How to Optimise Mobile Search

The search engine optimisation industry has a bit of a reputation as being something of a black art. That's understandable as there's no guarantee of success and the process can seem somewhat mysterious. When it comes down to it, optimising web sites for search is not that hard to do. I see it a bit like the diet industry. The reality of losing weight is quite simple. Burn more calories than you eat. However, rather than eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, we are looking for other solutions. As a result a whole industry has grown up with an endless number of ways to miraculously lose weight. Similarly the answer to SEO is simple: lots of relevant content in a well-structured, well-coded site and plenty of inbound relevant links. You can argue till the cows come home about the relevance of domain names, breadcrumb trails or keyword densities, but the underlying requirements of SEO remains the same. Just as we turn to the dieting industry for convenience, there's nothing wrong with outsourcing SEO work to experts. Companies outsource all kinds of services so why not get someone else to take on the hard graft of developing good relevant content?
And so to mobile search optimisation, or mobile SEO. The principles are the same as web SEO - lots of relevant content in well-structured pages, however there are some specifics of mobile that need particular consideration.

Why Optimise Mobile Search?

The reason why companies should be looking to optimise their mobile search results is because it's a fast growing channel. As relatively few people are doing it, there is a massive opportunity right now. In terms of search, Google tell us that searches from mobiles have increased 500% in the last two years and Yahoo tell us that over 50% of mobile users make web searches on their phones. In the UK at least 20m people access the mobile web every month (figures from Mobile Marketing Metrics), which is nearly a quarter of all mobile phone owners. With the growth of smartphones the mobile web and mobile-based searches will also grow. As many brands do not have mobile optimised sites there is an opportunity for those that do. Right now, the potential to increase online traffic by 10% or more is simple to achieve.

Relevance

As with web searches relevance remains equally important. However in mobile there is one additional significant factor. Location. According to Google one in every three searches has local intent such as 'find my nearest store'. If you understand how mobile users interact with the web it makes sense. Certainly we use our phones at home, but we also use them when we're out and about, where mobile phone is more like a directory or navigation tool. The way in which you will optimise for localness depends on the type of business you are. Retailers, trades people or e-tailers will have quite different local offerings. The key is to include both those local elements in your mobile pages, and to ensure that your local listings, such as Google Local Business are up to date.

Structure

We already know that mobile optimised sites have a far higher site stickiness on mobile than those that don't. Again, it's fairly obvious. If you point your mobile browser to a site with big banners, multiple columns and lots of flash content, you aren't going to stay long. A standard has appeared for formatting mobile sites which works well. It's called 'running on rails'. If you look at a mobile site, like marksandspencer.com you will see that the page is fixed to the width of the screen, and the movement is all up and down. It's as if the site was built on railway lines. Other elements have also become pretty standard. The basic site info is at the top - logo, search and find my nearest - then there's a hero banner with the latest offering, followed by a few (generally six or less) expandable menus.
Aside from improving the stickiness, having a site that works well on mobile is good for search engine optimisation. Each mobile browser shows a 'user agent' which usually includes the model of the handset. When making a search Google knows whether it's an iphone or a basic Nokia making the search. Besides relevance, Google will also give greater ranking to the site that will look best on the phone that is browsing it. Although there are many different screen formats (and even more handset options), a properly coded mobile site can perform well on any mobile handset.

WAP or XHTML?

The choice of code in your mobile site is irrelevant. They key thing is that it must be W3C compliant in order to be optimised. Although WAP was developed as a mobile website language, it quickly gained a reputation amongst users for being crap (the fact that it rhymed with WAP didn't help). Actually there was nothing wrong with the code, it was simply that the connections through GPRS were poor. As you can use any WC3 compliant code it means that you simply repurpose the fixed web content for mobile by changing the CSS. Again it's irrelevant whether you repurpose the site or create a new one for mobile. That decision will be based on how easy it is to change not only the look and feel but also have a navigation that works for mobile users.

m. vs .mobi

Although .mobi was the domain set up for mobile specific sites, many brands use the m.oursite.com (as opposed to www.oursite.com) and tend to automatically redirect the user if they are on a mobile device. In terms of mobile SEO, the choice of domain is irrelevant. Although there is a .mobi search engine, its traffic is tiny. Most people will search with Google or Yahoo. As with the fixed web, the key factor is relevance, inbound links and so on. Whilst m. seems to be the current preference amongst brands, the choice is more of a practical one to do with hosting requirements.

Other opportunities

Outside of organic search, mobile PPC offers a cheaper and less competitive alternative to fixed web PPC. What's more, channels such as adwords offer a unique facility, in the form of click-to-call. Even on the web, many businesses still need customers to call them, and for complex products such as insurance or pensions, most consumers would prefer to speak to a real live human. Does it work? Google state that using click-to-call increases response rates by 5-10%. There are other opportunities for direct clicks. Android users (now the second biggest mobile operating system) can get direct access to apps with click to download.

The time is now

As the mobile web matures some of the opportunities will get more competitive. At that point, mobile SEO will not be an option, it will be a requirement of anyone serious about mobile engagement. For now though, it is easy to both build and optimise your mobile site. And with it, increase your traffic.

If you would like to know more about mobile search optimisation please contact us.

Written By: Paul Norman (First Tutors)