Mobile SEO Myths Exposed

Sitepoint iPhone simulation.2008 was a year abounding in articles about mobile SEO and mobile sites. The buzz dropped down in the second half of the year; however the number of “mobile SEO” and “mobile site” inquiries is constantly rising – at least in my experience. I think an article about mobile SEO is even more justified today, as SitePoint has recently featured an article about Swift – a platform that enables anyone to create a mobile site.

You’ve probably heard many “experts” advising you to optimize your site for mobile phones, or to create a “mobile” version of your site and optimize that for “mobile search.” The process has already been defined as “mobile SEO”, and there are already many SEO companies making money by “creating mobile sites” and doing “mobile SEO.”

I am not saying there is something wrong with creating a mobile site, however there are a few things you should know, that will probably save you a lot of trouble and money in the future.

First of all, you should know that you don’t need to purchase a .mobi domain to qualify your site for mobile platforms. A .com site will do just fine on mobile phones, and so will all other domain extensions too.

It’s true that image size has an important role to play in making a site “mobile friendly”, but reducing images or completely eliminating them is not mandatory. The iPhone loads images the same way a computer does, and so do a few other smart phones, like the Blackberry Storm. Sure, not all users browse the Web with smart phones, but its only a matter of time given the growth in mobile technology worldwide.

From a marketing perspective it is better to use the same URL for traditional and mobile sites: users will not have to remember two different URLs.

Additionally, using just one URL avoids the risk of creating duplicate content. It is pointless to create two different sites for the same content.

Traditional SEO best practices are also valid for “mobile SEO”, but in addition to these there are a few more steps to take to make a site mobile ready:

  • It is advisable, not mandatory, to have W3C compliant XHTML code and pages that comply with the basic accessibility standards
  • Submit your site to mobile search engines.
  • Create dynamic mobile pages by combining your website’s content database with user agent detection. Transcoding the pages on the fly is a rather complex task, fit for a skilled programmer only. The smart phones of the future will NOT require this.
  • When you search Google from your mobile you will see nearly the same search results as on your PC. This means that Google mobile search doesn’t list mobile sites preferentially.

In conclusion: if you were contemplating creating a mobile version of your site, it’s probably time to reconsider your endeavor. Back in 2006 when the “move” first started, this made sense: the mobile phones were not as advanced as today, and those that were advanced were not that affordable. In one more year all phones will have the ability to browse the web “smartly”, and users will probably not be interested in seeing trunked versions of a site.

Instead of planning to develop a “mobile” site, it would be better if you just stick to some basic principles of design: make your site all browsers compatible, make sure it is readable in any screen resolution, make it accessible for all and make sure it loads fast.

As for SEO, the traditional ways are still golden: relevant page titles, good page descriptions, good on page headlines, proper tagging, and of course quality links.

If you insist in creating a .mobi site, now you can do it at a fraction of the cost, by using dotMobi’s Instant Mobilizer, released recently. The software is added free to your package when you purchase a .mobi domain from any of the dotMobi partners listed on this page. On the same site, you can also test your site to see how it would look on a mobile phone.

Instant Mobilizer is a new tool that converts a standard website into a mobile site.

Instant Mobilizer is a new tool that converts a standard website into a mobile site.


To check whether your site will display on a mobile phone, visit ready.mobi.

If you have more ideas and thoughts about this subject, please join the conversation in the comments below.

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • vlad.dumitrica

    I’m afraid I don’t totally agree with you.

    First of all, the mobile user does not have the same “environment”. Consider the screen, the input methods, the handsets’ limitations. Yes, there are limitations.

    You cannot (and should not) always deliver the same content to the mobile user. One should also consider the bandwidth or should I say… data bearer? Additionally, please mind that some mobile carriers charge the customer for the data traffic, so a pleasant experience should also reflect in the customer’s invoice.

    It is more than recommended to have a valid XHTML page, as the page may be proxied by a WAP gateway, that’s not as permissive as a desktop browser.

    While Google may not favor the mobile site, bear in mind that Google DOES User-Agent detection, so the customer is redirected to a mobile-compatible web site. As for the search results, for the less capable handsets Google is very kind and also do a transcoding of the content. Why should I let Google transcode my site when I know better (should know at least) how I want it to look on a certain device.

