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October 7, 2009

SEO for mobile – back to 1999

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Google circa 1999

Do you remember websites in 1999? List of links and information, not very content rich, lots of 404 error pages, algorithms based on on-page factors (such as keyword density) and links were not a major ranking factor in most of the popular engines. It was just the beginning of a new economy with new business models and a new exciting channel for companies. Businesses were unfamiliar with search engine optimisation and were adopting their old marketing knowledge to the web. Search engines were still trying to understand the complexity of the web. Does this sound like websites for mobiles in 2009? I think so. However, I believe this time round, companies will start considering the importance of website design and seo for this new channel much earlier than before.

Mobile internet growth

The mobile internet has been taking off only recently and things are beginning to evolve in 2009.
SEMPO has just released a white paper released on the growing of the mobile market which included some phenomenal stats:

  • US: mobile searches will expand to 56.2 million by 2013. In May 2009 there have been 64 Million US surfers in the mobile internet (twice that of 2008)
  • Japan : 55% of Japanese mobile users accessed the interned at least once a week
  • China: Almost 20% of mobile users (118million people) accessed the internet at least one hour a week
  • EU-7 (FR, GE, IT, Neth, SP, SW, UK) end of 2008 – 24% of mobile users accessed the internet at least once a month.

Interesting statistics have been released from AIMA on usage behaviour and preferences of Australian mobile phone users (based on a survey of 3,710 respondents). According to the research:

  • 56% of respondents used their mobile phone to get information at least once a month
  • 21% of respondents said they visit websites on their mobile phone at least once a day
  • 25% of respondents conducted mobile searches at least once a week.
  • 34% of respondents accessed websites on their phone by typing in a URL
  • 18% were likely to access the web using the mobile phone’s company portal
  • 52% used their mobile phone to visit websites
  • 49% used their mobile phone to browse the internet
  • 43% used their mobile phone for mobile search
  • 50% uses their mobile phone for account balance
  • 14% used their mobile to buy things not for their mobile phone

Interestingly 34% of respondents type in URLs as opposed to using search engines. This is mainly believed to be because of the poor usability of handsets, but I also believe due to the lack of accessibility through search engines or mobile portals. 53% of the respondents stated that they used coupon or barcode to a free discount or a free ticket (that’s very interesting). According to AIMIA the next area of growth are payments through mobiles. This will reinforce the importance of the mobile channel for e-commerce opportunities.

The industry has overcome some barriers however still some more need to be overcome. A big barrier to entry is cost as consumers still believe that mobile internet is too expensive. Speed is improved however it is not fast as we would like.

SEO for mobiles face new challenges.

The biggest challenges are the multiplicity of platforms and browsers, different hardware and software, different apps and rival search engines. Most of the websites do not have mobile friendly version of their sites. Currently search engines use transcoded software to re-format websites to their mobile standards for mobile search users’ devices (e.g. flash technologies frames and Ajax that are not supported by mobile phones). The downside is that transcoded websites are usually poorly re-formatted, causing a poor users experience – this is very bad for SEO as URLs and links are transcoded too. Technologies however are evolving and adapting to mobile users needs, in fact Adobe recently announced that the Flash Player for mobiles will be available in 2010.

At this stage, the mobile results reflects desktop results due to the lack of mobile content available. So if a site ranks well in Google for desktop, it should rank well also on mobiles. Still this does not guarantee that your visitors are going to convert if your site is not user friendly. However new mobile metrics are emerging, such as location, device type and content format and I am curious to know how search engines will control this. According to Google, the average queries on mobile search are 15 characters and Google is now using what is called “predictive search” to assist users in completing their search.

Interesting guidelines have been released by mobithinking.com for mobile seo best
practises
. In summary key points are:

  • Improve user experience on mobile to attract more audience
  • Focus on targeting mobile users not desk users
  • Recognise the difference between mobile search engines and traditional search engines – where location, devices type and formats play an important role
  • Understand mobile search phrase queries and optimise around them – most of mobile search queries are location/task specific
  • Realise the challenge of different browsers, devices and content standardisation
  • Submit your mobile site to directories, business listings services and relevant portals
  • Make your mobile site crawlable – use correct headers, don’t block IP ranges unless necessary, submit a mobile sitemap, use clean code, link to other mobile pages
  • Confirm to the new W3C MobileOk .




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