WAP Search is Dead! Long Live WAP Search

If you are a technophile, an online marketing specialist or a mobile marketer it can be easy to forget that a large part of your target market might not own a smartphone. This can be especially true if your demographic is broad reaching, and includes the upper and lower ends of the age spectrum (those not between the ages of 21 and 64).

While it is always growing, smartphone ownership at the end of 2011 was still at only 30% for people in the 55-65 age group, and less than 18% for people 65 and older.

On the other side of the age spectrum, only 38% of 13 to 17 year olds owned a smartphone. If you are doing mobile marketing or even mobile SEO, you can’t just assume that everyone owns a smartphone.

SmartPhones by Age Group

Some Age Groups Are Still Slower to Adopt Smartphone Technology than Others

Doing a good job for WAP is not something I talk much about, because for the most part in the US the big money transactions seem to happen on smartphones, (unless you are selling loads of ringtones or J2ME games, which is totally different because you are working in such volume.)

When you are creating a WAP site with SEO rankings in mind, it is much more about facilitating loyalty and brand affinity than creating a flashy user interface. It is about staying available, and a bit about embracing your less tech-savvy customers.

For sites that need to have mass appeal like news, weather and health sites, it still may be valuable to provide a WAP site that can allow visitors to complete simple mobile tasks and micro-conversions like finding a store location, signing up for an email program or opting into an SMS campaign.

There is a lower chance that they will benefit from Google’s new smartphone crawler so WAP sites may still have to compete algorithmically against the other pages on the site. They may have to stand on their own, and rank well in Google’s WAP (Mobile-Only) Index.

So let’s talk about what it takes to rank in Google’s WAP index. Here is a sample search for ‘cute puppies’ on a generic smartphone, and a generic feature phone (WAP phone):

Mobile Search Comparison - Cute Puppies

Cute Puppies Search Results on WAP Phones and SmartPhones

And here are the top desktop results, for your reference:

Desktop Google Search Results for 'cute puppies'

Compare the Mobile Search Results to this Desktop Search Result for 'cute puppies.'

The first thing that you will notice in all of the results is the cute puppies! The second thing you will notice is that the smartphone results are much more ‘interesting’ because they include lots of Universal results for images and videos.

On the feature phone side it is much blander, but you will see that there are YouTube videos ranking 1st through 4th but do not include thumbnail images for the video listings. Only two of those four videos are present on in the smartphone results, but they at least have thumbnail previews with them on the smartphone.

Some of the results are the similar, but there are differences not only in the rankings and inclusion of Universal Results, but also in which sites are there, and which sites are totally missing.

TheDailyPuppy.com ranks 1st in the smartphone results, but is not listed at all in the feature phone results; same with CutePuppies.net, ranking 2nd on the smartphone results but not at all on the feature phone results.

Conversely, articles from Glamour, the Sun and Racked all rank in the feature phone results but are nowhere to be seen in the smartphone results. Also, an Amazon eBook about cute puppies ranks 6th in the feature phone results, but not at all in the Smartphone results. Other than 2 of the 4 YouTube videos and CuteOverload.com, the websites included in the two result sets are actually totally different. (OMG!)

So What Can We Learn?

  • YouTube is your friend in mobile search results – both smartphone and feature phone; (especially if the videos are from 2006-weird! (Have there really been no awesome cute puppy videos since 2006?) This is not a mobile phenomenon though; those same videos are ranking in the desktop search too).
  • Feature phone users will rely more heavily on accurate title and description tags because there are no images or intentions to distract them. Have a look at the description tags (snippets) on the YouTube videos. You will see that they are not pulled through on the smartphone results but they are on feature phone results, and if you forget them you just look silly (see results 3 and 4 on feature phone)!
  • The YouTube results on both phones seem to rely very heavily on the exact match of the keyword queries in the title tag. Only one of the YouTube results has a word other than ‘cute puppy’ or ‘cute puppies.’
  • Image results perform really well in smartphone results, but not as well, or at all in feature phone results. This could be because Google Images has updated how their image results display on smartphones, and this technology & code may be too sophisticated or heavy for most WAP phones.
  • Facebook landing pages appear to rank better on smartphones than feature phones. My guess is that social pages will become increasingly important in all mobile results, but currently they are not hitting the radar of the feature phone using puppy lovers.
  • Having formatted dates appears to be more important in the feature phone results (see the last 4 results), but having keywords in the domain name seems to be much more important in smartphone results (4/10) than feature phone results (0/10).

I had a look, and it is really hard to tell why CuteOverload.com did so well and was the only site other than YouTube to show up in both sets of results. It is a blog with really long pages, covered with huge images and some videos, so it does not seem like a good feature phone result to me. Perhaps like the news stories, it is being given a slight boost because it is in a blog templates with lots of dates?

Obviously this is just one search, and we would have to do many more searches to really know these things for sure, but you will find that the inclusion of Universal listings in mobile search results varies by industry and the propensity for a search to trigger certain types of Universal Results. It should serve as a good reminder to check to see how search results vary on mobile phones as you consider your mobile search strategy.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Mobile Search


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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  • Andrew Swank

    This is a solid article. However, you can’t ignore the influence of social search and search history personalization (with past searches and clicks and/or with browser history) that Google employs by default. These functions aren’t readily accessible; they’re buried deep within the settings. As a result, the vast majority of googlers have these turned on. Google is basically eliminating exploration from search by using your friends’ results and past personal selections to guide top organic hits. This may or may not be the case on WAP phones, but certainly is on Android phones.


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