This is probably no surprise to you, but the mobile search volume is rapidly growing. Google says as much in their book: “Don’t think of mobile search as something out in the future. Mobile search is here right now.”
So what does that mean for you as a business owner? Well, I actually think its good news. It means you can go from small business to big. You can go from good business to great. But you have to get mobile SEO right. When you do you gain and increase traffic, which leads to profits. For the stat geeks, here are some numbers around mobile search:
- Google Smartphone User study: 2012 will be the year that searches on mobile phones will amount to 25% of search volume.
- Mobile Movement: 77% of mobile users use search engines and social sites on their phones.
- Compuware study: If you deliver a bad mobile user experience, then the odds are that over fifty percent of those users will not recommend you. In fact, if a competitor has a better experience, they’ll abandon you.
- Digby: Sixty percent of consumers search on mobiles before a purchase.
- Consumer Search: 51% of consumers will purchase from a retail store if they have a mobile site (less than 5% of companies have a mobile site).
- Global Mobile Statistics 2012: Nine out of ten searches on a mobile phone ends on an action.
Now, let’s first look at some ways mobile search is developing.
- Personal and timely results – This isn’t your parents’ search results. Mobile SERs can have tweets, wall posts, FB sponsored stories. The level of personalization is off the charts.
- Location is king – Most people have their GPS set on their phones. That means searches will deliver local results that include a map, address and phone number to your brick-and-mortar business.
- Apps are dominating search – Pure search is now being out used by apps like Four Square, Yelp and Urban Spoon. This allows discovery around an industry like restaurants or movies.
So, what exactly is it you need to know to go from mobile-fail to mobile-awesome? I thought you would never ask. Let’s look at some features.
Search engines on one URL for mobile SEO
Lot of debate in the space about one or two URLs for your website. Do you build an m.yourdomain.com site? Do you keep yourdomain.com and just hack the mobile experience with a plugin like WP Touch?
Bing Search thinks one URL. One URL means you get more signals pointing to that URL. You can create mobile-specific landing pages, and then block it with robots.txt. Google is less straight forward. They say to pretend Googlebot mobile were a mobile user. Okay, but how do you structure your site? Use a mobile template over desktop and mobile URLs.
Mobile versus Desktop SEO
They’re not the same, which means a professional with experience in traditional SEO may not be your best bet in optimizing your site. General SEO principles like usability, marketing and accessibility are important for mobile, yet there are certain ways to optimize mobile that don’t work for traditional SEO.
Let me show you what I mean.
For example, less is better. Traditional SEO is all about piling up long-form content. It’s all about content marketing. Not so on mobile. The experience is just so different. Let me show you a few examples of how.
- Research mobile-specific keyword – The traditional search experience is based on keywords that you type in. With mobile a user could search using Voice Search or Google Goggles.
- Top 3 search positions are the most important – In traditional search, the top 3 search listings are important, but not essential for success. In mobile, the top three positions are EVERYTHING. In fact, drop down just from the first position and your conversion plummets 90%.
- Mobile users don’t scroll – For whatever reason mobile users want to see everything in the screen. They don’t even want to think of scrolling.
Can you see how traditional SEO doesn’t apply to these differences? Yet, don’t throw out your traditional SEO skills. You still need those.
Traditional SEO You Should Use
I’m of the opinion that you should knock out your traditional SEO checklist first before you jump on the mobile-specific tactics. This way an essential technique doesn’t fall through the cracks. Here are four of the most essential you must perform:
- Page Titles – Mobile users scrutinize page titles first and foremost. Matching titles to search intent is critical since you want to land in that coveted top spot.
- Page Descriptions – After page titles, write a compelling and relevant description that matches their intent. And don’t forget the call to action!
- External Links – All outbound links should be clear, short anchor text that leads to a hyper-relevant source. Fail at that and you break trust with your consumer.
- Coding: I can’t tell you how important clean code is to search ranking for mobile. Invalid code that leads to broken pages will destroy your credibility. Remember, a bad mobile experience will drive your customer to your competitor if there site is better.
These techniques, combined with the mobile-specific SEO strategies I show you below, should give your mobile site a boost in ranking so you appear in the top three positions. And remember, to test, monitor and measure your results so you can tweak performance.
Use mobile-centric SEO practices
As I explained above, there are some SEO and user experience best practices that apply to mobile phones that don’t apply to desktop search. In fact, some of the best practices will be counter-intuitive. Here are seven essential features:
- User opt out – The best mobile user experience is an experience that leads with putting control in their hands, and this starts out with allowing them to opt-out of a mobile-formatted CSS.
- Mobile-centric CSS – This should trigger when a site recognizes that it is being accessed by a mobile device. This then delivers a CSS version better suited to the device. WP Touch is a simple plugin you can use if WordPress is your platform.
- Googlebot-Mobile – Google inspects a site for Compact HTML or XHTML mobile. If it searches your Doc Type and doesn’t find this, or worse, you block the bots, then your mobile version will not be indexed, and won’t show up in mobile searches.
- Image rendering – Images rock on a mobile phone, but only if you render them by relative or percentage. Avoid rendering images in absolute scale, or pixel scale.
- Link Length – Short links rule on mobile.
- Call-to-Action Position – The best place to locate call-to-action buttons or icons are on the top-left. That’s counter-intuitive to desktop search. Why? Put it on the top right and it may get cut off. You don’t want them to have to scroll horizontal to see it.
- Click Throughs – Users don’t mind clicking on desktop when they know that each click takes them closer to their desired destination. Not so with mobile. Two times is the limit.
One last thing: You’ll want to test your site. Take a look to see how it looks on mobile using tools like MobiReady or Google’s GoMo. How does your site render on different devices? After that you’ll then want to validate your site with the W3C mobileOK Validator.
Okay, so hopefully this cheat sheet will get you started on developing a mobile-friendly experience for your site. Keep in mind, though, that changes in this industry are changing rapidly. To stay on top of it you will have to follow industry experts.
The last thing you want to do is lose money because you fell behind on the latest technology. It could get costly, especially with the rise in mobile use. I’ll try to do my best to deliver future posts on this topic as changes come down the pipeline. And feel free to send me any of your questions.