Happy new year everyone, and welcome to the year of mobile! I’ll pause to let my mobile colleagues stop laughing, as the year of mobile has been an industry joke since at least 2005, if not before. Did you know O’Reilly declared 2005 to be “the year of local mobile search” in March of 2005?
Here we are almost six years later, and while mobile search is still growing at a rate faster than PC search (four times last year’s figure in 2010 according to Google, and 5x in the past two years), accounting for 10% of Google search volume or more, it seems no one really knows what to do differently to take advantage of the growth.
In fact, Rand Fishkin has predicted that mobile will have a negligible effect on SEO in 2011, owing largely to similar smartphone search results and a bold prediction that in spite of record smartphone sales and steady growth in search volume from mobile devices, mobile queries will taper off.
If that happens it will not be based in any reality that we’re currently living in, where people are searching more on their mobile devices than ever before, and search engines are subtly re-ranking their search results to provide the best user experience to these searchers, but anything’s possible in this new year.
Nonetheless, bearish or bullish about the prospects of mobile search and SEO in the near or distant future, here are two tips that can help you get more qualified mobile traffic to your digital content today.
Don’t Ignore Mobile Keywords
If you’re not yet using the Google Mobile Keyword tool to incorporate mobile search volume into the keyword research for your digital content, be it your desktop site or mobile site, you are ignoring 10% of Google’s total query volume.
According to recent data from Performics, at the current growth rate they expect to see mobile queries account for 16% of total clicks by September of 2011. Are you prepared to potentially lose out on 16% of total search traffic next year by ignoring mobile search?
In fact, it could actually be more volume than 16%, depending on your industry and your target’s level of engagement. While examining mobile data for a recent mobile SEO audit for a client, I found that overall, mobile searchers were four times more engaged than desktop users. Overall desktop search CTR for this particular client was 6.58% for brand-loyal and brand-agnostic terms.
However, mobile searchers (featurephone and smartphone) had a clickthrough rate of 29.9% overall. When looking at brand-loyal searches for their most relevant category, the CTR for mobile searchers was as high as 52.03% (compared to 9% for brand-loyal desktop searchers in the same category).
Brand-agnostic searches for the same category had lower clickthrough rates, but at 30.54%, they were still significantly higher than the 3.26% desktop clickthrough rate for keywords in the same category, and still have the potential to bring more traffic than the current 10% of total query volume might lead you to believe.
In the past, accounting for these mobile queries was nearly impossible, as there was no mobile keyword tool to use, so you had to estimate volume based on industry research, which wasn’t keyword-specific and often didn’t translate to mobile search.
When we did get a keyword tool for mobile from Google, it was difficult to use and only contained volume for feature phones, which is significantly less than volume from smartphones, so the opportunity in the end didn’t seem that great.
However, the current version of Google’s mobile keyword tool allows you to see volume from smartphones as well, which in my initial research is typically 5x what the feature phone volume was, and gives a much better idea of how mobile searchers are actually looking for your product or service.
The sky is the limit on how you use this data. Ideally I would recommend not just doing keyword research on your mobile user, but demographic, technographic and psychographic research in the service of creating mobile search personas that can inform your overall mobile strategy.
You would then create information architecture, a mobile app, or mobile content based on that user. However, if you are doing basic keyword research now, and you want to start to incorporate mobile queries, you can do that with minimal resources. Here’s one way:
If you’re collecting keywords or categories for your web content and selecting variants based on popularity, make sure you incorporate the total mobile volume into the research. For example, if you have a list of 25 keywords, you could collect mobile volume for these keywords and desktop volume.
If you’re not building a mobile site, sort by total searches to ensure that no mobile variant skews the total opportunity available, and use those keywords in your desktop content (preferably at least formatted for mobile with CSS). With this simple step, even if the total doesn’t change, you’re no longer ignoring mobile searchers, and will be at a very basic level optimized.
Present Mobile Users With Mobile Formatted Content
Perhaps he was just making a bold prediction for the sake of generating controversy and links, but I for one found Rand Fishkin’s recent prediction that “the mobile and normal web browsing experiences will continue to merge toward a single experience, thus negating much of the need for mobile-specific sites and SEO” to be sort of baffling, especially when he says in the same article that he believes clickthrough data in search results is used by the engines, and said a week before that mobile visits could be an indication of quality content that could be used to filter spam from the results.
If bounce rate is one of those metrics that the search engine is using to determine quality, and research has shown that mobile users prefer mobile content, redirecting to relevant mobile content (as Google recommends in their new SEO Starter Guide), could improve bounce rate and time on site, which might affect ranking.
In doing research for a book recently I looked at the top five smartphone listings for 11 of the top mobile queries and found that 39 of the 55 listings or 70.91% of the listings Google presents either have mobile sites or present mobile-formatted content. It’s not 100%, and it’s a relatively small sample, but is it a coincidence that almost three quarters of the sites that Google presents in its smartphone search results offer mobile-formatted content?
Even if it is from a rankings standpoint, the fact that these recipients who get the mobile search traffic have built mobile user experiences should say something about performance of the mobile sites in converting mobile search traffic compared to desktop sites. And given Google’s modus operandi of providing a positive user experience, most recently manifest in the algorithm change following the Décor My Eyes fiasco, I find it difficult to believe that they would continue to encourage webmasters to provide a poor user experience to mobile users in the long term.
Whether you believe mobile SEO is the second coming or the never came, you can reduce bounce rate now by providing mobile formatted content to mobile users, and ensure relevance of your content to mobile users by incorporating mobile queries and opportunity into your current keyword research routine.
Finally, this isn’t a mobile-specific rule, but if you’ve been doing this long enough to remember when SEO was new, you should know by now to test everything. Best practices are fine, and certain experts are fairly reliable, but when you remember that many mobile SEO best practices are based on a pre-iPhone mobile search world, you find that some of them are not currently relevant.
Case in point, it seems every mobile SEO expert out there talks about validation as being more important in mobile search, but all of the 55 listings for the top mobile search queries failed validation. If you do nothing else for mobile in 2011, incorporate mobile queries and provide a mobile site, and you’ll be more competitive for mobile searchers than those who choose to hope they go away.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.