Smartphone Vs. Mobile-Only Google Indexing
The new smartphone crawler that Google has launched works cleverly by caching mobile redirects and potentially mobile pages too, but letting the desktop page rankings carry the day.
In theory, as long as you have strong rankings for your desktop pages on mobile phones, then your mobile pages should soon be benefiting from those rankings, as long as page-to-page mobile redirects are in place.
But that begs the question – what about feature phones?
When you live in a tech-savvy community like most of us do, it is sometimes hard to remember that not everyone has smartphones. In fact, some studies in the US still showed that in June 2011, more than 50% of subscribers had yet to upgrade from a feature phone to a smartphone (See the colorful graph below.)
Conventional wisdom and studies published by other groups all indicate that feature phone users are much less interested in mobile search than smartphone users are. Though it may be irrelevant for many mobile marketers, WAP still has a place in the marketing mix, and there are still some sites that are targeted at driving WAP traffic.
This new smartphone bot creates a conundrum for mobile SEO, because now we know much more about how smartphone rankings are controlled (or will be controlled as the smartphone bot is more widely deployed), but we are still left in the dark about how the search rankings on feature phones are derived.
Most SEO’s don’t realize that Google still maintains a separate index of mobile sites. In fairness, the WAP or mobile-only index has been getting increasingly harder to access.
You used to access it simply by going to m.google.com until they added the mobile dropdown, and m.google.com began to default to showing smartphone results. Finally m.google.com turned into a landing page promoting all of Google’s mobile product offerings, and the mobile search engine was moved to .google.com/m, with the dropdown for mobile-only or WAP phone results or sometimes, just the text link options of ‘mobile’ and ‘classic’ at the bottom of the search page.
All very confusing, but now to get to the WAP index, you basically have to have a WAP phone, know the generic WAP phone search parameters (covered later) or use MobileMoxie’s free mobile search engine indexing tool.
Comparing Mobile Search Results Side By Side
Below is a picture that compares site indexing for m.cmt.com (with no geo-data) on a desktop, smartphone and WAP phone. What you will notice is that the desktop and smartphone results are identical, but the WAP results have different pages included, with a different order, and even a different SERP template:
The URL for the results in the WAP index (furthest on the right) looks like this:
Notice that there are two mobile references in this URL – the first one is the mobile subdomain (/m/) and the second one is a parameter from the drop down, that says ‘&site=mobile’. That is how you know you are looking at the WAP index, a.k.a. the mobile-only index.
If there is just a /m/ then you are basically looking at smartphone results, which pull from the desktop index, which then use adapted ranking factors and a different page template.
Aside from the mobile domain that we are checking, the URL for the smartphone search results only has one mobile reference in the query, and looks like this:
One of the first things you will notice that is different between the WAP results on the far right, and the desktop and smart phone indexes to the left of it, is that there are session ID’s indexed, even on the home page of the WAP results.
After the homepage, the second page that is indexed for the desktop and smartphone index is the page for the ‘Kardashian Kollection,’ [sic] but the second page included in the WAP index results is one called ‘shc/s/dap-….‘
You can tell from the title tag that the page is actually for the Kardashian Kollection, but a different version of the URL is clearly indexed here. The following pages are all the same, but this is a clear indication of a disassociation in the two indexes.
Here is another interesting example, where you will notice that there are much more dramatic differences in the indexing of the mobile content – more specifically, that mobile content is only partially indexed in the desktop and smartphone index:
Just the homepage and the login page are accessible to the desktop and smartphone crawlers on this site, because eBay has chosen to block the desktop bots from accessing their mobile content.
Though they have no special treatment of the new smartphone bot on their mobile pages, they are actually blocking indexing of their mobile content by the desktop version of Google-bot (it is actually a bit unclear how those two pages that are indexed got there at all, based on the robots.txt file!):
The mobile version of Sears, and some other sites we checked that had very similar indexing across all devices had no mobile specific robots instructions, and appeared to suggest no other special treatment for the mobile pages (for instance, with canonical tags or robots instructions in the meta tags).
The launch of the new Google smartphone bot does appear to have impacted some of the mobile-only WAP indexing in a subtle way, making it appear more like the desktop and smartphone indexes, unless the pages are specifically treated differently.
It will certainly be interesting to see if the WAP phone index is preserved, or if it is eventually melded with the desktop and smartphone index. It does seem to be getting some well needed updates; but it is still off there on its own. With no clarification (yet) from Google Mobile, we are left to wonder what will become of it, and how it may or may not be impacted by the new smartphone bot in the future.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.
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