In previous posts in this column, I’ve covered the intricacies of multinational search from a technical SEO’s standpoint.

Leveraging multinational markup while clearing up in-site duplicate content and avoiding multinational homepage calamities is no easy matter to coordinate for big site SEO.

Bringing all of those strategies to bear, and then also attempting to integrate a mobile site strategy would seem, on the face of it, to be a difficult task.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Mobile Sites, Feature Phones & The Smartphone Revolution

We are fortunate to be living through a time of radical change for mobile website optimisation.

Every year since 2003-2004, I’ve heard well respected industry figures declaim the ‘Year of Mobile’, only to be sorely disappointed when it comes down to looking at where their client’s online revenue is being generated (with the notable exception of gaming, of course).

The last couple of years have seen mobile-derived revenue finally push on to the point where we are genuinely on the cusp of smartphones (and of course tablets) taking centre stage.

This is especially true for retailers. And you can multiply that sentiment by 10 for multinational brand retailers.

So why now?

If you’ve ever tried to make a purchase through a feature phone (AKA: a ‘dumb’ phone), then you’ll know the answer.

Smartphones and tablets provide a genuinely convenient and pleasurable shopping experience, whether via applications or HTML5, or simply thanks to clever adaptive CSS styling.

They also allow big sites to avoid the common SEO pitfalls of deploying a specially created ‘Mobile’ website intended for feature forms. To demonstrate my point, step forward UK hardware supplier B&Q, owners of the SEO friendly domain ‘diy.com’.

The Pitfalls Of Mobile Content Duplication

Using our site operators we can drill through B&Q’s domain to spot the issue created by their current mobile deployment.

We can see that for a domain with 937,000 indexed pages initially listed in Google’s cache, a chunk of 50,000 are caused by the entirely duplicate m.diy.com subdomain: their mobile website.

(Of course, a rather larger chunk of 108,000 are caused by their ‘Asset Bank’ feature: if you’re reading B&Q, please do check out the clearing up website duplication tips I linked to earlier.)

We can also see that because the mobile site is cached in Google’s main index, they will return pages like this and this for users searching on desktop computers, creating extremely bad brand experiences and the cause of massive bounce rate issues which have a knock on effect on the domain’s SEO value as a whole.

A B&Q mobile page indexed in Google's main SERPs.

A B&Q mobile page indexed in Google's main SERPs.

Effectively, the poor performance of the mobile pages will damage the performance of the ‘main’ website pages. So rather than providing value by being useful for feature phone users (who tend not to make a purchase via their phones anyway), they in fact detract value and lower sales.

So why has this happened and what’s the solution?

B&Q have done the right thing: they are catering to their customers regardless of their browsing device. This is a good thing.

Unfortunately, they have not followed Google’s advice for registering mobile only pages in their mobile search engine. And so, they have ended up creating issues and failing to reach their intended audience.

By listing their mobile URLS in a Mobile sitemap.xml, and using (and declaring!) a mobile markup standard such as XHTML MP 1.2, cHTML or WML 1.3, B&Q could disambiguate their mobile content from their destop-intended pages and Google would reflect that in their indexing.

For a belt and braces approach (always preferred if you ask me!), using the robots.txt to restrict access to the m.diy.com subdomain to mobile user-agents only (for example Googlebot-mobile) would prevent the poor brand experience and SEO duplication issues in their tracks.

A Modern Mobile Website

However, if you are contemplating building a mobile site today, then I’d suggest you do none of these things, and instead break out a bit of CSS3.

By indicating the ‘media’ value for your stylesheets using CSS3 mediaqueries, you can pass different stylesheets based on the width of the browser used. For example, a value of “max-device-width:480px” would mean the contents are only used for the most common smartphone browser width.

You could be as granular as you like and provide small and full-size tablet width layouts, or indeed provide a unique layout for very wide monitor widths for more high value boutique brands looking to make a splash when visited by higher net worth individuals. The possibilities are extensive.

So detecting the user-agent (your browser, for example) display width is a snap, and serving different styling to a well structured XHTML (or, even better, HTML5) page means to can use exactly the same content – and therefore URLs – for your desktop or mobile devices. So, no duplication.

With HTML5′s additional strength as a surrogate phone/table app replacement, building to this specification allows extremely valuable future linkbait promotion of features without the additional expense of specific device application development.

We use that approach on QueryClick’s company website, so try it out in different devices (and of course feel free to copy out the code for your own purposes, I’d be pleased to hear what you make of it) and see how it scales from mobile, through to desktop all with just a small change in the CSS.

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

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

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About The Author: has over twelve years web development experience & is the founder of QueryClick Search Marketing, a UK agency specialising in SEO, PPC and Conversion Rate Optimisation strategies that deliver industry-leading ROI.

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



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  • Bryson Meunier

    Hi Chris. Love that you’re writing about mobile SEO, but the
    tips that you’re giving could actually make a brand less visible in mobile
    search, not more. That’s not really what most people would call optimization.

    For example, you mention duplication on m. subdomains as
    being a problem for SEO, and excluding through robots.txt as a solution, but
    this essentially makes your site invisible for navigational queries. I
    mentioned how well this tactic worked for Home Depot’s site visibility last
    year in Search Engine Land (http://searchengineland.com/why-mobile-friendly-is-not-mobile-seo-66192),
    and I would imagine it wouldn’t work much better for their English twin.

