One URL To Rule Them All For Mobile SEO

one url to rule them all in mobileA core element of mobile SEO is to determine where the mobile content will reside in relation to that of the standard desktop orientated site. This debate was even broached a year ago.

What Are The Mobile SEO URL Options?

  1. Same URL or One URL strategy
  2. An m. subdomain
  3. A third party site for mobile pages
  4. A .mobi TLD

Why Is The One URL Strategy Better For Mobile SEO?

With the large enterprise companies we work with at Covario, our position has been to recommend the one URL or same URL approach over the m. subdomain.

The one URL approach for mobile has also been recently echoed as a preferred choice by both Bing officially and Google unofficially.

This approach requires user agent detection to trigger different rendering of the page based on the mobile device type which can also include the DocType and HEAD section of the code. Google specifically affirmed this is not cloaking back in their Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.

The key is to change these sections for feature phones and smartphones as Google has two different mobile crawlers for these devices since the search results between feature phones and smartphones do differ from each other, as well as from the standard desktop search engine ranking results.

To be proactive, it is best to do this as well for tablets and TV rendering, which should get specific crawlers from the search engines in the near future.

In the end, why is this single URL approach better for mobile SEO?

  • Link empowerment since all the link equity would be consolidated into one URL
  • Mobile URLs rarely have much link equity on their own
  • A URL being in an m. does not inherently have any advantage in mobile search
  • Google and Bing have both affirmed its not cloaking to show different content on the same URL for the different mobile device types
  • There is no need to create a subdomain every time there is a new device type
  • Results in reduced load on your web server; and
  • Definitively establishes a direct relationship of the different mobile renderings to your desktop instance

When Is An m. Subdomain A Better Option?

Using a subdomain for your mobile rendering is a close “1B” option to the one URL strategy and could be the preferred direction in many circumstances.

If you are only going to have a limited mobile site that doesn’t have a one-to-one relationship to your desktop instance, then having a subdomain for mobile would make sense.

Also, if your site already has a long established mobile subdomain the advantages of bringing it to the one URL does diminish.

The disadvantage is that you would need to have user agent detection on both your www- desktop instance as well your m. mobile instance to properly redirect the user to the other based on their device.

Then, you would need that user agent detection on the mobile subdomain to trigger different mobile content on the same mobile URL for feature phone and smartphone users.

Finally, you would then need to create a subdomain for each future device thus a tablet. subdomain then a tv. subdomain and possibly in the future a car. subdomain or appliance. subdomain.

There are of course, differing views on the one URL strategy, including that of my fellow columnist Bryson Meunier, who does prefer the the m. subdomain over the same URL strategy overall and I’m sure he will further expand on his position why in a future post.

Why Use A Third Party Site For Mobile Or A .Mobi TLD?

Using a third party site for your mobile pages such as Google’s mobile site service should only be a stopgap solution until you can capably provide mobile pages under your own domain, which is SEO 101.

As far as an SEO reason to use a .Mobi TLD for your mobile instance, the answer is the same to any inferred advantage this TLD has in the mobile results…none.

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 a SEO Manager at Covario, SEO course instructor at San Diego State University, contributor to The Art of SEO : Mastering Search Engine Optimization published by O’Reilly and owner of Mobile Martin based out of San Diego, California.

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  • VanceHedderel_PR_Afilias

    dotMobi — the company behind the .mobi domain and award-winning mobile creation products like the goMobi site builder and DeviceAtlas device detection database — was founded by fourteen major companies, including Microsoft and Google. As someone who has been part of the company for several years, I can tell you that there are a variety of reasons that a multiple domain strategy can play an important role in SEO as well as other aspects of mobile site discovery. The dotMobi company has outlined those reasons — like transcoding issues and standards adherence — on its website at

  • Tubs Haris

    This is a good video but might have to forward it to 2:10 where Matt Cutts says it might be handy to have m.

  • Andrew Nevelos

    It appears the article referenced was first posted on 3 Feb 2010. I don’t think the statement “.mobi is emerging as the de facto standard for mobile internet site naming” holds true anymore.

