August 11, 2009
How To

Optimize your Site for Mobile Search: 5 Strategies

SUMMARY: The number of users searching the web from mobile devices is growing fast. Ensuring your website is visible to mobile searchers now will prevent you from scrambling to catch up later.

We spoke with a mobile search expert to uncover five key strategies for getting your website ready for mobile searchers. Find out why the major search engines are not the only kings of mobile search, and why using optimized HTML content only won’t always get you noticed.
The number of people using mobile devices to access online news and information in the US more than doubled from January 2008 to January 2009, according to comScore. The number of users who accessed information daily increased 107% over the same period.

To capture some of that growth, and to mobile pull users to your content, you need to make sure that your content can be clearly displayed on a hand-held device. If it doesn’t render correctly, search engines cannot index it and mobile users are unlikely to find it.

We sat down with Cindy Krum, CEO and Founder,, to talk about what marketers can do to get their content in front of more mobile searchers. Krum has helped brands and agencies make their websites more visible to the mobile audience.

Here are five strategies that Krum suggested to get your website in shape for mobile search.

Strategy #1. Know your apps

The big three search providers -- Google, Yahoo!, and MSN -- also control the major mobile search engines. However, search engines are not the only mobile search tools that consumers are using.

Many downloadable mobile applications have search-based features that are driving targeted traffic to specific types of content. The difference is that mobile apps are often niche focused. They are intended for one or a few types of searches, whereas search engines are broader.

You should know which mobile search apps are relevant to your industry and which your customers are using. This will help you determine how to best work with your content and application publishers to pull more customers your way.

- Where to find mobile apps

Two big places to look for your industry’s mobile apps are the websites of major device manufacturers, such as BlackBerry and Apple, and the websites for phone operating systems, such as Symbian and Windows (see useful links below).

Keep an eye on these outlets because developers are adding new apps every day.

- How to engage application developers

Once you identify a few relevant apps, scour their websites for information about how they index content for their searches. Also, reach out to the developers and tell them that you have a valuable product that you want to rank well in their application. Ask how you can best integrate your site with their technology.

"The search applications are not the search engines," Krum says. "They are not as ‘black-box’ for the most part."

Strategy #2. Optimize more types of content

Some search applications accept more than just text queries.

- Shazam is an app that can listen to a snippet of music, identify the song and artist, and provide the user with links to its YouTube video and online sources to buy it.

- SnapTell is an app that lets users take a picture of a book, CD, or movie cover to search for information on it.

Many marketers are doing all they can to optimize their image, audio and video content online to take advantage of universal search results. This effort is becoming more important as mobile search applications are accepting more than text-based queries.

Strategy #3. Signal your location

Many mobile searches are done by people looking for local information, such as directions, nearby restaurants, stores, etc. In fact, the number of mobile subscribers who accessed local content increased 51% from March 2008 to March 2009, according to comScore.

By providing search bots with your exact location, you can help drive local searchers your way.

A great way to send that signal is through hCard microformatting, Krum says. This can be done in your website’s code, and it doesn’t cost anything. It is simply a way of writing your website’s code that signals to search crawlers that this is our street address, this is our city, this is our zip code. You can even provide your longitude and latitude (see Useful Links, below).

Strategy #4. Optimize your current site

Your current website has a history with the search engines. It also receives traffic and has a number of in-bound links pointing to it -- which are all very good things. Building on these positive assets is better than starting from scratch with a new mobile site at a different domain, especially if the new site is going to have the same content.

Some site owners have purchased .mobi addresses, where they host their regular website’s content for mobile visitors. Maintaining two sites with the same content is like dividing the SEO-power of your traffic and in-bound links in two.

"If you’re creating new mobile pages with the same content, they’ll be disadvantaged because the search engine keeps the original, so the original will always outrank the mobile," Krum says.

- Adjust for the visitor

If you want to start attracting more mobile traffic to your content, do so on your current site. Krum suggests that the best strategy is to develop a system where your site can detect a visitor’s browser and load one of two rendering instructions: one for hand-held browsers, and one for full-screen browsers.

Strategy #5. Keep sites clean and simple

The mobile web is not yet sophisticated enough for complex websites. For SEO purposes, it is better to focus on simple websites that get users the information they need quickly, rather than trying to use fancy graphics.

"The crawlers are looking for a streamlined crawl because phones have slower download speed and slower processors, and so big heavy pages won’t render well," Krum says. "Anything that’s going to impact your download speed is going to hurt your potential rank and reward from mobile search results."

- Menus won’t cascade

Most mobile phones have a hard time rendering JavaScript, which is commonly used for drop-down navigation menus.

"If you have a really robust navigation with a bunch of drop-down menus, in some phones, all of the content of that java script navigation is going to display fully dropped down in an outline format instead of hidden," Krum says. "You can’t hover on some phones, because some phones don’t have mouse," Krum says.

- Think of SEO 10 years ago

Mobile SEO is somewhat like traditional SEO 10 years ago, Krum says, and can call for a back-to-the-basics approach.

"In my experience, and from what I’ve read from other people, submitting to mobile search engines and to mobile directories is still a good tactic. It’s important to submit a mobile site map with Google," Krum says.

Useful links related to this article:

Improve the Speed of Mobile Campaigns: 4 Factors that Affect Load Times

BlackBerry App World

iPhone App Store

Palm Pre Apps

Windows Phone Applications

Freeware for Symbian



hCard Microformats

comScore: Daily Mobile Internet Usage Grows

comScore: Mobile Audience for Local Content

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