The debate over whether to build an app or a mobile website will get more interesting in the next couple months, thanks to a new platform developed by the jQuery team.
jQuery Mobile is a set of scripts and style sheets made specifically for mobile phones, and has the potential to even the playing field between apps and mobile websites. Best of all, they’ve accomplished this while giving SEO consultants a great set of tools for shaping content.
Here’s a short video to take you through the features:
The Mobile Web Can Be Messy
Most smartphones are capable of displaying full-size websites these days, but the experience is far from ideal. Pinch-to-zoom lets you magnify pages at will, but lots of panning and adjusting is necessary to get that article centered on your screen.
Mobile-specific websites are one solution, but users can have bad experiences with them, too. A lot of mobile websites are stripped down to the bare minimum, offering very little in the way of interaction or visuals. They’re not compelling to users, and the temptation on the part of marketers is to escape the Web altogether and build an app.
Time For A Mobile Makeover
Now, jQuery Mobile promises to bring mobile web design a lot closer to the high-water mark set by native apps. It’s a plug-and-play solution that allows you to create touchable buttons, sliders, and page transitions, all using conventional HTML as the foundation.
It’s designed to work with a wide variety of phones, including the Webkit-based browsers found in iPhones, iPads, Androids, and the latest Blackberries. And it doesn’t leave older phones behind – the code is designed to step-down to a standard webpage when the browser isn’t equipped for the job.
jQuery Mobile makes mobile websites much more competitive with apps, upping the design game while preserving the advantages that mobile sites have always enjoyed: universal access through any phone, and searchable content. In fact, it provides some creative opportunities for packaging SEO-friendly content.
Solving Content Issues From A New Angle
Last month, I talked about the need to balance SEO and usability when developing mobile site content. A bit of thoughtful planning can help you decide when to be brief and when to be verbose. If done at the earliest stages of development, the result will be a site that avoids clutter, while presenting optimized content where it counts.
jQuery Mobile makes the process easier, by giving you a few options for building and linking webpages:
- You can build a webpage consisting of a single HTML file, linked to other HTML files – just like any conventional website.
- You can also have AJAX pull-in the new page, resulting in a smooth app-like transition. This might sound bad for SEO, but it’s underpinned by a conventional HTML link, so the engines can find and index every page.
- Lastly, you can package multiple pages into a single file. Older WAP sites used to be built this way, with “decks” of pages sent in one shot – not unlike a Powerpoint full of slides. This too might sound bad for SEO, but it can actually be a huge plus: bundling a few content-light pages into a single file gives them more weight, resulting in a more competitive page for SEO.
The trick is to use this method judiciously, grouping pages where they make sense.
For example, an automotive site could group pages about one model (overview, specs, photos) into a single file. Or they could create a buyer’s guide for a particular type of vehicle, with individual “pages” that highlight vehicles in that class.
Restaurant reviews are another example. Each review is relatively short, and adds to the overall story. Grouping user-generated reviews into a single file can add plenty of long-tail potential to your SEO efforts. And jQuery Mobile lets you have that performance, while giving users the smooth swipe-over transitions that make the experience much more enjoyable.
But you don’t want to overdo it. If you make your whole website into a single file, you’d only have one URL indexed by the search engines. That would drastically narrow your chances of hitting targeted keywords.
jQuery Mobile is in late-stage alpha right now, with beta coming next month and a full release expected this summer.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.