Mobile search is exploding due to the growing popularity of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Recent studies have shown there are currently 5.3 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, comprising 77 percent of the population. It has been predicted that within five years the mobile web will overtake the desktop computer, with the majority of people performing searches and accessing the Internet on a smartphone or other type of mobile device. Given these statistics, it is crucial for a company or brand to provide a mobile version of its website. Yet, most businesses still haven’t taken this important step and are losing out on reaching the huge number of people who are embracing mobile technology. If you still don’t offer a mobile website, it’s critical that you do so now to hold on to your existing customers and to reach out to new ones.
Why Going Mobile is So Vital
Maybe you have recently finished optimizing your website for search engines and don’t think it’s necessary to spend time, energy and resources for creating a mobile version of your site. Perhaps your SEO campaign is working well—your site is appearing at the top of the SERPs and you’ve even gained some new clients. But, more and more people are using their mobile devices to carry out searches and if you do not have a mobile site that is also optimized for search engines, you will be severely limiting your brand’s reach and effectiveness. Following are a few reasons why you must have an optimized mobile site to stay in the game:
1. SERPs on mobile devices vary greatly from the ones on desktop browsers. A recent study has determined that rankings differ between smartphone and desktop browsers by 86%. For one thing, local results are more prevalent in mobile, so often, Google Places listings appear higher in the SERPs on mobile, pushing down results that may appear higher on a desktop browser. Image results often appear higher in mobile search results with video results appearing on 2 lines instead of 1. So, if your business is local-centric or image or video heavy, a mobile site will put you at a definite advantage.
2. A staggering number of people own mobile devices and this figure grows by the day. It is projected that by the end of this year, 50% of mobile phone customers will own a smartphone. It has also been estimated that the mobile web will be bigger than the traditional desktop model by 2015. What these figures point to is a not-so-distant future where the majority of people are accessing the Internet through mobile devices, so you must act now to keep up with the change.
3. The percentage of people using a mobile device for making purchases is also on the rise. $1.6 billion people purchased from mobile devices in 2009 and this number is only going to get larger with the advent of emerging technology that will allow people to pay for things with a swipe of their phones. Another good indicator of mobile’s continued growth is the estimate that by 2012, mobile advertising will surpass $6.5 billion. If there are businesses out there that already have a budget for mobile and continue to increase the amount they spend, this is a fairly good indicator that the mobile industry is thriving.
4. While most websites look fine on a desktop computer, that same site on a mobile device, if not formatted, can be very confusing and frustrating. Because of its smaller screen size, a “normal” site on a smartphone can be impossible to navigate—the fonts are too small, images are too big, pages take forever to load, Flash doesn’t work—the list goes on and on. If your site is unformatted for mobile, some browsers such as Google Mobile, AOL, Windows Live will employ transcoding and user agent detection on your site and try to format your site for the mobile device that is accessing it. The result can be a very poor user experience with images being sliced in the wrong place, single pages being broke into multiple pages for faster downloads and broken navigation. If your site is transcoded, the links and URLs on your site won’t even belong to you—they will be designed and rendered by the search engines, thus draining most of your SEO value and link juice.
If You Build It, Will They Come?
Now that the case has been made for going mobile, before diving headfirst into creating a mobile site, you must first determine who will be using your mobile site and why. In order to develop a mobile site that fulfills the needs of your particular users, it’s critical to identify what your site will be used for and by whom. Is your site used primarily for delivering content and information or are you selling products and services? Will your target audience most likely access your mobile site while on the go or when they are relaxing on the couch? Before getting into the technical aspects of building your mobile site, you have to put yourself into your user’s position and determine why, when and how they will be accessing your site on a mobile device and whether or not you need to offer everything that is on your desktop site. But, no matter what your niche may be, there are universal characteristics that all mobile sites need to possess:
1. Findability and usability are of paramount importance. More often than not, when someone is accessing a mobile site, they are searching for specific pieces of information and not simply browsing. Therefore, it’s crucial that mobile sites present the information that’s most important to users front and center where it’s easy to find and access.
2. Make sure it doesn’t take too long for your site to load. Mobile technology operates at lower bandwidth than desktop computer networks, so in order to make your mobile site faster, avoid unnecessary elements such as large graphics and huge file sizes that will slow it down. Keep it simple and sleek.
3. Limit your amount of content. Obviously, the screen on a smartphone is much smaller than that on a desktop computer, so you have to limit the amount of information you post. Concentrate on quality over quantity to engage your users and to whet their appetites for more.
