MediaWhiz POV: Mobile SEO Best Practices


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MediaWhiz's search marketing experts break down the emerging mobile SEO space with this best practices guide. From tips to developing efficient mobile Web pages to implementing search engine optimization tactics into brands' mobile marketing campaigns, MediaWhiz's Mobile SEO Best Practices Guide covers it all.

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MediaWhiz POV: Mobile SEO Best Practices

  1. 1. MediaWhiz POV:MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESMobile Search Moves Out of the Stone Age and Into the Digital AgeBy Heather Fernandez, Senior SEO Strategist, MediaWhizJune 2012INTRODUCTIONThe steep rise of consumers accessing the Web and performing searches on their mobiledevices has generated a significant demand on mobile-device-friendly Web content. Searchengines are indexing this mobile content and deciding when it is most appropriate to serve it toconsumers, depending on the device they are using. At this time, Google and Bing have hadconflicting recommendations for Web developers with respect to how their search engines indexand serve up this influx of mobile-friendly content.While the debate continues for search engines, MediaWhiz believes that best practices willevolve and, eventually, an industry-wide standard will form.Until definitive guidelines are set by search engines, it is best for Web developers and brandmarketers to ensure they adopt a new outlook on content development in the mobile-searchspace. This strategy should include a plan for content accessed by desktop computers, laptops,tablets and mobile devices.The specific strategy will differ site by site, depending on the type of content developed. In someinstances, if the site and content is primarily text with minimal images and a small number ofpages, it might make sense to scale your content down to fit on a mobile browser. In otherinstances, retailers with lots of product images will most likely need to develop a separatemobile site to render their content properly on these smaller devices.In the end, the decisions marketers make on planning your content strategy for mobile versusdesktop users comes down to giving users the best experience possible in accessing theirwebsite and content. Over time, once search engines develop a definitive stance with respectto how they treat mobile content, those choices will be based on this same premise. Therefore,well planned mobile content strategies are essential to ensure mobile-search effectiveness inthe digital age.This paper covers SEO best practices for mobile Web content as it relates to search engines.These best practices are based on how search engines are currently handling mobile-readycontent. MediaWhiz expects the mobile search space to continue to evolve for years to come;however, the guidance and best practices found in this paper will help brand marketers developmore consistent and effective mobile-search marketing and content strategies that position theirbrands across the mobile-search spectrum.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 1
  2. 2. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESMOBILE SEO FRAMEWORKThe rise in mobile media usage offers many new opportunities for content creators, publishersand developers of apps but it also brings new challenges for marketers, and not just those whooversee online properties.Smartphone usage and the introduction of tablets have begun to change shopping behavior. Bythe end of 2011, almost 20 percent of smartphone users scanned product barcodes in the storeand more than 10 percent did price comparisons while shopping (comScore, 2012).Mobile devices are bringing the online experience into brick-and-mortar stores. User experienceonline through social media or ecommerce websites is now vital for customer conversions, bothonline and in-person. In particular, the introduction of Quick Response (QR) Codes allowsincreased interaction between various types of media, including print, product packaging, onlineand in-store displays. By December, 20 percent of U.S. smartphone users scanned a QR Code(comScore, 2012); most often looking for product information and coupons.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 2
  3. 3. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESApple Still Winning Mobile Apps RaceThe charts above and below break down the U.S. smartphone market share by operatingsystem. While Google’s Android platform has made significant gains over the past two years,Apple’s iOS retains the largest market share through its domination of the tablet market. Therise of the tablet, especially the iPad, has given Apple a 60.1 percent marketshare in the U.S.for digital traffic via connected devices (comScore, 2011).© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 3
  4. 4. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESThe Rise of TabletsAs the charts below detail, an important addition to the range of mobile devices in 2011 was therise of tablets and e-readers. These mobile-specific devices are not replacing smartphones.Instead, they are a new medium for connected users to access the Internet and for digitalmarketers and content creators to engage users through effective mobile-search strategies.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 4
  5. 5. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESComScore predicts that there will continue to be a rise in the use of hand-held devices over thecourse of 2012, which will have a strong impact on the connected device landscape.MOBILE CONTENT MARKETINGOne important finding is that consumer use of applications is quickly rising with health care appsgrowing the fastest. Retail and e-commerce apps for electronic/mobile payments and auctionsare also strong. By December 2011, almost 50 percent of mobile users in the U.S. used apps(comScore, 2012). This provides new opportunities for brands to reach their audiences.However, this does not indicate a move away from the use of browsers on mobile. In a study oftwo UK news brands, comScore found that mobile audiences used a combination of browsersand apps to access both brands so it is important that both channels be provided to users.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 5
