According to a research by Morgan Stanley, the Internet is expected to get predominantly mobile by 2014. The mobile Web is developing faster than the traditional Internet, because there are more people in the world who own a mobile phone than those who have a desktop/laptop, especially in developing countries.
Besides, the widely spread belief that the mobile Internet is basically used by people on the go is far from being true. About 65% of mobile Web users go online at their homes or at work, and only 35% of them surf the Web while in transit. And, even though today most mobile users go online to send an email, read the news, visit a social network or make a payment, experts predict the growth of mobile search in particular, as mobile browsers evolve to provide a better user experience.
Have you ever visited your website from, say, an iPhone? It may look very different on a mobile gadget than it does on your desktop. Moreover, a mobile search engine may rank it higher or lower than a regular SE would, for one and the same keyword. Yet not many site owners nowadays take mobile SEO seriously. Well, they should, since the mobile Internet will most likely be the future of the World Wide Web.
So, there are two goals to achieve while optimizing your site for mobile devices:
- get top rankings in the mobile SERPS
- make your site's layout mobile-friendly
Mobile search engines have algorithms that are quite different from those used by traditional SEs. While ranking a site, they place greater value on how well it can be rendered on a particular handheld piece and, therefore, pay more attention to a site's architecture. The efficiency with which a website can be displayed by a mobile browser will depend on the type of mobile device and the quality of the Internet connection a user has. To cover the widest scope of mobile users, it’s best to optimize your site in such a way that it can be loaded fast and rendered easily on as many gadgets as possible.
So, what is mobile SEO? On the one hand, it’s not really different from traditional SEO - keywords, relevant links and other vital SEO aspects remain the same. On the other hand, there are certain tricks that are important for mobile SEO in particular.
First, there are 2 possible ways to add mobile-optimized content to your site:
1. Create mobile style sheets
Creating special mobile style sheets for your site allows you to show modified webpage content to your mobile users, while the URL of your webpage remains the same. The essence of this approach is to strip your site’s mobile version of the bulky content such as big-size images, video, animation, etc. This is achieved by assigning the display:none attribute to whatever you don’t want on your mobile version. You can call such style sheet mobile.css. or handheld.css., for example. They say that iPhones would prefer a personal invitation to render your handheld style sheet, therefore it may be better to call it iPhone.css.
This way of optimizing a site for mobile users works for those who don’t have rich multi-media content on their sites. The huge advantage of this method is that the URL of your webpage remains the same, and the page preserves its SEO value in full. Unchanged URL is especially important for direct traffic coming through links pointing to your webpage. If mobile users find such a link on, say, Facebook or Twitter, it will lead them exactly where it’s supposed to.
2. Create a subdomain
Another way to mobile-optimize your site is to created a separate subdomain or subdirectory to show to your mobile users, for example, www.mobile.yourwebsite.com, www.yourwebsite.com/m/ or www.m.yourwebsite.com.
Then you have to make sure your mobile visitors end up on this page you have created specifically for them. You can do this by detecting the type of their browser and automatically redirecting them to your mobile page. Or you can simply provide a link to your mobile subdomain that says "Mobile" on your regular webpage. It's best to stick the link to the top left corner of your site, since the right-hand side normally gets cut off on smaller-width screens. And you’d better accompany your link with an easy-to-spot phone icon, since text links are normally hard to read on smaller screens. Also, once a user clicks on the Mobile button, it’d be great to send a cookie to his browser in order to auto-redirect him next time (though not all browsers accept cookies).
The biggest disadvantage of this method is that your links and traffic will be split between 2 similar pages, thus reducing the SEO value of each page. However, this is the optimum solution for a site with rich multi-media content and seems to be a common practice for some categories of websites - news sites, for example.
Mobile SEO Dos and Don'ts
Once you decide on how you are going to add mobile-optimized content to your site, there are some important Dos and Don'ts to consider, which will not only increase your mobile version's usability, but will also help your site rank higher in mobile SERPs.
- Code in XHTML
- Create a mobile site map
Make a mobile sitemap that contains only the pages with a mobile style sheet and submit it to Google.
- Use image alt tags
A lot of people who use mobile devices to surf the web would have pictures blocked to reduce traffic consumption and increase load speed. Therefore, providing image alt tags becomes important because they will inform users what your images are about. Not to mention that search engines favor image alt tags too, since they can’t read the info off images.
- Provide jump links
Minimize scrolling as much as possible, it is really annoying to scroll on a mobile phone and takes time. Jump links every now and then (but reasonably) will do the job.
- Create a Click-to-Call button
Why not stick a Click-to-Call button somewhere on your mobile page. It will be viewed on a phone, after all! As studies reveal, such a button is able to increase conversion dramatically.
- Make navigation buttons stand out
While a phone display is much smaller, sometimes it's hard to see navigation buttons, not to mention hitting them on a touch screen. So, you might want to make them more explicit. Besides, if you have extensive top navigation, it's best to move it to the bottom of the page.
- Enable automatic sign-in
Or prompt users for their credentials next time they sign in. It will save them sweats, since data input is more difficult on a mobile phone.
- Don't use frames
Well, frames are not recommended for any kind of SEO, since they make it harder for crawlers to go over your site. And they become especially critical for rendering a webpage on a mobile device. Thus, frames are a big no-no for your mobile SEO.
- Don't use tables
A table is only justified on a mobile page to represent tabular data. For instance, some people use table elements to tweak the layout, which is a bad idea for a mobile page.
- Don't use large files
Avoid bulky images and ads on your mobile website. These may take forever to load and may lead to mobile search engines ranking your site lower. Use only those pictures that are really important for your site's content and remove the ones that merely serve as decorations.
- Don't go over 20 Kb
As stated by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), if the total size of your webpage exceeds 20 kilobytes, most PDAs will not be able to render it or will not be able to display it within a reasonable time frame. Therefore, if possible, keep your page size under 20 Kb - this is important.
- Don't let it load for longer than 20 sec
If your page takes 20 seconds or longer to load on a mobile device - consider it a failure. Even though you would naturally expect a webpage to load slower on a mobile phone, mobile users are just as impatient as regular Internet users, and 20 seconds is a way too long. Therefore, test your website on different types of Internet connection, from dial-up to broadband, and see how fast it loads.
- Don't make pop-ups open in another window
Instead, make them appear in the same window, because it's harder to switch between windows while surfing the Web from a mobile device.
If you want to see how your site looks on an iPhone, you can do so without having the actual device. Just enter your site's URL here and see exactly what an iPhone user would see.
Also, you can check how mobile-friendly your site is by using a W3C mobileOK checker. This online app will check your site against a variety of parameters, give a general estimate of how mobile-smart it is and provide recommendations as to what needs to be changed on your site to optimize it for mobile search engines.
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