Although smartphone ownership is nearing 50% in Australia, the process of optimising a site to target mobile search is still relatively new. Currently, there’s little difference between mobile and regular search engine optimisation (SEO). If a site ranks well inba one, it’s likely to perform similarly in the other.
Regardless, there are a number of basic measures that can be taken to help target smartphone users. While the nuances of regular SEO are intricate and ever-changing, optimising a site for mobile search only takes some simple steps and a little common sense.
With mobile search, you have to consider where your customer will be searching from and anticipate some display limitations in the device they’re using.
“We have to assume that they’re very time-poor, because they’re not sitting at a workstation; they’re on the bus or in a nightclub,” says Sean Heylen, managing director of software development company Deadline.
This is why it’s ideal to brief a designer to create a separate, streamlined version of your site that strips unnecessary information and navigation away and gives mobile visitors exactly what they’re looking for.
“Don’t look at putting all of your website content onto your mobile site. All that content’s great on a desktop, but it’s not great on a mobile device,” says Chris Harris, CEO of search marketing company Bamboo.
Navigation and formatting should also be reconsidered for display on a smartphone or tablet. If the cost of having a separate mobile site designed is beyond your marketing budget, it’s worth noting that any site designed in accordance with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards ought to display well on most mobile devices.
“If a site has been developed in the last 12 months, those web developers may have developed using the right CSS or right coding practices, and it would be mobile friendly,” says Harris.
A simple example of the minimum functionality is Simon Collison’s site, Colly.com. Let the site load in a separate tab and then drag the corner of your browser to reduce the size of the frame. You’ll notice that the formatting collapses to fit the new frame size.
“The first collapse is your iPad view, and then the next view is getting into your mobile devices,” says Harris. “It’s very well structured in terms of simple images, simple boxes of text.”
If a search engine can tell that your site has been modified and refined for mobile users, it’s more likely to favour it over those that haven’t.
“Google’s always going to want to deliver relevant results to a user,” says Jim Stewart, CEO of Optimising SEO and Design.
“If your site is mobile friendly and mobile compatible, and your competition’s isn’t, Google is going to display yours to a mobile user before it displays theirs,” says Optimising’s Stewart.“Google wants to give a good experience to its users. In everything it does, it tries to deliver the most relevant content, and that includes what sort of experience you’re delivering to the user.”
The way traffic behaves on a mobile site will also give search engines some indication of its relevance. If someone clicks on a search listing for a site but leaves (or ‘bounces’) immediately, Google treats that as a sign that the destination wasn’t particularly relevant to their search query. Harris notes that, although Google has yet to officially acknowledge that mobile bounce rates affect search rankings, it’s likely this will eventually impact on mobile search – a further reason to spend time on improving the mobile usability of a site.
For more on how to make sure your site renders well on a smartphone, read How to make your site mobile friendly.
One of the most important considerations in web design is to remove any barriers that stand between the user and the information they’re looking for. Given the limiting nature of a device like an iPad or an Android phone, this is especially true for mobile devices and mobile search.
“A website with lots and lots of pages, or with hundreds of images on every page, is not going to be user-friendly for someone searching and accessing your site on a mobile,” says Victor Navarro, content manager at search marketing agency Outrider.
A family-owned furniture company may have good reason to include an ‘About us’ section detailing the history of the business online, but pages and pages of irrelevant text and images are of no use to someone on a day trip in search of a sofa.
For the purposes of mobile search, you need to identify the two or three key areas of your site that will be most relevant for customers trying to find it on their smartphone.
“You might strip out chunks of content and chunks of navigation and have two different versions of your site,” says Harris.
A key step in this exercise is to have your designer create and submit a mobile sitemap (distinct from a standard sitemap, which you should also have for your primary site) to Google, so that it knows which sections you’re displaying to mobile visitors.
“If you want to show different content to mobile users than what you do to desktop users, then make sure that you set up a mobile sitemap in Google Webmaster Tools,” says Optimising’s Stewart.
Once again, the presence of a mobile sitemap will indicate to Google that your site is optimised for mobile users, and it will direct smartphone traffic accordingly.
The use of XHTML or HTML5 when designing a mobile site, and the use of a mobile domain name (ie m.yourbusiness.com) will both help to indicate the suitability and relevance of a site to mobile search.
Despite the emphasis that Google now places on location in search, many small businesses continue to disregard the importance of having a Google Places listing. Now that people are searching for products and services while mobile, it’s more important than ever to put your business on the map.
“Remember that when people are looking for content on their mobile devices, they’re generally looking for locally based services and products,” says Harris.
Google Places gives businesses the ability to mark their location on Google Maps with content – reviews, videos and images – Having a comprehensive Places listing is not only a simple way of increasing your business’s presence in search, but can also help attract business from smartphone users.
“If someone’s doing a search on a mobile phone, and you’re set up on places, then Google will determine whereabouts you are based on the local tower the searcher is connecting to if it’s a 3G operation, and it will display content geographically close to them,” says Stewart.
Optimise for shorter terms
Whether you choose to have a separate mobile site designed (which is the more desirable option, especially if you need to streamline a large or ungainly desktop site), or your site has been coded to appear reasonably well on devices, it’s imperative to revise your target keywords to account for smartphone search queries.
“Typically, on mobile people use shorter key phrases or even just keywords, whereas on a website, you can get away with phrases, not just keywords,” says Bamboo’s Harris. “On a mobile device, it’s quite awkward typing a long phrase, so you must rank well on those shorter key phrases and those keywords.”
Unfortunately, shorter keywords and phrases tend to be more competitive in search, but Harris reiterates that it’s critical to account for the impatient typing thumbs of your smartphone-equipped target market.
“Think about how people truncate your particular search term on a mobile device,” he continues. “Those abbreviations can be used in your SEO as search terms.”
As with standard practice for search engine optimisation, businesses trying to boost their search traffic should understand how to use keywords in their mobile site’s meta-data.
“Google is going to use the same criteria for mobile search as it does for regular search. The difference being with mobile search, it’s going to want to display sites that match the relevancy with the search criteria, but also give the user a good mobile experience,” says Stewart.
Most smartphone operating systems will recognise phone numbers in text, allowing users to contact the business by simply pressing the contact number wherever it appears.
“Make sure you have the phone number in the description tag of the mobile version of your site, in the meta-description,” says Stewart.
Doing this will allow people searching for your business to dial you directly from search results, saving those searching for you contact details from the inconvenience of navigating through irrelevant information.
Getting mobile traffic depends heavily on how good your SEO and SEM are. Find out how Netregistry can make your site more competitive in search.
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