  6. 6. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESIn 2011, there were more than 60 different browser versions across handsets (comScore,2012), making mobile technology difficult to apply universally. The introduction of tablets hasfurther complicated brands’ decisions about the design and implementation of mobile sites andapplications.It is more important than ever that online and brick-and-mortar businesses modify their content-marketing strategies to allow them to reach mobile users across all devices throughout theconversion cycle.Naturally, all these considerations will have strong implications for the design andimplementation of a mobile site and/or apps.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 6
  7. 7. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESOPTIMIZING FOR GOOGLEGoogle identifies these two main categories of mobile (Google, 2011):Feature phones: Phones with browsers that cannot render normal desktop webpages. Thisincludes browsers for cHTML (iMode), WML, WAP and the like.Smartphones: Phones with browsers that render normal desktop pages, at least to someextent. This category includes a diversity of devices, such as Windows Phone 7,RIM/BlackBerry devices, iPhones, and Android phones, and also tablets and eBook readers.Google has a separate index for mobile content and, therefore, searchers using mobile devicescan see small variations in the SERPs within particular search queries. As Googlebot indexesand caches mobile content, Google determines which webpage will display better on mobiledevices. Therefore, search results can fluctuate for regular desktop users and mobile-devicesusers. The fluctuations are minimal, but in some cases a person accessing a search engineresults page via a mobile device may see a different URL, such as a mobile version of the samewebpage (e.g., or These fluctuations meanchanges in the rankings of some webpages within search engine results pages for those usingmobile devices versus those using desktop computers.In optimizing mobile content for Google, marketers now know that in order to ensure their pagesrank well, they must understand how Google evaluates content for both desktop and mobiledevices. Google evaluates whether a company’s webpage can render well on a mobile device,which determines whether a brand’s webpage is eligible for mobile-search results. Thus, it isimportant ensure webpages are mobile friendly in order to make them eligible to appear inGoogle’s mobile-search index.There is currently a very small difference in the regular search index versus the mobile-searchindex due to the small number of mobile-friendly webpages. However, we foresee that mobile-search indexes and regular search engines will continue to display different results, with greaterfrequency, as more mobile content is made available and search engines understand andproperly catalog that content for mobile searches.Google continues to rely on the desktop versions of webpages in order to rank mobile versionsof those webpages within mobile search engine results. When conducting searches on a mobiledevice Google continues to serve up the desktop URLs in most cases within the SERP results.However, if a mobile page is substantially better, Google may display that mobile URL insteadof the desktop URL. Since Google is leveraging the algorithms responsible for determining rankof desktop URLs to order results for mobile search, currently it is not necessary to optimizemobile webpages separately from desktop versions of a company’s website.Since Google continues to serve up the desktop version of URLs in most cases, properlyredirecting Googlebot-mobile and a website’s visitors to a company’s mobile content isfundamentally important to a brand’s mobile optimization strategy for Google.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 7
  8. 8. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESThere are three common redirect methodologies used. We recommend some standard bestpractices to avoid any penalties that Google might place on a site. Content that is developed forboth desktop and mobile users needs to be developed in a way that it is fed into Googlebot-mobile with the same content as standard mobile users. Google may flag as cloakingGooglebot-mobile content that is served different than standard mobile content.Finally, it is recommended that brands submit a mobile sitemap to their Google WebmasterTools account. This will ensure expeditious and comprehensive indexing of mobile content.Google Mobile Content Optimization Resources • Google Webmaster Central o Making Websites Mobile Friendly o The Smartphone Googlebot-Mobile • Mobile Sitemaps • Webmaster Information for Mobile Google Mobile Blog • Google | Insider Search: Mobile© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 8
  9. 9. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESOPTIMIZING FOR BING 1. Serve one URL per page (it is not necessary to serve up special URLs for mobile). 2. Perform client browser detection (user agent, customer preferences, etc.) to optimize the display for the device your customers are using. This topic is presented in detail in the document “Designing Web Sites for Phone Browsers.” Please note: This document does touch briefly on the subject of redirection to alternate URLs for mobile content, which is not the approach MediaWhiz recommends for best SEO results.Bing Mobile Content Optimization Resources • Recommendations from Bing • Other Resources o 5 Tips for Optimal Mobile Site Indexing (Source: Search Engine Land) o Bing on Mobile Search & SEO (Source: Search Engine Land) o Bing Takes Clear Stance on Mobile SEO: One URL (Source: Search Engine Roundtable)© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 9
