Business guru Peter Drucker once said, “Business has only two functions: marketing and innovation.” Well, mobile optimization is quickly becoming the nexus between those two points. In 2012 analyst firm BIA/Kelsey predicted that mobile local searches would outpace desktop searches by 2015. As we get closer to that potential tipping point, we find some global enterprises and many SMBs are lacking when it comes to effective mobile optimization.
Google took a look at mobile use in 2012 and found 67 percent of mobile users are more likely to purchase from a mobile-friendly site, while 61 percent bounce immediately during mobile searches. For more research and insights, check out Adobe blogs on mobile and mobile information on CMO.com.
Although page design leads much of the conversation surrounding mobile marketing success, optimization is just as critical. Keep in mind that ranking factors for mobile sites are essentially equal for mobile and desktop. The differences are in scale, keyword intent, and how differentiated to make your approach based on your company’s approach to either a separate m.domain.com or a full responsive design effort. Title tags, headers, and other on-page elements are treated the same. However, search engines may crawl mobile and desktop URLs separately, but they rank for relevancy in the same manner. If ranking factors are the same, how do you develop a mobile optimization strategy that sprouts a center of excellence? Here are a few key considerations.
There are two primary considerations when you’re optimizing properties for mobile access: 1) site design and page formatting and 2) server protocols. The first can be addressed through rendering instructions within your HTML and CSS design attributes. The second is through URL targeting. SEOs have three options to point searchers to the appropriate site based on the device being used:
- Responsive design (RD) targets each device uniquely using the same HTML, but it relys on CSS media queries for display rendering.
- Dynamically served content uses the same URLs but delivers different HTML and CSS configurations
- Separate mobile and desktop URLs redirect between m.example.com and www.example.com based on user-agent configurations.
Mobile rendering is device dependent. Smartphones, feature phones, tablets, mini tablets, and phablets (I hear an Apple phablet is set for summer release) can each be served independently. (Although Google does not consider tablets and larger-screen handhelds as mobile devices, CSS and some HTML annotations should account for display variations when you’re targeting domains and subdomains.) Mobile optimization of your global platforms allows you to deliver unique user experiences across all handheld devices.
You’ve got to account for page design variations when delivering to smartphones, feature phones, desktops, and tablets. Google believes RD is the industry’s best practice (their perspective may be born from the ease of crawling one URL versus many). Responsive design makes sense when you consider content that is accessed and/or shared across multiple devices. However, the introduction of the new smartphone crawler Googlebot makes ranking for separate mobile and desktop sites more accurate. For those enterprises that wish to own distinctly targeted properties, separate URLs may be a perfectly good option.
The Multiscreen Consumer
Consumers use devices differently. They use feature phones for voice, text, and “light” browsing; smartphones and phablets for shopping opportunities, local search, and apps; and tablets for product research, reading, and games. Sites should be optimized to accommodate device use. Semantic keyword deployment targeting devices, for example, improves the user experience by serving the most effective page on each device.
Desktop remains the dominant work-related terminal. (Is reading this post work related?) Laptop use can be work related and personal, functioning in both an office and casual setting. Mobile phones are used for immediate gratification and social engagement. Tablet use, on the other hand, is more relaxed and personal.
Consumers often move between devices simultaneously or within hours, and search behavior is different across devices. For example, users are more likely to view multiple SERPs on a desktop or tablet, whereas smartphone users typically drop off after a glance at page one. Mobile users tend to use autocomplete more often when searching. Mobile optimization requires a clear understanding of user behavior.
Page Design Impact
On-page elements enable the user experience. Effective element attribution can lower the historically high abandonment rates by mobile users. Rendering instructions deploy page design elements, such as font size and color, background, white space, and other on-page characteristics. Mobile users seek a formatted page that fully displays on the horizontal axis and has robust functionality. Page rendering should quickly adapt to mobile access. Load speed is incredibly important, as is element positioning. Clean design attributes like simple navigation, concise copy, and lean imagery help drive mobile engagement. “Heavy” content such as video feeds must quickly and seamlessly orient, load, and stream.
Mobile searchers look for different content cues on devices. Buttons, sliders, and image links move traffic on a smartphone. (Beware, the same doesn’t hold true for feature phones.) HTML5-designed mobile sites rely heavily on CSS3 to deliver unique page views across smartphones, feature phones, tablets, and phablets. But you don’t have to be immersed in code to optimize for mobile deployment. Best-in-breed tools like Adobe’s Muse CC makes it easy for Web design neophytes to create a mobile site without code.
When it comes to page design, you should consider that searchers may use multiple devices for one purpose. For example, a person searching for a new vehicle on his smartphone during a lunch break may wish to return to a page on the home desktop after work. Responsive design (or dedicated mobile sites) allows you to deliver the appropriate page layout for each device. Optimizing for multidevice search flow enables a better user experience with your brand.
The new player in mobile optimization is, of course, voice search functionality. As engines get better at delivering semantic search results, mobile sites will need to beef up natural-language-based keyword optimization. Mobile consumers in Dallas will ask “where can I find great pizza?” rather than type “Dallas pizza.” This move will be challenging for SEOs to map pages according to device.
The takeaway here is that mobile optimization goes hand in hand with page design as a facilitator of the mobile user experience. Although the mobile SEO ground may be moving, the need to meet consumers on whatever device they use is real—and it’s only going to grow in the next few years. (For background on mobile adoption, our friends at BrightEdge released their first-edition Mobile Share Report, illustrating the growth in traffic and conversions, and the drivers that spawned that growth.)