6 Mobile Search Optimization Trends For 2012

Happy New Year to my fellow mobile search enthusiasts, and welcome to another exciting year for mobile search!

It seems every year about this time consultants and pundits like me become clairvoyant and share their wisdom with those of you who lack the capacity to see beyond the daily planner.

While I usually avoid such lofty predictions in an industry like ours that is so maddeningly unpredictable, here are a few things I think mobile and search marketers need to be aware of when preparing for the inevitable rise in mobile search in the New Year.


Social Local Mobile Marketing (SoLoMo) may seem so 2011 to you at this point, but it really is just beginning to take off.

As I mentioned at SMX Social Media Marketing last month, 42% of Facebook’s users regularly access the service through a mobile device. As social continues to influence search results through Google+ and Facebook shares, it will undoubtedly affect mobile search as well.

Currently, mobile results do not display plus one data or verified author stats, but I would think it would be difficult for Google to ignore the synergies between social and mobile for long. And with their push for ubiquity in search results and their use of GPS to provide more relevant search results to mobile users, it’s probably just a matter of time before Google finds some way to incorporate social data into mobile search results as well.

Savvy marketers should be thinking now about the effect of social on search results, both desktop and mobile in 2012.

Mobile Visual Search Optimization

This is something that I’ve been expecting for a while now but that’s never really come to fruition on a large scale. However, as marketers continue to develop mobile websites as a result of Google’s massive 2011 push in ZMOT and GOMO, it’s likely that SEOs whose mobile websites are well optimized will have to find another channel for search traffic. I expect this channel to be Google Goggles and other augmented reality search apps like Layar, who are developing a new image-based model for search on mobile devices.

Mobile visual search optimization is currently largely Google Image Search optimization with a focus on returning mobile formatted content with the image, but there could be additional signals and techniques in 2012 as more consumers adopt Google Goggles and other visual search apps as part of their standard routine.

Mobile Search Results Continue To Diverge

I’m not sure what search engines Rand Fishkin is talking about when he says “2011 has helped prove that the search world is pretty device agnostic”, but it’s not Google.

In 2011, I demonstrated that there are at least 14 differences between Google desktop and smartphone search results, which would account for the variations in ranking observed by Resolution Media and Covario in separate studies.

Further, with the introduction of a smartphone Googlebot in December 2011 Google is proving just the opposite of what Fishkin says– that they actually prefer if you give users content that’s fast, simple and relevant, and that the device they access the content from can change the user experience for the worse.

Google already has separate user interfaces for tablet, feature phone and smartphone, and this past year they made mobile landing pages a factor in quality score for AdWords and changed the search results completely for certain queries from the desktop results.

As more searches are done via smartphones and tablets and more Webmasters create content that’s optimized for these users, I would expect Google to continue to try to unearth the best user experience, which will almost always be the one that doesn’t require additional pinching and zooming in order to view.

Separate Content for Smartphone, Tablet, Feature Phones

In December of 2010, Google added smartphone volume to the AdWords keyword tool. So for a year now, marketers have had the ability to do keyword research and write content specifically for mobile or smartphone users.

I would imagine that as more marketers create more mobile sites we will need a way to differentiate our sites from our competitors. One of the reasons SEO works is because it allows marketers to see what their audience needs through keyword research and to give them what they need through content development.

Marketers who are only using desktop keywords to develop content and then reformatting the sites for mobile devices and tablets are at a disadvantage to those who develop content based on what the user needs in context because they could be missing keywords and concepts that mobile users are searching for.

Whether it’s incorporating these mobile keywords into the information architecture and content of your core site and formatting that for mobile, desktop and tablet users, or creating separate sites at different URLs with these keywords and concepts included, I think marketers who will get the most traffic from mobile search in 2012 will be the ones who understand what their audience is looking for and giving it to them.

Mobile Searchers Continue To Influence Core Search

In June of 2011 Google took two features that were previously only available on mobile and made them accessible to desktop searchers: search by voice and search by image.

Ubiquity is important to Google, as they mentioned at this event. Because of this we can expect more aspects of mobile search to influence not just mobile search results, but search results in general.

In the study I mentioned last month, I discovered that having a mobile site is strongly correlated with top three rankings in Google smartphone search. As Google continues to ensure that their results are usable regardless of device I would expect this trend to continue for core search as well.

Marketers Continue To Optimize Both Sites & Apps

Readers of this column know that in the debate over whether mobile apps or mobile Web will win the hearts and minds of consumers, I am pulling for the mobile Web. However, with comScore’s recent announcement that mobile app usage has overtaken the mobile Web for the first time, mobile app proponents are louder than ever.