  10. 10. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESDETERMINING THE OPTIMAL SEO STRATEGYHow Do Mobile Users Navigate the Web?Studies have shown that mobile users do not navigate the Web or search like desktop users.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 10
  11. 11. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESSocial search is also far more important in mobile marketing as mobile users are more likely toconnect on social sites. The graphic below of the Mobile Intent Index (Ruder Finn) details whyconsumers use mobile devices.Similarly, the Digital Buzz Blog found that 91 percent of mobile Internet access is used forpeople to socialize with others (whether via text, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), compared to 79percent on desktops (Digital Buzz Blog, 2011). Source: Digital Buzz Blog© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 11
  12. 12. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESFigure 1: Percentage Share of Browser and Application UsersHow Do Mobile Users Search?Mobile users tend to search differently from laptop or desktop users because they are usuallysearching while on the go or while relaxing on the couch — not at a desk or other orderedenvironment. As a result, mobile users are typically less interested in lengthy documents or inbrowsing. Their searches tend to be more local and directed to a clear goal and lessinvestigational in nature than the desktop-search experience.Bing mobile expert Andy Chu notes that searchers using Bing Mobile have high local intent intheir search queries (Kats, 2011). He states that more than 50 percent of mobile searches aredone so with local intent. He also states that 46 percent of search queries are looking for whathe calls “infotainment searches” — that is, looking to learn and to be entertained.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 12
  13. 13. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESEven with the optimized search experience of a smartphone, mobile users, in general, tend tosearch using shorter phrases. This is likely due to the smaller text input interface on mobiledevices. As the graphic on the left shows, it is more difficult to type a longer search string while using a mobile device. Search suggestions as provided by Google and other mobile search engines are more likely to be used than in a desktop search. Mobile search engines are also different. Because mobile phone interfaces are varied, the same mobile search engine could provide different search results depending on the handset. Mobile users also tend to use more branded terms in search (see Figure 2), indicating they are using mobile search as navigation. This also indicates that users are initially conducting research using desktop PCs where it is easier and more comfortable, then considering their options. They then complete their searches using mobile devices to make purchase decisions and share information with others as they are more socially engaged.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 13
  14. 14. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESFigure 2: Comparison of Top Branded versus Non-Branded Key Phrase Search Volumeon Mobile Devices with Full Internet Browsers (Google Adwords Keyword Tool — exactmatch search) 600000 regions online banking key bank Branded suntrust online 500000 banking huntington bank bank of the west 400000 compass bank regions bank 300000 online banking savings calculator mortgage interest 200000 rates bonds savings bonds 100000 bank rate Non-Branded cd rates 0 best bank Apr-10 Jul-10 Mar-10 May-10 Jun-10 Aug-10 Sep-10 Jan-11 Oct-10 Nov-10 Dec-10 bankMobile searchers are more likely to know what they are looking for when searching. This likelyexplains why mobile search has a much higher conversion rate than regular search. There is noindication that this behavior will change, even as new smartphones emerge. It is likely aninherent property of where and how the phones are used.Site optimization should revolve around high-volume short terms and the longer termssuggested by search engines when they are input. Targeting of branded search terms isvery important.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 14
  15. 15. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESWhat is the Purpose of Mobile Sites?Before creating a mobile site, it is important to determine its primary purpose in order to providethe best user experience. Here are some possible reasons for a mobile site:• Educate mobile users about benefits of services.• Acquire customers through mobile search.• Provide customer service options to existing clients.Below are examples of the mobile sites of some well-known global brands.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 15
  16. 16. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESDeveloping Effective Mobile SitesTo develop an effective mobile sites, it is recommended that brands do one of the following: 1. Mirror the existing website; or 2. Create a mobile site specifically for mobile-search goals.If users will benefit from access to the full site, companies could mirror the existing site in amobile format. This would be a good solution for a website with content that a mobile user mightbe looking for.Optimizing Websites for Smartphones: Mobile or Regular?Most smartphones can handle a desktop experience content so there is not an impending needfor a mobile-specific effort from webmasters. However, for some sites, such as retail sites (e-tail), or sites that have a large amount of image and video content, it may make sense for thecontent to be formatted differently for smartphones, and the decision to do so should be basedon how a brand can best serve its customers.Recent studies into site usability recommend that a separate mobile optimized site should beoffered if possible (Nielsen, 2012). Users on mobile devices are given a better experience whenthey are served up a mobile-formatted site. They are more likely to stay on the site rather thanbouncing off, in search of another site that will offer a better mobile viewing experience. Themore savvy users become with their smartphones, and the more companies that offer mobile-friendly sites, the