  • Holly Kolman

    It has been my personal experience that a .mobi domain name causes my mobile site to be indexed very quickly and can cause it to rise above other, more solidly entrenched .com competitors in the search engines. 

    If I had a years-old authority .com domain name I would follow the advice of a single domain name strategy, but for newer companies it’s about getting ranked faster and a .mobi name does it for me.

  • Dillon Smith

    I don’t see any negatives right now to using an m. subdomain to display content on a mobile device.  No, you don’t have to create a new subdomain for each new device type, but it does help to have an m. subdomain for mobile devices.  In many cases you can display your desktop site on tablets and be just fine.  When it comes to displaying your site on TVs, you can probably follow the same rules as the tablet…it’s a larger screen so just display the desktop version of the site.  As far as displaying the site in a car…seriously?  I have a hard time believing someone is going to want to shop from their car.  If anything, it’ll be tight integration with Google Maps/Places.

  • Victor Talha

    Thnx Michael! Grrrreat article! I just had to share the wealth of knowledge you have bestowed upon all of us. ,-) Keep ‘em comin’! 

  • Gareth Jenkins

    Hi – we currently use a /mobile sub folder approach for our clients.  We then use a mobile device detection tool to redirect mobile requests to equivalent pages within this /mobilehtml accordingly.  As an approach, this sits somewhere between the subdomain and purely single URL strategy.  I’m very interested in your thoughts of this approach.

  • Martin Wilson

    regards the one URL versus m. sub-domain argument, I think both have their
    merits but the obvious advantage of the m. approach is that one can provide a
    link back to the www. site should users of larger screen mobile devices want to
    visit the PC site, whereas the one URL approach prohibits giving users that
    choice, forcing them down the route pre-ordained by the site’s device

  • Mandy Ison

    While there are pros for a one URL strategy, there are also cons. Modifying the current content/page to serve a mobile friendly version does not actually reduce it’s file size. The entire page still has to load, even if all the content is not displayed on the mobile device. For pages that are light to begin with, this is not a problem. But for pages that have complex interactions, etc. a separate mobile friendly version will be faster. In addition, modifying the current content/page to serve a mobile friendly version means two versions of the same page need to be maintained hand in hand. If there are changes to the desktop version, the mobile version may need to be updated at the same time, or reviewed to ensure it’s not broken, and vice versa. This can effectively double or triple the Dev and QA time for these pages. The risk this may pose to the business may not be worth the gains. While mobile subdomains or /mobile/ subdirectory pages may start at a disadvantage with the main site for organic rankings, the pros are pages specifically created for the mobile experience with fast page loads that can be maintained/updated/tested separately.

  • Michael Martin PMP


    That is the balance you have to weigh on going forward with the one URL approach else the pendulum does swing toward an m. implementation.

  • Michael Martin PMP

    I would much prefer the m. vs a /mobile for both SEO and IT advantages.  For SEO its best to have a flat directory structure and for IT its easier to set design and redirection on a subdomain level than for a subdirectory…a subdirectory is fine for a small static mobile section that won’t experience much growth.

  • Bryson Meunier

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the mention in the post, and for sharing it with
    me beforehand. As you know, we don’t exactly agree on this issue, but I enjoy
    the discussion and am looking forward to speaking more with you about it at SMX
    Advanced this June. As you mentioned, I do have a different view in that I
    recommend understanding what mobile searchers want before deciding whether to
    host a mobile site separately or to reformat desktop content for mobile
    searchers. As I explained in my last column (,
    in Mediapost last week (,
    and in Marketing Land today (,
    often mobile searchers are going to be looking for concepts and keywords in
    different frequencies than desktop searchers, and desktop home pages that don’t
    have this content or an engaging user experience built specifically for mobile
    searchers are going to be at a disadvantage in search results to those that do.

