Optimization for Google Mobile Search
Statistics from early 2009 claimed that iPhone users accounted for some two-thirds of all mobile browsers. Now, while that particular statistic has been questioned and debated, there is little doubt about the effect of the iPhone on mobile browsing. The advent of the Google Android phone will only make mobile web surfing more mainstream than it already is. When it comes to optimizing your web content for Google Mobile Search, there are a number of things you can do.
Some people say that you should make a mobile version of your regular website, while other say that you should optimize your existing site for mobile browsing. But whether it’s your normal site optimized for mobile, or a new mobile version of your site, there are steps that anyone wanting to rank high in mobile search results should do.
Step one is to make sure that your website is mobile compliant. This means that your pages are formatted for people browsing the web with their phones. Mobile browsing implies a lack of time to complete a search. Perhaps instead of mobile “browsing,” the term should be something more like mobile “hunting.” But since mobile users are also short on screen space, the pages should be designed to cater to this reality. Do you know what your site looks like on a mobile web platform? If not, do a mobile search to see. You’ll notice that a lot of your site’s goodies are unavailable. But this makes some choices all the more obvious.
- The most important information on your site should be at the top.
- Your site needs to be easily navigable from a mobile platform.
- Font sizes need to be usable
- Your page should look attractive on a mobile phone browser screen.
If these things don’t check out, then you need to make some changes to get your site ready for what many experts see as the coming tsunami of mobile searching.
Why should you go to the trouble? The current industries seeing the most growth in mobile searches are business, entertainment, and travel. According to the Mobile Optimization Association, mobile searchers tend to be young, high income professionals with promising careers, or, to put it more bluntly, people with more disposable income than usual.
Web pages for mobile browsing are created in XHTML or WML. They must be W3C compliant. W3C stands for “World Wide Web Consortium” and sets guidelines about how a web page should be structured. They publish best practice design principles for webmasters. Without going into the nuts and bolts of getting your site to be W3C compliant, you should know that there is a W3C Code Validator at http://validator.w3.org/ that anyone can use to ensure that your site renders on all the major browsers and platforms in a similar manner.
Before deciding exactly how to optimize your site for mobile, there are a few things to know about the people who use mobile browsers. First of all, they tend to use the same search engine on their mobile device as they use on their PC. Even though there are 234 million wireless subscribers in the U.S., only 10% use mobile search (which is still 23 million people). Adoption rates of mobile browsing are much higher in Europe. Finally, mobile searchers are goal-oriented: they want to get the info and get out. They don’t tend to browse or surf.
A few general practices for optimizing your site are:
- Keep your content brief
- Use brief, custom titles
- For mobile stats, check out MMetrics.com
- Mobile sites need to be as simple as possible to ensure compatibility among all mobile browser software.
There are two main opinions when it comes to optimizing your site for Google Mobile: 1) Optimize your existing site; and 2) Create a new mobile-only site. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, which we’ll go into next.
Optimization of an Existing Site
If you want to optimize your existing site, make sure that in mobile search your pages are independent of device. Search results on mobile devices use a different data set than web browsers do.
Use external CSS style sheets because they limit how much code has to be downloaded and are helpful in scaling up or down for different screen sizes. You can have a separate style sheet for hand held devices.
Use text links rather than images. Images may not download at all and will increase page loading times. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for optimizing an existing site for mobile search.
- Put navigation buttons below content. People don’t like having to scroll down every time a page loads.
- Don’t use flash or frames on your pages. They’ll either be unsupported by mobile browsers, or they’ll slow everything down.
- Avoid pop-ups
- Advertise your site as mobile compatible and get links from directories and mobile sites
- Put the prefix tel: before a phone number in a link so that the mobile device can call it with one click
- Put your business into your Google Local index so it will automatically be listed in Google Voice Local Search.
- Since most users don’t scroll on mobile browsers, ranking in the top three results is a very big deal, so do what you can to optimize your site in the result listings
- Google allows you to submit a separate XML sitemap for mobile. It’s a good idea.
- Optimize for mobile ASAP to get into the results early on. One report says that a search for “McDonalds” on Google mobile has a mobile-friendly page from the BBC as the top result.
Creating a Mobile-Only Site
The argument for doing this is that mobile users are goal oriented rather than simply browsing. Some sites have taken to using a subdomain approach rather than using a separate domain like .mobi. That would give your mobile site a name like mobile.yourdomainname.com. It allows you to retain the “brand” of the top level domain rather than having to rebuild branding for a new domain name. Here are some tips for optimizing a mobile-only version of your site.
- Information should be three clicks or less from the home page.
- Organize navigation logically for mobile users: place likely popular buttons first, using text links. Put navigation buttons underneath content to keep users from having to scroll each time they click a new page.
- Make word links short to keep them from taking up too much valuable screen space.
- Have a sitemap for your mobile-only page.
- Use optimized heading tags, just like with your standard web pages.
- Test and validate your mobile site using simulators like Skweezer and validators like .Mobi Validator or W3C Mobile Web Validator.
- Have a link-building campaign specifically for your mobile-only website.
- Have social book marking and tagging functions on your mobile site.
- Use the tel: prefix in phone number links so users can call the phone number in one click.