    A better solution is to use device detection and user agent
    redirection so that the desktop searcher will never see a smartphone page and
    vice versa. If you put canonical tags on the mobile duplicates, you can also
    retain any link equity that may be split between the desktop URL and the mobile
    URL, which is basically lost when you nofollow the entire mobile site with
    robots.txt.

    If you redirect the URLs properly, you could also have the
    mobile URL appear in smartphone search results (through Google’s recent Old
    Possum/Skip Redirect update (http://www.brysonmeunier.com/skip-redirectold-possum-in-google-smartphone-search-results/)),
    which could increase the click through rate to your listing.

    Your client is also using Usablenet to transcode their
    desktop content for mobile, which isn’t ideal for SEO for a number of reasons: http://www.brysonmeunier.com/review-of-usablenet-for-mobile-seo/

    As for your endorsement of responsive web design, we’re
    actually debating the merits in the Mobile Search column on Search Engine Land and
    elsewhere (http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/170903/mobile-seo-separate-from-responsive-web-design.html).
    Not sure why you equate mobile sites with the past, as even the founder of
    responsive web design never intended for RWD to replace mobile sites. If the
    user goals are different (which they often are), there’s still a need for
    dedicated mobile content on mobile URLs.

    For example, when I looked at the search demand in mobile and
    desktop for B&Q, their mobile searchers overindex for location related
    queries (e.g. hours, store finder/locator, city names, phone number, etc). This
    is typical for retail brands with a local presence and represents an
    opportunity to make the mobile homepage more suited to a mobile searcher’s
    goals than the desktop page by making it as easy as possible for them to find a
    location near them. However, since B&Q is simply repurposing their desktop
    content without thinking of the mobile searcher’s goals, that content is not
    included and a big opportunity to drive more traffic and engagement is missed.

    If you want to read more about the pros and cons of RWD vs
    mobile first, I won’t repeat them here, but would suggest that you read more of
    the mobile search column here at Search Engine Land (http://searchengineland.com/library/mobile-search/), including the following related
    articles:

    http://searchengineland.com/how-to-best-optimize-your-mobile-site-for-seo-112940

    http://searchengineland.com/consider-mobile-content-carefully-for-users-better-seo-92597

    http://searchengineland.com/one-url-to-rule-them-all-for-mobile-seo-115366

    As it is I’m afraid you’re helping your readers make their
    sites less visible in mobile search, which is probably not your intention.

    Best,
    Bryson

  • https://plus.google.com/115256783759878789088/posts Hari Kumar

    Duplicate content is an issue faced while doing mobile websites. But i have observed that when full width landing pages are used for mobile websites for the customers to take action then the problem seldom arises. Also when the website is designed in full width it will automatically re size. Another method is to have sub domains for mobile websites.

  • http://twitter.com/liversidge Chris Liversidge

    Hi Bryson, and thanks for the thoughtful points!

    I should point out that none of the sites mentioned are clients of mine – I don’t think that’s appropriate so I use example cases that are unrelated to QueryClick. So your points about B&Q, while valid, should perhaps be targeted at their in-house team instead.

    I agree there is a design argument for creating mobile specific pages – though I fall on the side opposing Jakob Nielsen on this one. See: http://www.netmagazine.com/interviews/nielsen-responds-mobile-criticism

    I don’t advocate in the article that the best practice is to exclude URLs, quite the opposite. Responsive design utilising a single URL is absolutely the way to go – which I felt the final section made clear but perhaps I should have spelt it out a little more.

    I would argue that the responsive design approach does in fact increase a site’s visibility due to the condensed domain authority, and it is entirely possible to get responsive URLs indexed for mobile search so there’s really no disadvantage – from a pure SEO point of view – to the responsive approach.

    When you factor in the significant overhead savings for ongoing maintenance, it’s a no-brainer choice in my opinion.

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

    Hi Chris,

    Fair enough. My criticism is for B&Q’s in-house team, then, and for the many marketers who choose the easy over the optimal, as they seem to have done.

    Regarding URL exclusion, I was referring to when you recommended restricting content to mobile user agents with robots.txt (i.e. “For a belt and braces approach (always preferred if you ask me!), using the robots.txt to restrict access to the m.diy.com subdomain to mobile user-agents only (for example Googlebot-mobile) would prevent the poor brand experience and SEO duplication issues in their tracks.”). This technique tends to unnecessarily prevent relevant content from showing for searchers, which the user agent detection tends to fix.

    You’re entitled to your opinion on responsive web design, and I agree that there’s a time and place for it, but citing increased domain authority  as an SEO reason for responsive design is misleading at best. As I explained in my response, mobile URLs with no domain authority frequently outrank desktop URLs thanks to Google’s Old Possum/Skip redirect update in December. 

    Beyond that, there is a disadvantage to the responsive design approach in that you could be excluding content that mobile searchers are looking for, as I explained in my response and in the articles I pointed you to. If you’d like to address the points I’d made there I’d be happy to continue with this discussion.

    Best,Bryson

 

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