    Cheers!

  • Anonymous

    I do not agee with vlad.dumitrica

  • http://www.ewriting.pamil-visions.com/ Mihaela Lica

    @Vlad – the SEO tips refer to standard sites, Vlad, not to .mobi sites. There are still limitations, yes, but not for long. I don’t disagree with you, I am just saying that now it’s pointless to start building additional mobile sites: because the phones can access standard sites just fine.

    About the costs – I already don’t agree with you. There are already flat rate packages that enable users browse the Web with their mobile phones. These users access TV sites, online stores and so on. How many of these do you think that have .mobi sites? Very few.

  • Gary

    To be honest, Vlad makes sound observations and I would tend to agree with him.
    I would also debunk the comments made regarding NOT building mobile content because modern handsets can deliver the ‘whole’ web experience… I’d use an expletive here but out of respect for those with sensitive ears – I won’t..

    Mobiles are small…… maybe you haven’t noticed?

    Mobile access is made for quite different reasons than desktop access (at least in a majority of cases)

    Mobile content really should account for data cost & data speed…. what people forget is that for every leap forward in the ability of handsets to catch data quickly… tomorrows desk top sites just keep getting bigger & bigger & bigger…. causing a perpetual ‘catching up’ problem for handsets & mobile data speeds..

    Also mobiles are great for marketing / promotions….. brand loyalty – coupons – offers – freebies – succint – fast – easy info…. people on mobiles do NOT really need (or want) the “FULL” web experience… you only need to see where the advertising $$$$’s are headed to work out the next major marketing trends…

    Mobile….. to be honest….. If I want the “Whole” web experience – I’ll wait until I’m sitting by my 19″ monitor… but when I’m out & about… I want access to fast, easy information… not some bulky, unmanageable behemoth of a site that just looks so much better at home!!!

    Instant Mobilizer is cool nevertheless… it doesn’t cost much to cover all bases and use a dotmobi for the mobilized content..

    But MADE FOR MOBILE CONTENT……. now that’s where the future (for mobile) lays… don’t argue with me, don’t agree with me…. just remember where you heard it 1st when you’re sitting down with your phone in 2011 on your favourite “mobile” content site…. ;-)

  • Vance Hedderel, Director of PR & Communications, dotMobi

    In terms of mobile SEO … a site only gets one entry in the Internet zone files – the files search engines use to start every crawl. A .com, etc., entry is already used for a PC home page. You won’t get an entry for m., mobile., wap. or any other non-standard convention. But you do get one for .mobi – the entry for a mobile home page.

    That means a .mobi domain makes your site perform better on search engines and come out higher on the results pages of relevant searches.

    dotMobi has a lot of information on best practices for mobile SEO at http://mobithinking.com/best-practices/mobile-seo-best-practices.

  • http://www.ewriting.pamil-visions.com/ Mihaela Lica

    Gary, you are right, mobiles are small, I have noticed. :) It’s really hard to read content on some sites – lateral scrolling drives me crazy. It’s a pain to do it on a PC, it’s more than a pain on a phone. But I still like a full web experience on my mobile – I like to read all content of a site, not just bites of content, trunked texts which are “optimized” for the mobile user. We have to consider what the users look for when they access the Web with a mobile: communication (twitter type or other), entertainment (mp3 or video), information (news or other), products (amazon type, flowers, or other) and locations (search for addresses with Google Maps for example). Their needs are vast, as you see, and it is hard to satisfy them with “made for mobile” content, which is usually short and poor.

    So, I don’t argue with you, and I agree with you that “made for mobile” content is the future. What I am saying is that the sites should be optimized for both mobile and PC, or for any other platform for that matter. The user should not be forced to change URLs or devices to access a site. I don’t see a valid reason for making 2 sites that should serve the same purpose. This is the “debate.” :)

  • http://www.ewriting.pamil-visions.com/ Mihaela Lica

    Vance, that’s great information. Could you please give some examples of .mobi sites that actually rank in Google? I use my mobile to search and I found none.

