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.

Device Dri­ven

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:

  1. Respon­sive design (RD) tar­gets each device uniquely using the same HTML, but it relys on CSS media queries for dis­play rendering.
  2. Dynam­i­cally served con­tent uses the same URLs but deliv­ers dif­fer­ent HTML and CSS configurations
  3. Sep­a­rate mobile and desk­top URLs redi­rect between m.example.com and www​.exam​ple​.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.

Voice Search

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.)


Awesome post - Thanks for simplifying it all.