INTERNATIONAL: Google Announces Official Guidelines for Mobile SEO
by Chee Chun Foo, June 20, 2012
It is an ongoing topic of discussion — how best to optimise mobile sites for SEO.
There have been many views, including having a sub-domain, using a sub-directory or generating your mobile site from the desktop with CSS for example.
This article will be split into two sections. The first section discusses the recent announcements by Google around recommended configurations for mobile sites.
The second section focuses on how to optimise a mobile site, including linking, keywords and structure, once the recommendation configuration has been decided upon.
Google-Supported Mobile Site Configurations
In December 2011, Google announced the introduction of a smartphone user-agent being Googlebot-Mobile. This update was designed to increase the coverage of the smartphone content and improve search experience on mobile.
There have been various posts relating to making websites mobile-friendly, but little concrete guidance on whether a mobile development team should utilise mobile sub-domains, mobile directories, or just “mobilise” a desktop version of a site, each with pros and cons.
According to the support page, there are three mobile site configurations supported by Google:
The reasons outlined by Google for favouring responsive Web design over the other two methods are that:
The reasons outlined above seem quite logical given the fact that Google’s goal is to always improve user experience.
Now that Google has revealed its preferences, does this mean that the other two methods are defunct? Definitely not. In many cases, the technical challenges with implementing responsive Web design is a barrier to adoption.
Google has recognised this, and as such, has provided guidelines for alternative solutions to responsive Web design, such as the device-specific HTML (option 2) and having a separate mobile domain (option 3). More details can be found on the support page.
As Google has mentioned, they do support all three methods, so if you have already implemented option 3, where you have created your separate mobile site on a sub-domain (e.g., http://m.examplesite.com), then a revamp into responsive Web design is not necessarily required. However you will be maintaining two websites essentially going forward.
The next section will discuss how to optimise a mobile site once you have chosen your configuration.
How to Optimise for Mobile Traffic
Once your mobile platform has been chosen, optimising a mobile site is important to ensure high visibility when users are searching from mobile devices.
Mobile SEO is similar to standard SEO practices for desktop websites. For example, simple things like making sure that keywords are on the page are important. You can now also pull mobile search volume from the Google Adwords keyword tool.
Here are some things to look out for when optimising for mobile:
Meta tags: Mobile bots and indexes are different from standard web search but HTML elements such as title tags, heading tags and ALT attributes are still just as important.
The Title tag should:
The Description tag must:
Note: If the mobile sites uses the Title and Meta description of the desktop site, take into consideration the fact that the Meta description tag will be truncated at its half (130 characters in mobile versus 260 characters in desktops).
User friendliness: As Google is all about user experience, consider making the mobile page easy to use. Here are some points that will help you to create a user-friendly mobile site:
Note that the majority of these recommendations would already be in place if the desktop URL is optimised, and if the responsive Web design method is used. That alone is a major benefit as it reduces development time and you will not need to recreate or manually transfer content to a mobile sub-domain.
The other important point to consider is your overall mobile strategy.
Some businesses may want to use mobile sites for a particular purpose. Banks, for example, tend to use mobile sites to provide ease of use for checking account balances, paying bills and finding the nearest ATM or branch facility.
In this instance, having a sub-domain may be a more ideal solution and this is why they are the preference for the major banks in Australia.
Consider also the return on investment (ROI) on a mobile site when deciding how best to build it. It is not a sound business decision to spend large amounts of capital if mobile revenue isn’t your forte.
Mobile as a source of traffic is increasingly important in today’s world. Making sure your site is optimised for Google and other search engines will help you increase the visibility of your site amongst million others.