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.)

US Feature Phone Penetration

There are still lots of Feature Phones in the US, but are those people searching?

 

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.

History lesson:

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:

http://www.google.com/m/search?q=site:m.sears.com/&site=mobile

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:

http://www.google.com/m?q=site:m.sears.com/

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!):

eBay Mobile Robots.txt File

eBay Mobile Robots.txt Blocks Desktop Indexing

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.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Mobile Search

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About The Author: Cindy Krum is the CEO and Founder of MobileMoxie, LLC, a mobile marketing consultancy and host of the most cutting-edge online mobile marketing toolset available today. Cindy is the author of Mobile Marketing: Finding Your Customers No Matter Where They Are, published by Que Publishing.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+



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  • http://twitter.com/NetSpeakDesign NetSpeak Solutions

    Great article!

  • Catalysts SEO

    This is simply showing that smart phone crawler of Google is working differently than the Google web crawler. Number of sites the smart phone crawler crawled versus the number of sites crawled by the simple Google crawler has a lot difference.
     
    - Search engine marketing – http://www.seocatalysts.com/

  • http://twitter.com/christian_wilde Christian Oliveira

    Hi Cindy!

    Great info! I used to check the feature phone version of Google when it was reachable with m.google.com but when it changed I stopped using it because of not knowing how to found it.

    The m.ebay.com URLs appearing in the desktop and smartphone versions of Google could be because the robots.txt file was not like that anytime ago (for example, if one month ago the robots.txt was different, google could index those pages). 

    Regarding to this, what do you think about the practice of blocking Googlebot in the mobile subdomain’s robots.txt?

  • JanMq

    Hello,

    Thanks for the article. I think the site m.ebay.com is indexed, because there are Links referring to this page. Googlebot does not crawl it (no description or any other content visible in the description) but it will appear in the serps.
    The only way to prevent indexing is by the noindex Tag.
    I am not sure about the Login Page, since there is some content visible…

  • Cindy Krum

    Thanks for the comments – I agree that the ebay pages could be indexed because they recently changed the robots.txt file and they have not fallen out yet, or because of links. Good points in all of the comments!

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

    Hi Cindy,

    Very happy to see you writing on mobile SEO again! Enjoyed the article and I have fond memories of the feature phone index, so I appreciate the public reminder. :)

    One clarification, though: just searching from google.com/m on your desktop won’t give you smartphone results. The results are similar, but in order to see mobile sites in place of desktop results you need to spoof the user agent. You don’t see them otherwise. I use Ultimate User Agent Switcher, URL sniffer0.9.0.4 for Chrome, which works pretty well.

    Best,
    Bryson

  • http://www.facebook.com/cindy.krum Cindy Krum

    Hey Bryson – Thanks! You are right, to get a proper WAP search result you have to pass the user agent, but to query the WAP index you can do it as I described in the article. I have actually developed a tool that allows you to pass the user-agent and the search query and preview/compare the results across 3 phones. Here is a video that shows how it works:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctoWyP-l6W0 or you can just try the tool here:  http://www.mobilemoxie.com/handset-emulators/search-engine-simulation/

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

    Thanks, Cindy. I was talking about smartphone results (not WAP/feature phone) though. You do need to pass the user agent for those.

    I’m aware of the tool and like it, but the queries I tried were a bit buggy and I’ve found the plugin works just fine.

    Great to see you writing again! Have enjoyed your recent articles.

  • Stephen Oliver

    I have ecommerce site with both mobile version and desktop version.
    Mobile version starts with m.example.com and full version starts with www.example.com

    I am using same content through out both site and using 301 redirection by detecting user agent vice-versa. My both sites are accessible to crawl by any google spider. 

    I have submitted both sites’s sitemap to GWT and mobile site having mobile sitemap xml, so google can easily recognize my mobile site. 

    Is it going to help to rank my both sites as per my expectation?

    1)
    I need to rank for mobile site in Google mobile and ranking for desktop site in Google desktop version. 

    2) 
    Some of pages of my mobile site are started to appearing in Google desktop version. So how I can stop them to appear in Google desktop? 

    Your comments are highly welcome. 

  • Stephen Oliver

    Can I expect answer from expert? 

 

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