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January 31, 2011

SEO Guidelines for Mobile Websites

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As there are more than 4 billion mobile / handheld devices in use versus 1 billion desktop computers, there is lot of potential for growth in the mobile space.

Mobile SEO, however, still follows the traditional SEO ranking factors. There are number of guidelines you can use to optimise your website for mobile devices.

Guidelines for page structure and content

Metatxt: Mobile bots and indexes are different from web search but things like title tags, heading tags and ALT attributes are still very important. Metatxt is the new standard in mobile SEO that helps search engines find your site and classify it. It is similar to the description and keyword tags on your current website. The title tag must be short and descriptive and is defined as in the web page.

H1 Tag: H1 tags should be unique for each page. H1 Tagged information that is on the website needs to be added to mobile sites.

Image tag: Image descriptions and ALT attributes from websites, needs to be added to mobile sites.

Content: Content on the corresponding mobile/desktop URL needs to be matched as closely as possible.

Mobile links: Ensure your content contains a sensible level of outbound links that lead to other complementary and preferably related mobile web pages.

Link to the desktop site: Add page-to-page links in the upper left hand corner of each page that allows people to move between the mobile and traditional versions of the pages. The link should be on the word “mobile”. You should still create the handheld stylesheet for your mobile-specific pages and traditional pages as well, just in case something goes wrong. They are a good signal to the search engines that the pages should be ranked in mobile search results.

Stylesheets: Use handheld stylesheets to tell mobile browsers how you would like your existing pages to look when they are displayed on a mobile phone.

SEO coding elements: These will remain the same in the mobile version but to improve usability & reduce any possible duplicate content issues it is best to strip extraneous content, JavaScript & graphics out – optimally via CSS.

Use Valid XHTML Coding. WML is the specific language for mobile users however the more usable is XHTML so here are the following guidelines for XHTML:

Mobile search engines have more trouble in parsing the webpage if it has invalid code. You can reduce the risk of not opening the website by validating the webpage. Don’t use frames, Flash or Ajax as they might render the mobile experience awkward. HTML5 is supported by most of the mobile devices (Flash is not compatible for iPhones or iPads).

For more information of mark up languages supported, visit

See W3C for information on how to create mobile friendly stylesheets (CSS) to correct rendering of tricky content elements such as table and image maps.

Site transcoding: To avoid your site being transcoded by search engines add the following line in the <HEAD> section of the HTML file for your page:

<link rel=”alternate” media=”handheld” href=”alternate_page.htm” />

This should prevent the page from being transcoded.

User Friendliness: Consider making the mobile page user friendly and easy to use. Here are some points that help in creating a user-friendly mobile site:

  • Assign access keys to links in navigational menus and frequently accessed functionality.
  • Do not cause pop-ups or other windows to appear and do not change the current window without informing the user.
  • Keep the number of keystrokes to a minimum.
  • Note the target file’s format unless you know the device supports it. It annoys the user when he cannot open the file after clicking on a link that says open or download the file.
  • Use clear and simple language.
  • Do not use images that cannot be rendered by the device. Avoid large or high resolution images except where critical information would otherwise be lost.

Guidelines for mobile content rendering

URL: Create a mobile version of your site optimally in a mobile sub domain or subdirectory rather than a separate domain or TLD such a .mobi.  If you use the same URL for mobile and website, ensure it is configured correctly as it can otherwise be considered to be cloaking. Ensure that you render the mobile version of a site via mobile user agent detection while also providing the user the opportunity to opt out to the standard web version

DOC TYPE: The mobile version of your site should have the following DocType declared above the HEAD code:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//WAPFORUM//DTD XHTML Mobile 1.2//EN”””>

(See also

Use Agent: Set up user-agent detection on your site to ensure that, regardless of which pages rank (mobile or traditional) users are presented with the appropriate version of the page, based on the device that they are using to access the page.  If they are on a mobile phone, they should automatically be sent to the mobile version of a page – even if it is the traditional page that actually ranked in search engines. Conversely, if they are on a traditional computer, and happen to click on a mobile version of a page, they should automatically be sent to the version of the page that is meant for traditional-computer viewing.

Geo-location – Due to the nature of mobile, location is important for mobile searches. Being on the move means users are likely to be performing task-, location- and/or time-sensitive actions whilst they are on the go, such as searching for a particular restaurant or a particular piece of information such as a flight departure time. Google has been working on a project to provide a usable geo location framework for mobile websites/widget applications through a simple JavaScriptAPI that is aligned to the W3 Geolocation API Specification (see more information on

Load time: A mobile site should have at least half the load time of the website, with a target of less than 2 seconds load time on an Edge or non-3G signal.

Use cached data wherever possible. This will minimize the need to reload resources such as images and stylesheets, and lower download times. (This also means less cost for users on pay-per-use data plans.) Caching will also reduce the latency that is common on mobile networks (resource ).

W3C: Affirm your mobile progress by using the tools at W3C & MobiReady to validate your code for mobile readiness as well check load time and actual mobile device rendering. Websites should adhere strictly to website accessibility guidelines, as set out by the W3C.

Redirection: Do not use markup to redirect pages automatically. Instead, configure the server to perform redirects by means of HTTP 3xx codes.

Use an emulator to test your page: To make sure that your WML page looks right on a real phone screen, consider using an emulator to test your page. Here are links to some of the emulators you can use:

Guidelines for spidering and indexation

Create a mobile XML sitemap: A mobile XML sitemap has as the main difference from the standard sitemap XML a <mobile:mobile/> declaration after each URL listing. This will also help Google to index pages as mobile pages.

Google Webmaster Tools: Add site to Google Webmaster tools and submit the mobile XML sitemap.


The development mobile technology is moving along very rapidly and search engine algorithms for mobile devices get updates just like traditional web search algorithms. The mobile pages should feature precise content, create unique CSS files, create structured pages along with relevant Metatxt, titles and XHTML browser support.

Try getting ahead in the competition by implementing the above guidelines into your site.

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One response to “SEO Guidelines for Mobile Websites”

  1. Martin writes:

    Nice one mate. Rendering mobile sites for users the same way than for search engines seems to be the most difficult part.

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