4. Provide users with the option of accessing your full site. Some visitors to your mobile will want to access in-depth information that can only be found on your main site, so make sure to provide them a link to do so. Think of your mobile site as a gateway to your full site, which they can either access on their mobile device or visit later on their desktop. Giving your users this choice is very important.
5. Use short forms. Given the limitations of a mobile device, if you are asking your users to fill out information, restrict it to just the most critical information. Using a keyboard on a smartphone can be a challenging experience, so don’t frustrate your users by requiring them to fill out tons of fields of information. Instead, make it easy and convenient for visitors to convert to customers.
Don’t Forget About SEO!
Once you have figured out who will use your mobile site and why, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work on building an intuitive, user-friendly experience that will benefit users and garner you the rankings and relevance that’s desirable no matter what platform your site is being accessed from. Googlebot-Mobile is a web crawler for mobile sites and the biggest factor it takes into account when ranking sites is if they are able to render on any type of mobile device and how fast it takes to load. While optimizing a mobile site is pretty much the same, in theory, as optimizing a desktop site, there are a few fundamental differences:
1. There are fewer keywords in mobile search. When people are performing a search on their mobile devices, they use short phrases and lots of abbreviations. According to Google, the average search is 15 characters long, takes around 30 key presses to complete and approximately 40 seconds to carry out. So, it’s very important to choose keywords that are short and to the point. To rank well in mobile search, it’s a good idea to choose keywords that are common in predictive search phrases, which is the text that appears in a dropdown box on most search engines. This way, people will be able to find your site quickly and easily, without having to struggle with typing all the words out.
2. Context, not content, is king on the mobile web. Mobile search is very different from traditional desktop searches—people are searching for different things in a different way in a different language. Because a lot of people perform mobile searches while out and about, location emerges as a popular search factor. Perhaps someone is looking for a nearby pizza place and searches for one on her smartphone. Since the search is being done on a mobile device, local businesses will rank higher than they would on a desktop computer. Make sure, then, if you are a local business, you have fully optimized your site for local search, because it is doubly important in mobile! Real-time results are also more significant in mobile search; people are often looking for specific information that is changeable, such as the weather, breaking news and sports scores.
3. Real estate on mobile SERPs are very abbreviated. A computer screen can easily accommodate 10 listings on one page, but on the much smaller screen of a smartphone, only 3-4 listings can fit. Users on mobile devices aren’t fond of having to scroll through multiple pages, so the competition to rank on the first page in the SERPs is extra stiff.
4. Mobile search is a lot more interactive than its desktop counterpart. For example, Google has introduced “Click-to-call” ads where businesses can imbed their phone numbers within their ad text so interested parties can automatically call them simply by clicking on the ad. As more and more phones are incorporating GPS location technology, businesses are able to reach out to potential customers based on their location, which is a more direct method for targeting an audience than depending on Google rankings.
In order for your mobile site to function properly and to present the best user experience possible, there are some definite dos and don’ts to follow:
2. DO design a simple site structure; DON’T build your site past two or three layers. Remember, with your mobile site, usability and findability are key issues—you want to make sure that users are able to find what they want quickly without hassles.
3. DO keep your content short and sweet, limiting it to what you perceive users will want when accessing your site from a mobile device. Since mobile users often are paying for bandwidth, DON’T overload them with a bunch of extraneous content that will only cost them time and money. Always provide a link to your full site so users can choose to visit it if they want more information.
4. DO limit your image sizes and navigational elements; DON’T eat up the mobile user’s bandwidth with a complicated site structure that is not conducive to viewing on the smaller screen of a phone. The most important information on your site should be readily available once a user access logs on. If you do use navigational and call to action buttons, make sure they stand out for ease of use.
5. DO remember to implement traditional SEO practices such as meta data, title tag and alt image text. While there are a lot of special considerations when dealing with mobile SEO, DON’T forget to address the basics!
The above guidelines are only a few recommendations; the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has put together an in-depth best practices document that goes into much more detail about how to structure a mobile site.
The mobile Internet is still in its infancy and will only continue to grow and evolve as more mobile devices are developed and introduced to the market. Thus, if you aren’t factoring the exploding mobile environment into your strategy, you are putting yourself at a great disadvantage. The single most important thing to keep in mind when going mobile is to continually put yourself into your customers’ shoes and make sure that with your mobile site you are offering them the information that is most important to them with a simple, elegant site they can use while on the go. By positioning yourself within the mobile sphere, you are opening up your business to a whole new way of reaching and engaging with your audience.