Seven Mobile SEO Myths Exposed

Not too long ago, the article Mobile SEO is a Myth got a lot of people fired up about the foolish notion that mobile SEO is a construct developed by salesmen to sell more SEO services.

I responded in the comments to the author’s points, and have addressed this point in multiple articles over the years, so I’m not going to argue it here again.

While I don’t agree at all that mobile SEO itself is a myth, there are many myths around mobile SEO that practitioners need to be aware of.

Here are a few of the most prevalent…

Myth #1: A Dotmobi TLD Is Necessary For Indexing & Ranking

According to the first result in Google for the query [mobile seo best practices], “the best way to build your mobile web site for SEO is by using the dotMobi domain”.

One of the reasons dotMobi gives for this is the following:

“Building a dotMobi site means that your URL will automatically feature on the ‘zone files’ that we maintain for ICANN (the meta-Internet registry organization), and which are regularly requested by mobile search engines, directories and other sites and services as ‘seed lists’ for the indexing of mobile-centric web sites (in much the same way as they use DMOZ).”

DotMobi should be commended for their dedication to mobile content, and building your brand new mobile site with a DotMobi TLD is no better nor worse than building it at m.domain.com or other popular alternatives, but the fact is Google has more m.domain.com sites indexed than any other.

Futhermore, no DotMobis appeared in the results of an upcoming Resolution Media study that deconstructs the smartphone search results for some top mobile queries in Google. The percentage of .com sites in our upcoming smartphone search results study at 73.97% was actually larger than the Internet as a whole at 55.1%.

There may be good reasons for using a dotMobi TLD, but SEO clearly isn’t one of them.

Myth #2: Metatxt Is Necessary For Mobile SEO

Though I haven’t heard much about it recently, for a while, Bena Roberts and Visibility Mobile were pushing the metatxt standard for better indexing of mobile content. A metatxt file is similar to a robots.txt file and an XML sitemap in that it is a text file at the root location of a server that helps mobile search engines discover mobile content.

The problem with metatxt?

It’s not supported by Google or Bing, which get over 99% of mobile market share, so it won’t get you a lot more visibility in the engines that people use. It’s also just a solution for indexing, so if your content is already indexed well, the metatxt file won’t help you at all. It’s just a txt file, so it doesn’t hurt you to put it up, but it’s certainly not necessary for visibility in mobile search.

In Resolution Media’s upcoming study of the top mobile queries and the ranked sites in Google, zero ranking sites used the metatxt standard, further busting the myth of metatxt for mobile SEO.

Myth #3: Code Validation Is Necessary For Mobile SEO

This one appeared first on this parked domain from 2005, and people keep repeating it because Google keeps ranking the site for mobile SEO queries (#4 currently for [mobile seo].)

It makes sense in theory. Mobile (feature phone) browsers are more primitive, and search engine spiders try to display content that is accessible to the devices that display them. If content isn’t accessible to mobile users, mobile search engine spiders won’t be able to index it.

However, this only applies to the feature phone index, whose importance is receding for mobile SEO with the growing popularity of smartphones.

When it comes to smartphones, validation does not matter, as all ranking results in the sample set failed validation, and  66% of them were so unusable that they scored a zero out of 100% on the W3’s mobileOK test, which is used to determine probable usability of sites on mobile devices, and more than 78% of the listings received a score of “Bad” from Ready.mobi’s mobile validator.

Myth #4: Mobile Sitemaps Are Necessary For Mobile SEO

These can help with indexing feature phone content, and for letting Google know that you want your content to appear in their index of accessible mobile content. But if you’re indexing smartphone content, you don’t need it, says Google’s John Mueller. To back him up on this, none of the ranking sites in the upcoming Resolution Media study on smartphone search results used mobile sitemaps.

Mobile sitemaps probably can’t hurt, and like Web sitemaps, they could help sites get more unique content indexed, but they’re not necessary for mobile SEO unless you’re concerned about indexing feature phone content.