more important this will become over time.As Bing points out, the URLs for a standard website and those for a mobile site should be thesame. This requires brands to develop a distinct design for their mobile website, rather than anentirely separate site.Key Mobile Design Considerations: • Keep the layout simple. • Design for thumbs, not mice. • Prioritize content — this will always be the case for Google. • Use uniquely mobile features. • Make it easy for users to convert. • Ensure mobile site does not limit access to only mobile devices (because search bots are not mobile devices). • Create and submit a mobile sitemap to each of the major search engines. • Optimize the site’s performance to render fast results for users and search engines. Slower load speed can result to a higher bounce rate. • Ensure mobile URLs are viewable on a mobile device. In the past, Google could not deliver mobile URLs in results unless they were compatible with published mobile markup standards, such as XHTML Basic 1.1, XHTML MP 1.2 and WML 1.3, but this is evolving. • Register mobile site on Google Places, which recently unveiled a location-based recommendation engine called Hotpot.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 16
  17. 17. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESDESIGNING THE MOBILE SITESite Configuration 1. Pay attention to load time and device limitations. Mobile bandwidth is limited so load time is about 1.5 times slower than the desktop experience. Furthermore, slow websites can deplete mobile device battery life more quickly. Source: Google Analytics Blog Source: Google Analytics Blog© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 17
  18. 18. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICES 2. Avoid Flash, AJAX and frames as these do not operate on all devices or do not operate well on mobile devices. In particular, Flash can be slow and sometimes inoperable. o Keep the total size of the page markup to between 10-20kb as mobile devices generally have restrictions on page size and large pages will load more slowly. o Avoid large images (compression can be used to make image sizes smaller). o Make the site layout simple and minimize design elements. 3. Use valid code o Use 100% XHTML, cHTML or WML code. o Ensure that the Doc Type Declaration is correct and consistent with a mobile site. If the site is not identified as mobile, it may be left out of the mobile index. o Ensure that the mobile design conforms to the new W3C standards for mobile- friendly style sheets (CSS). o Follow all mobile web best practices and ensure that the code is valid. For details, see these resources: 4. Use the same URL format on both the main and mobile sites 5. Provide minimal navigation 6. Keep the code to a minimum a. Use a mobile Style Sheet that allows for adjusting of screen size and orientation. b. Use basic fonts, a plain background and as few images as possible. c. Include jump links to minimize scrolling. 7. Keep meta titles to 59 characters. 8. Follow all standard SEO best practices, including the use of optimized H1 tags, keyword rich anchor links, optimized titles and metadata (character limits should be smaller to render properly on mobile devices).© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 18
  19. 19. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESMake the Site Accessible to Search Engines • Create mobile sitemaps for Google that include only the mobile URLs. The Google mobile sitemap supports the following markup languages: o XHTML mobile profile (WAP 2.0) o WML (WAP 1.2) o cHTML (iMode) o Sample: • Use User-agent string browser detection to serve the correct version of the site to the device and to Googlebot-Mobile. o When a mobile user agent (including Googlebot-mobile) attempts to access the page, redirect (via 301 redirect) to the correct mobile version of the page. Optimize for a variety of mobile phones if necessary. As long as Googlebot-mobile is served the same content as any other mobile device, it is not considered to be a violation of their guidelines. Googlebot-mobile will spoof different devices in the user-agent string Example format of User-Agent Detection string from Googlebot- Mobile [various mobile device types] (compatible; Googlebot- Mobile/2.1; Currently only traditional phones are supported with special user agent strings within Googlebot-Mobile (not smartphones), but this is may change. o Smartphones can usually display the same content as desktop computers so it is not necessary to redirect by user-agent; however it is recommended to redirect feature-phone users to brands mobile pages. Create a special mobile style sheet and use that for Smartphones. This will avoid creating duplicate mobile site pages. • Ensure that the mobile site is accessible to all devices.© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 19
  20. 20. MOBILE SEO BEST PRACTICESWHAT ARE YOUR NEXT STEPS?Mobile Site Architecture Best Practices 1. Implement meta.txt • Meta.txt files indicate which URL the user-agent should follow to present the most suitable format to the mobile user’s platform. 2. Mobile browser landing page review • Review messaging and layout on landing pages. • Add more links to mobile landing pages so to allow access to more of the site. 3. Mobile Style Sheet • Mobile CSS to improve site rendering on mobile devices. • Media type specified as handheld, e.g. media="handheld". 4. Images • Use image dimensions for more efficient viewing on mobile devices. 5. Video • Include head tags for mobile viewing. • Provide mRSS feeds. 6. Mobile Sitemap • Submit and update mobile sitemaps in GWT and BWT. • Add to robots.txt 7. User Agent Checking • Currently detects iPhone mobile browsers efficiently. • Android and standard mobile browser checking could be implemented. • Continue to test and update for different browser accessibility, interoperability and customization.STAY CONNECTEDFind out more at www.MediaWhiz.comCall us toll-free at 888.866.9449Follow us on Twitter: @MediaWhizLLCBecome a fan at© 2012 Copyright MediaWhiz All Rights Reserved | 20