However, the fact remains that consumers use both mobile websites and mobile apps, and marketers who only optimize for one platform miss out on the other. And since we’re talking about mobile search, the primary way to reach mobile searchers who aren’t putting in app queries is still by optimizing mobile sites.

Unfortunately there still will be no winner to the mobile Web vs apps debate in 2012. Marketers who want maximum reach in search and mobile will need to continue optimizing for both mobile Web and apps.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Mobile Search | SEO: Mobile Search


About The Author: is the SEO Director at Vivid Seats, is an SEO veteran with more than 14 years experience both agency and in-house, and is a thought leader in permission marketing as a columnist and a frequent speaker on SEO and mobile marketing.

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  • http://searchenginewatch.com/author/1907/angie-schottmuller Angie Schottmuller

    When you say “Separate Content for Smartphone, Tablet, Feature Phones”, do you really mean separate content presentation? From a consistency and efficiency factor, I think it’s very key to draw content from a single master source and then present it appropriately for different devices.

    From a results impact standpoint, I’ve only seen a value-add scenario for having a mobile subdomain plan for feature phones / dumb mobile phones. For desktop, tablet, and smartphone, I would advise using CSS w/ device detection and, if the CMS allows, potential rendering differences per device to aid page load. Providing the same URL for desktop, tablet, and smartphone devices has proven very valuable in SEO, but also key for social sharing. Have you seen new results indicating anything otherwise?

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com Bryson Meunier

    Hi Angie,

    No, I mean separate content. In some cases smartphone and tablet users will have different needs that won’t be addressed by reformatted desktop content, and responsive design won’t be enough to drive qualified traffic. In an example I gave in an earlier column (http://searchengineland.com/consider-mobile-content-carefully-for-users-better-seo-92597), State Farm actually has separate content for their smartphone site that’s hyper-focused on the mobile user who according to search behavior has different needs than their desktop user. By recognizing that their target is likely trying to access a phone number or towing services from their smartphone (as the search behavior suggests), State Farm has changed their mobile home page and information architecture to address users of that platform.

    I should say that I don’t agree completely with the way the State Farm site is set up, as pages other than the home page could simply have been reformatted if nothing but the design had changed. However, the only way to address the needs of that specific user for the smartphone home page is to present separate content by device.

    Efficiency and consistency are fine, but this isn’t a column about mobile search engine consistency and efficiency, I’m afraid. Optimization is sometimes hard. The more I talk to businesses who have gone the easy route and transcoded their desktop content, the more I see them going back and redoing their mobile sites to address the needs of that user.

    As for the question about providing the same URL, there is evidence to suggest that the paradigm for mobile is different. A redirect may be enough to transfer link equity to mobile users. A few months ago I talked about Google inconsistencies with regard to mobile SEO (http://searchengineland.com/do-you-know-google%E2%80%99s-official-stance-on-mobile-search-seo-100350), but the one thing they have been consistent about is that mobile URLs are not duplicate content. Matt Cutts even recommended using an m. subdomain in a webmaster tools video, and John Mueller, who has advocated responsive design as an acceptable method for making content mobile-friendly, also said later that mobile URLs are fine. A lot of webmasters are anxious about splitting their link equity given what’s happened in desktop search, but this seems to be based more in theory than practice. Plus, with Google’s recently announced skip redirect/old possum improvement for smartphone search (http://insidesearch.blogspot.com/2012/01/30-search-quality-highlights-with.html), mobile URLs will show in the smartphone SERP regardless of their link equity. I know some people who I otherwise respect disagree with me on this point, but the evidence so far has shown that mobile URLs are perfectly fine for SEO.

    Thanks for your question! Enjoyed your QR code presentation at SMX West last year, btw. :)


  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com Bryson Meunier

    Quick postscript on this article: it didn’t take Google long to make my prediction about integrating mobile search results and social come true, as their latest update to Android search (http://googlemobile.blogspot.com/2012/01/new-easier-to-use-google-search-for.html) includes social sharing and +1 information in the results.

    Also, a few people had asked about the upcoming study I mentioned last month that suggests having a mobile site may influence core search rankings. The full study won’t be released for a little while, but I’ve published the evidence related to this particular ranking factor here if there’s interest: http://www.brysonmeunier.com/influence-of-mobile-sites-on-google-smartphone-search-ranking/

  • http://mobilemeteor.com Denis Hurley

    Spot on. And your follow-up comment is also very important. Maybe 2012 will be the year that people finally realize their mobile website visitors usually have a different intention than desktop website visitors. Also, people need to understand the critical distinction between feature phones and smartphones. I’m amazed at how many people think their iPhone/Android optimized site needs to be “.mobi compliant.” And finally… when is the W3C going to catch up to current trends?


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