    I’m sure both of us will write more on this issue in the future,
    but I wanted to quickly address some of what you have labeled as advantages of the
    one URL approach:“The one URL approach for mobile has also been
    recently echoed as a preferred choice by both Bing officially
    and Google unofficially.”Actually what Duane Forrester of Bing said was
    that he prefers responsive web design for duplicate mobile pages. Beyond
    duplicate pages he really didn’t express a preference: “Occasionally,
    it may make sense to keep some URLs targeted at specific clients (e.g. mobile
    devices), which you can opt to block from us via the usual methods (robots.txt,
    webmaster tools) or not.”And Google, as I’ve explained before in this
    column and as others have said in the comments, has been hard to pin down on
    the issue: “Link empowerment
    since all the link equity would be consolidated into one URL”


    Fair enough, but
    canonical tags could be used to consolidate the link equity of the duplicates,
    and mobile URLs need redirects, not link equity to rank. With Old Possum, you’ll
    see more and more m. subdomains ranking in smartphone search with no links at
    all (“Mobile URLs rarely
    have much link equity on their own”


    And in Google, which
    has 99% of the mobile search market share by some estimates, they don’t need
    link equity to rank now that Old Possum/Skip Redirect is here. Furthermore, how
    can you argue both that you’ll miss the split link equity and that there’s not
    much to miss? You can’t really have it both ways.”A URL being in an m.
    does not inherently have any advantage in mobile search”


    No, but having a
    mobile site is strongly correlated to ranking in Google smartphone search, as
    our data from our smartphone search results study showed ( Could be a result of a user experience that’s
    catered to a mobile searcher and not the separate URL, per se, but given that
    those two things often go hand in hand I don’t see that it matters much.” Google and Bing have
    both affirmed its not cloaking to show different content on the same URL for
    the different mobile device types”


    If you have different
    content for mobile users, though, why would you host it on the same URL? There
    will be a lot of frustrated users following links to content that doesn’t exist
    on their platform, which probably won’t help engagement in search.”There is no need to
    create a subdomain every time there is a new device type”


    Agree here, as I think
    responsive web design makes a lot of sense for tablets where we don’t know yet that
    the searcher has vastly different needs (except for browsing vs researching).
    However, there are almost 13 million m. subdomains indexed in Google right now
    (*.com&oq=&aq=&aqi=&aql=&gs_l=&pbx=1&ix=sea&ion=1&biw=1280&bih=899&cad=cbv&sei=6sZ0T9ztNKi80QGc66j_Ag), so it has become a popular standard for
    creating mobile web sites. Having a URL for a primarily mobile experience and
    one for a primarily sedentary experience is common, but it doesn’t mean that we
    have to push it any further than that.

     ”Results in reduced
    load on your web server”

    Although it can increase
    page load times, which is a ranking factor, and can be “irresponsible” from a web
    design and UX perspective according to Ethan Marcotte, the founder of
    responsive web design:“Definitively
    establishes a direct relationship of the different mobile renderings to your
    desktop instance”As can canonical tags in the cases of
    duplicate content. However, by only duplicating your desktop content, you’re
    missing out on an opportunity to satisfy the needs of mobile searchers, which
    can only bring more traffic from search.


    Again, I enjoy the different perspective, although I don’t
    agree with it in every case. “One URL to Rule them All” is probably more catchy
    and provocative than helpful, though, given that even you don’t think that
    responsive web design is the best solution in every case. Hopefully
    collectively we can come up with a better slogan that foregrounds the mobile
    searcher, rather than the URL. Looking forward to more discussion on this
    topic, in Seattle, and elsewhere.Best,

  • Melina Z.

    Hello and thank you for your article.
    In fact I already use the one url strategy for my clients but as I am new to all of that , I would appreciate it if you could tell me how to seo for the mobile site when it resides on the same url as the desktop one.
    As far as the on-site SEO is concerned, is it enough to optimize page title, headings etc as we traditionally do for SEO ?
    And what about the off-site SEO…does it really matter?

    Thank you in advance.

  • Melina Z.

    Anyone please…??

  • Monica Wright

    Hi there,

    Check out the SEL mobile search section here, this should help.

    Also, here are two recent articles that will get you started

    Mobile search is tricky, you aren’t alone in trying to figure it out!


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