Myth #5: Mobile Formatting (Handheld CSS) Is Enough For Mobile SEO

The mobile SEO is a myth article claims the best strategy is to allow your site to be viewed on all types of devices with CSS. This is a common argument, as I explained before here.

Also, as I explained before, the problem with this argument is that a site that uses a mobile-centric information architecture and keywords to develop content for a mobile user, rather than reformatting desktop content for mobile devices, will always be better-optimized for mobile searchers, because it gives users content that’s based on their specific user experience.

Case in point, if State Farm had not only considered the mobile user experience for their mobile site, but made it competitive for towing and roadside assistance queries that are more heavily trafficked in mobile than desktop, they would have had an opportunity to get even more traffic from search engines.

Responsive design is the easier option, so it’s very popular among designers going mobile because of what is perceived as efficiencies. However, in my experience talking with companies who design this way, many of them end up building a mobile site architecture down the line, making responsive design ultimately less efficient for them, as they have to redo it later on.

Myth #6: Mobile Queries Are Shorter

This one was just repeated in an article in Forbes, but that doesn’t make it true. The theory is, it’s harder to type on mobile devices, and because of this mobile searchers will use fewer words in their query to find what they’re looking for.

However, research from Google in 2009 showed that feature phone searches are only slightly shorter than computer-based searches (2.44 words for feature phones compared to 2.93 words for computers), and that iPhone searchers used the same number of words that computer based searchers used on average (2.93 words).

When some of the same researchers studied spoken queries in early 2011, they found that longer queries have a higher probability of being typed than shorter queries. Never mind your instincts. Mobile queries are no shorter than Web queries.

Myth #7: People Aren’t Searching On Mobile Devices

All due respect to the late innovative marketing genius and eccentric billionaire Steve Jobs, who famously said in 2010, “search hasn’t happened on mobile devices,” but search is happening on mobile devices. Quite a bit of it, actually.

Google reported early this year that 1 in 7 queries come from mobile devices on average, with certain industries (like restaurants) getting as high as 30% of their queries from mobile devices. And Yahoo! has reported that mobile search on average makes up 20% of their total search queries. Jobs was trying to demonstrate that people use apps instead of browser-based search, but Google research on smartphones from April shows that more smartphone owners search (77%) than use apps (68%).

Want to do your part in helping to eradicate these persistent mobile SEO myths?

If you’re calling yourself a mobile SEO expert, as many people do these days, stop repeating them. If you’re not a mobile SEO expert, but want to promote the spread of good, accurate information, share or link to this post and/or check out this list of credible mobile SEO resources until Google gets its act together and stops propagating these myths on what matters for mobile SEO.

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

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

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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://www.gomonews.com gomonews

    HI, thanks for the mention. I started MetaTXT and visibility mobile in 2008 and in 2009 I got cancer and unfortunately didn’t have the momentum to continue. I also think that we were just too early – if we had launched two years later with the support of the brands it would have been different….

    but thanks for thinking about us and remembering!
    Bena Roberts

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

    Hi Bena, sorry to hear about your cancer, and I hope things are better now. My point was that when people search [mobile seo] in Google today they get information on MetaTXT through mobileseonews.com, even though it won’t really help them with mobile SEO today. Would love if MetaTXT did become a silver bullet for mobile SEO then, but it didn’t happen, as you say. Just trying to clear up whatever confusion people who are looking to discover more about mobile SEO today might have if they come across your sites in search engines.

    Best,
    Bryson

  • http://www.golocal.com/ Caleb Ross

    Great write-up. This is genuinely appreciated. One comment about myth #5, your example of State Farm targeting mobile-specific queries makes a lot of sense. However, with some other businesses, would the CSS redirect still make sense? My fear would be about missing out on existing SEO “power” from the main domain by establishing a completely separate domain. Is my fear valid?

