SEO Tips and Tricks for Mobile

written by aext on August 25, 2010 in Web Development with 19 comments

Since the mid 90’s marketers and companies have been optimizing their sites for search engine optimization. Now SEO has evolved in a way no one could have imagined back then. Smartphones are taking over the mobile market, and most cell phones have access to the Internet.

Neilson is predicting that by 2013, “penetration [of mobile Internet] will reach the halfway mark, and by 2014, 142.1 million users, representing 53.9% of the US mobile user population, will access the internet using mobile browsers or applications.”. With these kinds of numbers it is hard to deny the need for mobile SEO, as it is becoming more and more popular among Internet users.

A Quick Look at SEO History

SEO started out very simple, “all webmasters needed to do was submit the address of a page, or URL, to the various engines which would send a spider to crawl that page, extract links to other pages from it, and return information found on the page to be indexed.”

After webmasters found out ways to manipulate their rankings, Google decided to take action and introduce a best practices agreement. Around 2004 Google announced they use more than 200 different signals to populate the search results. Now real time is a factor amount other things such as link building, meta tags and a slew of other tactics.

In 2009 Matt Cutts, announced that Google Bot would no longer treat nofollowed links in the same way, in order to prevent SEO service providers from using nofollow for PageRank sculpting, according to Wikipedia.

The Difference Between Mobile and Web Based SEO

There are many differences between mobile and traditional SEO. This is because the way you surf the Internet on a mobile device is much different than if you would be on a computer. There are less click through options (which is best practices) on a mobile device, and usually less typing involved.

Even the layout of search results are different on a mobile browser, the paid ads are actually in line with the organic ones, but are still labeled as sponsored. Another thing to take into consideration is where you want your mobile landing page to go to. Different keywords may be set up to different pages, to help with fewer click through rates. Remember people searching on a smartphone are usually in a hurry, and don’t want to wait on a page loading, or needing to click around to other pages to find the information they are trying to find.

According to Search Engine Land, “one of the more frustrating differences between the mobile search engines is the number of results they present on the main results page, and the number of results that they will present on the secondary ‘web results’ page. Because mobile search engines are designed more like portals than traditional search engines, they have all come up with a variety of ways to present the information that is yielded from a search result. This can be handy for users but makes tracking and comparison a bit trickier.”

When looking at your mobile analytics, it can be easier to compare search engine to search engine, instead of across the board. A ranking of 6 might be on the first page for Google, but not for Yahoo!.
The bots crawling your mobile site are also looking for different things than a traditional bot. They are looking for your site to render well on different types of phones, and search results can actually vary from phone to phone. To make sure your mobile site renders well on all mobile devices, make sure you are optimizing for multiple user reach not just say iPhone users.

Subdomain or .mobi?

When setting up your mobile website there are a couple options to choose from. Trying to establish itself as the .com of the 90’s, .mobi is has been setting itself up as the domain to use in the mobile realm.

Because this platform is so new, businesses who may have missed out (or couldn’t afford) the domain they hoped for with .com could get it for their mobile site.

Companies that have already taken advantage of the .mobi domain are:

  • Balfour Beatty
  • Nike
  • Target
  • Wachovia
  • NPR (National Public Radio)

When it comes to mobile SEO, .mobi seems to be a better choice as far as search engines are concerned. This is due to the fact that every .mobi site receives its own Internet Zone File, which are the files that search engines use to start their crawls.

Internet Zone Files in general, are stored in the Internet domain name registry that, “receives domain name service (DNS) information from domain name registrars (in this case .mobi).” The information is then centralized in a database and propagates the information in these files on the Internet so anyone can search for the domain around the world.

Playing devil’s advocate, Inc. Technology’s Marc Saltzman reports that, ““Previously, companies would pursue the creation of mobile sites (.mobi), with much lighter content and faster load times to support first generation mobile browsers, but today, mobile browsers are becoming much more ‘normalized’ in nature and tend to perform similar in results to standard Web browsers.”

Using a sub-domain is a viable option for many reasons as well. One being you can use the same analytical tools to go over the data of the site. Because it is part of your original site, you will be able to use the same analytical tools for site analysis.

Using the analytics tool will allow your programmer to see which browsers your mobile visitors are using, which will allow him or her to program the site best for those browsers.

If duplicate content is a concern, there is a way around it. Using a technique called browser-detection and redirection should take care of this for you. This technique will allow the web crawlers to see that this is just a mobile version of your site, and not duplicate content. If you see that the redirection doesn’t seem to be working, a canonical tag will, “push all the value from your mobile site back to your traditional site, and then rely on your browser detection and redirection to take care of the rest.”

If you are unfamiliar with a canonical tag, here is how Google tells you to insert this tag into your site:

“to specify a canonical link to the page http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish, create a <link> element as follows:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish"/>

Copy this link into the <head> section of all non-canonical versions of the page, such as http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish&sort=price.

If you publish content on both http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish and https://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish, you can specify the canonical version of the page. Create the <link> element:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish"/>

Add this link to the <head> section of https://www.example.comproduct.php?item=swedish-fish.”

On Page Optimization

When it comes to your title tags and meta descriptions it helps to add mobile to the copy. This alerts the web crawlers that your page is being created for mobile browsers. Just like you would for a traditional website, make sure you set up a mobile sitemap. Let the bots know where to go to find information easily. According to Search Engine Land, “Google has a tool that can help you build a mobile sitemap. If you are using multiple markup languages, for instance XHTML and WML you should submit a separate mobile sitemap for each language that exists on the site, and include only the pages that will render in browsers that can read that type of code. Be sure to link to the mobile site map in your robots.txt file, just like you would for a traditional site map.”

An example of a single site map provided by Google is below.

<?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>

Just as you should for a traditional website, make sure your HTML code is clean, and not sloppy. This can confuse web crawlers and make your loading time longer than necessary.

Submitting your site to the major mobile search engines is another must. According to Mowbi these are the top places to consider:

Local Search

Local search is becoming more and more popular on the web, and for mobile Internet browsing it is even more so. More times than not many people are searching for places to go, or what is around them. How many times have you been out and Googled a restaurant or shopping malls around you on your phone? Chances are if you haven’t you have been with someone who has.

Diving into local SEO is a somewhat new tactic, and Google themselves are making changes often. In the last couple of weeks, Google has been placing increasing importance on local business listings by experimenting with the placement of the 7-pack listings.” With more and more changes to come, reading up on how you can keep up with Google will be your best for mobile and traditional web.

As the mobile web evolves so will the SEO best practices. These are just some of the many tactics you need to be aware of when optimizing your mobile website. As the search engines evolve, mobile SEO will become more and more a necessity.