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February 1, 2011

Mobile SEO – How can Search Results and Conversions differ on mobile

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Recently there have been a SEO few posts and different opinions on the CTR and Conversion performance between mobile phones and desktop devices. Would users search and convert on their mobile phones as they would on a desktop?

While everyone agrees that the numbers of mobile searches are rapidly increasing, some are of the opinion that there is a little need to have a separate mobile site (as apps might become the chosen solution) and that there are little differences between mobile and desktop search results. Others believe that mobile and desktop search results are quite different and that there is a need for a separate mobile site or mobile formatted content.

I believe that you should start thinking about having a separate mobile version of your site if you haven’t done so already, however this only applies for certain sites and business.  For example, banks could have a mobile version for only certain parts of their sites (such as online/ mobile banking and key contact information for example, ATMs, branches, support numbers, support chat etc), but there is no really need for them to have a mobile version for the entire site. Similarly if you are a B2B business, do you really need a mobile site? The need of a mobile site for mobile searches can vary from industry to industry. Sites that offers news content, entertainment (video, music and restaurants) for example, will most likely convert better and have higher CTR on mobile then a site that offers financial services or B2B.

Are mobile search results & CTR different to desktop search?

Below is a snapshot of the ranking and CTR results for  mobile and desktop versions of the site with content around Queensland flood related terms.

Desktop/Web search queries and CTR

Mobile search queries and CTR

It’s clearly evident that mobile results and CTR differ. The site average position in the Google Web SERPs for the keyword “brisbane floods” is 6.1, while on mobile (smartphones) is 15. Also noticeable is the difference between CTR for the keywords “quensland floods” and “qld floods” on the web (5% and 1%) compared to mobile. In fact CTR for the term “queensland floods” is 24%, almost 5 times higher than the CTR for desktop. Similarly the “qld floods” has a CTR of 13%, 13 times higher than the CTR for the desktop site.

What if you don’t implement a mobile version of your website?

Your site might be transcoded by Google to be rendered on mobile handsets. Pages that are transcoded usually closely resemble the ‘text-only’ version of the page that Google has on its cached version. The result is not that great. See example below:

Users can choose the option to have the mobile formatted view:

Mobile formatted option on a mobile browser

Transcoded page

The conversion rate for these transcoded pages may not be as high as an optimized mobile experience as you will not be able to control the look and feel of the website. You can prevent transcoding by adding the tag <link rel=”alternate” media=”handheld” href=”alternate_page.htm” /> on your site.

Can location affect search results on mobile or desktop search?

Yes, location can affect search results on a desktop and on a mobile. Google attempts to automatically detect your location in a different way from desktop and mobile. On a desktop, Google relies on a default location based on IP address or on the location set in the My Location feature from the Google Toolbar. Google allows you to manually set a location that will be saved in a browser cookie on your specific computer and internet browser.  See graph below:

Google allows you to change your default location

On mobile  Google can use Cell ID to automatically detect a location using Google’s cell tower database. Most new phone platforms support cell ID, however some devices need the proper API enabled to allow cell ID location detection. Location can also be detected according to GPS signals and WiFI connections. In both cases, a phone must support GPS or WiFi and have them enabled.

When  I search for restaurants, ranking results are clearly different between a desktop and a mobile:

Desktop SERP’s for the keyword “restaurants”

6 Mobile SERP’s for the keyword “restaurants”

Local Search Results are higher in the rankings, pushing top2 and 3 sites down. In addition Local Search results differ from mobile to my desktop.

Do I need a separate domain for my mobile site?

Matt Cutts on recent videos on mobile websites (embed  VIDEO in page if possible), suggests that having a m.domain is the current best practice. While it’s almost certain that having a .mobi version of a site is not ideal, another option is to create handheld stylesheets to format the content and maintain the same URL structure.

Is this the year of mobile SEO?

Eric Schmidt said: “2011 is all about mobile” so this is a good start. Eric mentioned that Google will be involved in three important projects which will include:

  • Network speeds:  Schmidt wants to see superfast mobile networks and anticipates “8-to-10- mega­bit networks” running at “roughly 10 times what we have today.”
  • Mobile payments: Google is doing trials with near-field communications (NFC) and local business window decals in Portland. This will clearly push M-Commerce and the need for e-commerce sites to improve their mobile online presence.
  • Cheap handsets: Schmidt said that soon “Android will beat the iPhone; there’s almost no way for Apple to match Android in the cheap smartphone category”




3 responses to “Mobile SEO – How can Search Results and Conversions differ on mobile”

  1. whoisbid writes:

    Here is what I pulled from Google

    “The customization of search results based on location is an important component of a consistent, high-quality search experience. Therefore, we haven’t provided a way to turn off location customization, although we’ve made it easy for you to set your own location or to customize using a general location as broad as the country that matches your local domain”

    Do you think that there will be many people just as interested in knowing information about locations not relevant to their IP address because maybe they are away from home etc or is this just a very small minority of international businessmen who are rarely in the same country for a couple of days?

  2. Raffaella writes:

    Hi,
    Yes I think that there are people that would be more interested in knowing information about locations not relevant to their IP (since location services based on IP are getting unpractical and obsolete).
    In fact in Australia most IP addresses are dynamic or inaccurate. http://www.maxmind.com the database used by Google for mapping IP addresses to a geographical location claims that Australia GeoIp accuracy is 66%, accuracy is also defined as being within 40 Km – which for someone looking for a local business e.g. a take away restaurant, it’s not ideal and he/she is probably expecting a take away restaurant 5km from where he/she is located.

    I also think that location-based targeted marketing is getting more accurate on mobiles than on desktops, as mobiles uses other ways of identify users’ location (e.g. GPS).

  3. Raffaella writes:

    Hi,
    Yes I think that there are people that would be more interested in knowing information about locations not relevant to their IP (since location services based on IP are getting unpractical and obsolete).
    In fact in Australia most IP addresses are dynamic or inaccurate. http://www.maxmind.com the database used by Google for mapping IP addresses to a geographical location claims that Australia GeoIp accuracy is 66%, accuracy is also defined as being within 40 Km – which for someone looking for a local business e.g. a take away restaurant, it’s not ideal and he/she is probably expecting a take away restaurant 5km from where he/she is located.

    I also think that location-based targeted marketing is getting more accurate on mobiles than on desktops, as mobiles uses other ways of identify users’ location (e.g. GPS).



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