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

    Caleb, thanks for the feedback! If, after doing mobile keyword research you don’t find that mobile search behavior and keywords are different enough to warrant a different information architecture for mobile users, it absolutely makes sense to either reformat your desktop pages or add canonical tags to the mobile formatted versions. However, I would be surprised if most businesses didn’t have certain concepts and keywords that were more popular with desktop than mobile users and vice versa. If you do reformat your content, I would be sure to have a page somewhere on your site that addresses your mobile-specific content (apps, sites, etc.) as you want to have a landing page for navigational queries that contain mobile. Otherwise, searchers looking for your brand + mobile in Google will likely be frustrated by what they find.

    To your question about diluting the link equity of a site by splitting off the mobile content, the one thing that Google seems to agree on is that mobile sites are not duplicate content (http://searchengineland.com/do-you-know-google%E2%80%99s-official-stance-on-mobile-search-seo-100350), so you shouldn’t have to worry about that being a reason for reformatting instead of building a mobile-specific site. In fact, in our upcoming research on smartphone search results in Google we found that more than half of the sites listed had dedicated mobile sites with mobile URLs, and only one of them reformatted their content for mobile users. So from my experience I wouldn’t worry about reformatting solely for the purpose of retaining link equity.

    Best,
    Bryson

  • http://www.raffaellabronzi.com.au Raffaella Bronzi

    Hi Bryson,
    Nice article! I have been following mobile SEO for some time now and had few discussions myself with colleagues that were skeptical about mobile SEO. What do you think about mobile ranking? One myth I believe is that mobile and desktop rankings are the same. While location is a factor that affects rankings in both, mobile and desktops, I also found that rankings slightly differ for shorter queries, e.g. the terms “super” and “superannuation” (I believe these are only searched in Australia), where Super is the abbreviation for Superannuation. Have you ever come across anything like that?

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

    Thanks, Raffaella!

    You’re right– it is a myth that mobile and desktop rankings are the same. I did a study last December that looked at thousands of queries across five client domains in Google Webmaster Tools, comparing smartphone ranking to desktop (or Web, as they’re labeled in GWT) ranking for the same queries. Contrary to popular belief, the rankings differed for 86% of the queries, busting another myth around mobile SEO: http://www.brysonmeunier.com/differences-in-mobile-smartphone-ranking-and-desktop-web-ranking-in-google-search/

    There are a number of reasons that rankings differ in smartphone search. I covered 14 in May of this year, but there could be others:
    http://searchengineland.com/14-differences-between-smartphone-search-desktop-search-results-74687

    Thanks for your comment! Hope the information is useful in helping your colleagues understand the truth.

    Best,
    Bryson

  • http://tonyahn.com Tony Ahn

    Hi Bryson,

    You said these are the most prevalent. What are some of the less prevalent myths you’ve heard?

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

    Tony, great question!

    I don’t want to give away too much of what we’ll be releasing in our upcoming whitepaper, but there are a number of myths beyond what I’ve listed here. Raffaella hit on one above, and I’ve covered a number of them already in my column, including the myth that mobile SEO is no different from traditional SEO (http://searchengineland.com/what%E2%80%99s-the-difference-between-mobile-desktop-seo-89862), the myth that mobile queries are the same as desktop queries (http://searchengineland.com/how-mobile-searchers-are-changing-keyword-research-78280) and the myth that Google has an official stance on mobile SEO (http://searchengineland.com/do-you-know-google%E2%80%99s-official-stance-on-mobile-search-seo-100350) that they’ve shared consistently. Beyond that, some big findings from the study counter the commonly held belief that mobile sites don’t matter in smartphone search (more than 60% of the sites ranking in smartphone search had mobile sites, which is higher than the 30% of large advertisers with mobile sites standard that Google cited), and the myth created by SEOMoz a few years ago that links don’t matter in mobile search (in fact, all of the sites in our random sample have at least one link pointing to them, with the average being a little over 90,000 inbound links). There are a lot more myths, actually, to the point where I would say 90% of what you read about mobile SEO in Google is not based on what’s happening in the search results today. If you’re interested in all of them, keep an eye out for our whitepaper on the subject, which will be coming out early 2012.