  • http://mobiforge.com Ronan Cremin

    Mihaela,

    Good article. Some feedback:

    This means that Google mobile search doesn’t list mobile sites preferentially.

    This was true in the past but is no longer the case. To demonstrate this (and also address your question to Vance), try searching for “bmw” or “zagat” on the mobile version of Google. For almost all mobile devices you will see bmw.mobi and zagat.mobi listed in the #1 position.

    This is an interesting result because it demonstrates that, despite the very high page rank of bmw.com and zagat.com, Google chooses to display the made-for-mobile version first in the list. This is a relatively recent change, but a step in the right direction. It is also a wake-up call to website owners: do you want your users to experience your site via the Google transcoder or would you rather that they have a truely made-for-mobile experience that you control?

    On the smartphones/iPhone issue, yes they do a great job of most sites, but bear in mind that these devices make up only a tiny percentage of the 4bn mobile phones in use today. If you know that your site’s audience all use smartphones, fair enough, but if you don’t, do you really want to exclude part of the audience?

    Ronan Cremin, dotMobi

  • Nadir

    Hi Mihaela,

    Clearly you’re either bored to write such an article to discourage people to build a mobile website or you have no clue about mobile SEO.

    You’re saying that some phones can access desktop websites just fine, true, but what phones? Low-end phones still represent a large portion of devices accessing websites, and these have no javascript, small screens, basic mobile browsers and poor browsing capabilities.

    Plus, from a Mobile SEO standpoint, clearly if you have a mobile site you’ll get much traffic. Your desktop site will appear in the default results ‘Web’ but if you have a mobile site, it will also appear in the “mobile web” section, and duplicate content is not really an issue if you have the same content on both sites(desktop and mobile) because they will reside on 2 different indices.

    Also please read a study that I made regarding a patent from Google and mobile search:
    http://www.seoprinciple.com/mobile-search-patent-how-google-would-blend-mobile-search-results/17/

    The patent contains some points to prove that building a mobile site will have an impact on your mobile search rankings, for example:

    “9. The method of claim 8, wherein modifying the mobile search result quality score comprises:increasing the mobile search result quality score if the mobile search result links to a mobile resource that links to downloadable content for a mobile device.”

    Thank you,
    Nadir
    http://www.seoprinciple.com/

  • http://www.ewriting.pamil-visions.com/ Mihaela Lica

    Thank you for the very valuable feedback, Ronan. The examples are very good – but still too narrow to justify buying a .mobi domain.

    Nadir, believe me, I am not bored. If you want to start the pro and con mobile SEO link war, I will give you some authority sources:

    http://www.bruceclay.com/blog/archives/2008/08/mobile_seo.html
    http://www.fyo.ca/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=29

    It is not my intention to discourage people to build mobile sites. Some sites like Amazon are justified to have mobile ready content. For others the endeavor could be too expensive and pointless in the end, if their content doesn’t fit the need of the mobile users. For this reason only I said people should think twice before duplicating content on a .mobi site. Also, keep in mind that .mobi is not the only way to make a mobile site. m.domain.com is also a possibility, and there are a few more.

    With Ronan’s feedback now we know that Google does index .mobi preferentially – but I think it does it only for brands and not for keywords. However, this is very good news, that puts .mobi in a more positive light in my opinion.

    If I would be totally against .mobi I wouldn’t recommend Instant Mobilizer. I wouldn’t even mention it. My intention was obviously to invite the readers to a conversation. And this conversation so far is anything but boring. We can agree to disagree with grace, Nadir.

  • http://mobiforge.com Ronan Cremin

    Just to be clear, I was not saying that Google indexes .mobi sites preferentially, rather I am saying that Google now often lists mobile sites (in general, not .mobi in particular) as the #1 result. This is a subtle but significant change. Previously mobile sites were listed in a section of results called “Mobile web” or something like that. Google appears to changed their policy on this to better represent sites that have a mobile-friendly view. We think that this a step in the right direction because a large number of major internet brands already have excellent mobile-friendly sites.

    Note that the results you get from Google mobile search depend on the mobile device that you are using (or masquerading as).

