can aviod these problems though they are trying to focus on PC sites. It seams that google are preaching the same mobile URL structure with desktop. But mobile search will always exist, and so as mobile seo. what mobile users want are different from desktop, Google need to satisfy its clients. Please kindly reply to my email. Thanks.

  2. First off thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my post. Other readers may also find this discussion interesting. While the topic at hand is focused on Google's crawling and indexing practices on mobile and desktop sites, you raise some very interesting points on search results. While there are traditional SEO ranking factors that apply to both desktop and mobile content, I agree with you that there is a distinct set of best practices for mobile SEO that can affect mobile organic search results (which I won't get into here). There are several factors we can think of for differing search results between Google mobile and Google desktop. - Geo-location. What we know today is that Google mobile heavily factors in geo-location in order to serve up the most relevant content for users. They quoted something like one in three interactions on a mobile phone has local intent. So for example, if you type in "rugs", Google mobile may view that the user's search intent is for nearby shops rather than the history of rugs or how they are made. So there is a good chance that you'll see more local retail results on your smartphone, and Google Places listings may sometimes appear higher. - Mobile Search Behavior is Different. Google factors in that not all mobile searches are done by keyword queries. People are using a combination of search tactics like Voice, Goggles, Maps and other search methods. - Smartphones versus Mobilephones. As I talked about in my post, Google treats websites for smartphones and desktop websites the same. However, they treat traditional mobile content (WAP/WML/etc) differently, crawling them with a separate Googlebot-Mobile and creating special search results for users of those devices. - Mobile Pages Indexed on Their Own. John Mueller from Google stated that search results may differ if mobile pages are indexed on their own. - Better Performance for Mobile Optimized Content. While this last point has to do with Google announcing that ads with mobile optimized landing pages will perform better in AdWords, one could make the assumption that Google could be treating organic search similarly. Don't take our word on it, it's just something to think about given Google now factors in user experience. Hopefully I answered your questions. You can stay on top of our latest thoughts by following our blog www.strawberryjammarketing.com/blog.

  3. I really like this blog, thankyou for the information. May I quote this in my seo blog?

  4. Loriann, thanks for the article. I disagree with your assessment that mobile SEO is unnecessary because one Google employee said transcoded desktop pages should have canonical tags on them. If you want to understand Google's position on mobile SEO, you need to consider the other 7 stances that they've taken on mobile search and SEO in the past two years: http://searchengineland.com/do-you-know-google’s-official-stance-on-mobile-search-seo-100350 Some of them contradict what John Mueller said in this article. In fact, John Mueller himself said on his Google+ page that mobile URLs are fine with Google. Furthermore, SEO is more than indexing, and you give several reasons in the comments why search results are different for mobile devices, which is the basis for mobile SEO. Yet you claim in this post that mobile SEO and desktop SEO are the same. Doesn't make a lot of sense, honestly. Mobile SEO and desktop SEO are different for several reasons, as I explained in my Search Engine Land column in August: _http://searchengineland.com/what%E2%80%99s-the-difference-between-mobile-desktop-seo-89862 And to the person who asked about differences between desktop and mobile ranking, there are actually 14 differences that I found: http://searchengineland.com/14-differences-between-smartphone-search-desktop-search-results-74687 Mobile SEO is different, and is necessary for a lot of organizations that are building out mobile content for mobile users. Doesn't help when stuff like this gets published that takes something that one Google employee posted and blows it out of proportion. Please consider this the next time you try to write about SEO for mobile search. Thanks.

  5. Thanks for the perspective Bryson. While my article focused on just the technical aspects of SEO for mobile as directly expressed by Google Webmaster, I stated that we have seen a distinction between search optimizing for mobile and desktop. I think we both agree that the search landscape is continually evolving. An example of this is Google's recent GoMo initiative (www.howtogomo.com) that was launched days after my post. Google is now saying it is important for sites to be mobile-friendly for many reasons including impact on search results. I can share your frustration and challenges with the multiple stances that Google has put forth as part of its evolving messaging. This further highlights the importance of keeping up with the latest changes and asking the critical questions. Happy to continue having this discussion.

  6. Hello SEO UK - Absolutely, feel free to use my post in your blog. Looking forward to staying in touch.