    Best,
    Bryson

  • http://www.searchgeeks.org James C. Johnson

    How does anything John Mueller said or anything the article said that was linked to as an example equate to you don’t need a Mobile sitemap.

    How do you deduce “no mobile sitemap needed” from that article? That article is about feature phones vs smart phones optimized websites and which google bot goes to which.

  • http://www.ryanmjones.com Ryan Jones

    Dude, I still think you’re totally misinterpreting my mobile SEO article that you linked to at the start. Have you even read it? or did you just read the headline and then start ranting against me?

    In my article I make the following points:
    1. Mobile search and local search are very different.
    2. The best approach is one URL with responsive design that scales and works on any device (which John Mu advocates)
    3. If you want to use a separate URL, then slap on a canonical tag and 301 redirect based on device detection.

    None of that has anything to do with the myths you list above. It’s all very sound advice that can be backed up by Google recommendations.

    Your comments against me include several allusions to how stupid I am, but no actual reasons to say why. In fact, I’m curious as to what I did to upset you.

    If you want to discuss mobile strategies, I’d be glad to – but drop the personal attacks and name calling man. There’s no place for it in our industry.

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

    Ryan, I’m not attacking you personally, but the idea that mobile SEO is a myth, which is clearly nonsense. But in this article I’m not even doing that. If you read the article you’ll see that I’m only using your unfortunate article as a springboard to address real myths in mobile SEO. After the first two paragraphs I move on to actual myths around mobile SEO, which (with the exception of #5) have nothing to do with you or your article. There’s really no rant against you here, so I’d suggest that you take your own advice about reading thoroughly and reread.

    If anything I’m kind of agreeing with you that “[mobile seo]’s a topic that nobody seems able to accurately explain. Google it; the results are all over the place.” Too many people are giving bad information about mobile SEO, so it leads people like you to think that there’s no substance behind it. In this article I’m calling out the BS, which there is a lot of still in mobile SEO. Doesn’t mean that mobile SEO is a myth, or that the best way to optimize for mobile search traffic is to do nothing. I’ve addressed that point a number of times both in the comments of your post and in many articles I’ve written on this site and others in the past 5 years, so (as I said) I’m not going to address it again here. I do address your second point in myth #5 above and have addressed your third many times in my column including this one from April 2010 if you’re really interested in discussing strategy: http://searchengineland.com/dont-penalize-yourself-mobile-sites-are-not-duplicate-content-40380

    If you’re really curious what you did to upset me, it could have something to do with the fact that you didn’t read any of my articles or my colleagues’ articles on Search Engine Land over the past year but still thought you were qualified to say everything in them was wrong and the best strategy is to do nothing for mobile searchers. And this based on testimony from one of thousands of Google employees (that John Mueller later recanted (http://searchengineland.com/do-you-know-google%E2%80%99s-official-stance-on-mobile-search-seo-100350)). That said, I never said you were stupid or made any personal attacks on you. In fact, even above I say that your article got people excited about the foolish notion that mobile SEO is a myth. Hating the idea, not the person. Apologies if that wasn’t clear to you.

    James C. Johnson, are you serious? Did you read the article I linked to? Because it clearly says “If you have a mobile friendly web site that was specifically designed for the iPhone, Android devices or similar smart phone devices then you do not need to serve that to Googlebot-Mobile, Googlebot will access that fine. But if you have a site that you want to access on those old internet enabled phones, like by Nokia, then you do want to make a special version for Googlebot-Mobile and a special sitemap.” Note that since I wrote this article Google finally introduced a smartphone Googlebot and made this issue a bit more complex, but there’s nothing obscure about the article I linked to with the title “Mobile Sitemaps: Only For Those Older Mobile Sites, Not New Ones”

  • localbizexpress

    Very informative article. I have been confused this past year on which way to go and execute mobile seo. Especially with the dot mobi controversy..  

 

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