  • http://www.ewriting.pamil-visions.com/ Mihaela Lica

    I noticed that, Ronan. Either way is good news and it shows that .mobi sites have chances of ranking good in Google’s SERPs. Future will tell if .mobi will remain the preferred extension for mobile sites. I think good marketing will make this possible.

  • Nadir

    Huh? That was not my point: I didn’t say that .mobi sites were a must for mobile SEO (I do mobile SEO for many sites and use all kinds of extensions or subdomains, and yes, I know that they do not have an impact on rankings, thank you), I was only explaining why I disagree with you when you advised not to create mobile sites because a traditional desktop site would do.

    But you did mention something in your comment which I agree with and think you should have included that in your post so not to confuse people:

    “Some sites like Amazon are justified to have mobile ready content. For others the endeavor could be too expensive and pointless in the end, if their content doesn’t fit the need of the mobile users. For this reason only I said people should think twice before duplicating content on a .mobi site.”

    I do mobile SEO for a mobile content provider, so when I read your post, I almost fell off my chair when you said people didn’t need mobile sites :-S

  • http://www.ewriting.pamil-visions.com/ Mihaela Lica

    You are right, Nadir, that part of my comment should have been included in the article. I also made mobile sites for a few clients, and the only one that has success with is a detective agency. The rest were just waste of time – but who knows, maybe they will pay off in a year of two.

    What can I say, I am sorry the article “scared” you so much. ;) But you do know I am right. For some people desktop sites are enough – for example a web hosting client never needed a mobile site. He got enough “mobile” traffic on his desktop site and even customers (mostly for domains).

    I partially agree with the idea of creating mobile sites – defining a standard would make it easier for everyone. But from a user perspective… it took years to educate the customers how to find/navigate a website online – it might take as long for mobile content. Mobile sites are different – apparently easier to use, in fact the information gets trunked and buried under a bunch of navigation links. News sites are the easiest to optimize in my view. Sites that sell products face a real challenge. Amazon.mobi is a real pain to browse.

  • Nadir

    Hi Mihaela, I thought you’d be interested in reading this article on SEL.

    http://searchengineland.com/has-the-iphone-made-mobile-seo-obsolete-16655

    Cheers
    Nadir
    http://wwww.seoprinciple.com/

  • http://www.ewriting.pamil-visions.com/ Mihaela Lica

    Hi Nadir, thank you for the link – that’s an excellent article, with very valid points. :)

  • SamSEO

    Haha I just searched ‘does google give .mobi higher rank’ on my BB to read up (at the bar). Thanks, that was very smart, makes sense.

    I’ll read the comments when I get home.

  • http://scorchsystems.com tomthurston

    Hi Mihaela, Thanks for this post. I don’t agree with a couple of your point but its a great post as it has lead to some great discussions which I have learned a lot from.

    Regarding .mobi domains, one advantage of them over normal domains is that Transcoders seem to ignore .mobi sites better than they do non .mobi domains.

    Regarding “on the fly” adaptation for mobiles not being required… this isn’t possible now, and it won’t be in the future unless every phone has the same browser and the same screensize. In fact, I would probably go so far as saying that it just wont be possible unless everyone in the world has the same phone and operator.

    A simple example is a banner… corporate brands like their banner at the top of every mobile page, and they like it to fit the screen width exactly. Therefore you need to deliver an appropriately sized banner. That means your system *has* to adapt content for the device or your customer wont be happy.

    As for end users, if we look at a mobile wallpapers as an example – there’s hundreds of different sized screens out there. There is no best sized fits all solution out there for delivering a wallpaper. Users with big screens want the wallpaper to fit their phone, so you can’t make them all small. And you can’t make them all big either, as a massive image will break loads of phones with smaller screens.

    Anyway – I get what you are saying – and you do raise some interesting issues – but I don’t think that there will ever be the day when you don’t need a special system to create websites for viewing optimally on a mobile device. (Indeed, even desktop websits are optimised for different browsers… I think the problems getting worse not better!)

    With kind regards,

    Tom

  • spike2000

    Nadir, you said that duplicate content is not an issue since the pages reside on different indices but when Google shows regular sites in it’s mobile search (which it then transcodes) so the results do appear to get “mixed up”. How is someone not penalised if they have two pages (one web and the other mobile) with the same content?