Mobile SEO: How to Search Optimize Mobile Websites

October 1, 2012

Mobile web search is no longer of importance only to restaurants and retailers seeking to bring in more local street traffic. It’s rapidly becoming imperative even for the big-data, desktop-centric B2B world. Consider that, according to recent findings from the Pew Research Center:

  • • 86% of adults own a mobile phone (the percentage is even higher among business professionals), and more than half of them use their phones to access the Internet.
  • • Smart phones now outsell PCs.
  • • 28% of all Internet usage is on mobile phones.
  • • In sectors like travel, retail, and entertainment, mobile search queries have increased roughly 70% in the past year.
  • • B2B mobile web use still trails consumer search, but is growing rapidly. Anecdotally, one of our clients had 4% of all access to their corporate website come from smart phones last month; not a huge number, but that’s up from just 1% a year ago. Another launched a mobile version of its company website in March; traffic to it has surged 250% in the past six months.

Mobile Website SEO Techniques Increase in ImportanceWhile mobile site SEO has some similarities to traditional best practices,  it also has many of its own unique requirements. Here are a set of on-page, technical and link-building techniques to optimize a mobile website for search.

On-Page Mobile SEO Techniques

As with traditional websites, follow basic on-page optimization best practices on mobile sites: use keywords in your mobile site content, headings, keyword links, image alt tags, and of course, page meta titles. But keep meta titles short: absolutely no more than 65 characters (including spaces), and preferably 45 or less (the display limit in the Safari browser).

Social and mobile go together, so include popular social sharing buttons (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and email) on your mobile web pages to make them easy to share.

It may seem obvious, but make sure your corporate website and mobile website link to each other.

Mobile SEO Keyword ResearchThe specific search phrases that people use on mobile devices are often different than those they may use from a desktop. And it’s often easier to rank for popular short phrases in mobile search than in desktop search due to the lower level of competition. So, use Google’s keyword research tool to analyze mobile-specific search phrases.

Mobile SEO Link Building

Get your mobile site listed on popular mobile sites like Google Maps, Yelp, Foursquare and Facebook Places.

Also get the site listed in high-authority mobile directories.

Include your mobile website link in your YouTube channel and add mobile site calls to action (CTAs) within your posted videos.

Technical Mobile SEO

Some sources have suggested that using a single website with responsive design is best for SEO, with a subdirectory approach (company.com/mobile) being second-best, followed by a subdomain structure (m.company.com) and finally a separate top-level domain (company.mobi). However, Mashable more recently reported that the search engines have figured things out and there is no longer any SEO penalty for having a separate mobile URL.

Validate your code. Mobile devices are less forgiving of dodgy code than desktop PCs.

Verify your site in Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. Create and upload a mobile sitemap.

Follow Google’s recommendations for building mobile-optimized websites.

Following the mobile website SEO best practices above should help your site rank well even in highly competitive spaces. In the (for now, at least) less crowded mobile B2B space, it should really help your site stand out.

Additional Mobile SEO Resources

Search Engine Land Members Library > Mobile Search

Mobile SEO Best Practices and Smartphone SEO Tips for 2011

Mobile SEO Best Practices (long and rather technical, but very well done; if terms like “site transcoding,” “user agent detection” and xHTML don’t phase you, then check it out)

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11 Responses


  1. Mary 

    Thank you for sharing these tips with us..

  2. Great mobile seo guide! A lot of people get into debates about using a directory or having a TLD vs responsive design. It’s nice to know that the SE have figured things out. For those who like to argue, I can refer people to your article.


  3. Tom 

    Thanks! Both approaches have their pros and cons, but from an optimization standpoint, the choice makes little difference.


  4. devanshi 

    It is very excellent information. I am looking for such type of information about mobile SEO. Thanks for sharing. Keep updating it.


  5. Tom 

    No worries, glad this was helpful!

  6. I think Mashable hit the nail on the head with its declaration that separate mobile websites aren’t really an issue. The key is using rel=”canonical” from the mobile page to the desk and rel=”alternate” back again.

    We see so much misinformation being spread by web-developers to justify their high fees. Unfortunately many small businesses are believing that you HAVE to have a responsive design.

    Lee


  7. Tom 

    Agreed. I think what the most recent research indicates is that approaches have their pros and cons, but the decision between them should be based on business needs – not SEO considerations.

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