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Mobile Search Engine Optimization

Everything you read about mobile search engine optimization begins with some statistic about how mobile search usage is increasing. So, I’ll get that out of the way first. In 2008, 20 million Americans searched the internet through their mobile phones or PDAs, a 65% increase from the previous year. There are only 1.25 billion PCs in the world, but about 3 billion mobile handsets.

If you haven’t thought about making your website mobile friendly, then you haven’t been paying attention. All the major search engines and plenty of minor ones have invested a considerable portion of their energy in providing content to the mobile search engine market, and this content comes from the millions of website owners and advertisers who have done the same.

Would you benefit from making your website mobile friendly? How do you reach those 3 billion mobile devices? How exactly do you go about making sure your website is mobile friendly? Alright, calm down. The concept is simple: all you need to know is that a PC is not a wireless handset, and a wireless handset is not a PC. So, you will need one version of your website designed for PCs and another version designed specifically for the wireless handset world.

This does not mean you need two websites, of course. By using CSS to separate style from content you can present a “stripped down” version of your core content to the mobile search engines. Google and Yahoo! have services for submitting mobile content and mobile site maps. The W3C provides mobile markup standards like XHTML-MP (XHTML-Mobile Profile). The search engines and the various mobile browser technologies will handle the indexing and display of your web pages to the mobile public, just as they do on your PC.

The technical side of creating a mobile friendly website involves following stricter markup rules and providing lighter pages. That means plain text and smaller images, but with the variety of mobile handsets and mobile browsers out there in those 3 billions hands, the possibilities are not so boring. Some handsets and PDAs cannot handle tables, Javascript, CSS, and multimedia, but many of them can. Accommodating the sheer range of capabilities of the different devices may seem daunting at first, but the ability of CSS to separate style from content and the use of strict standards based XHTML allows you to reach as much of the mobile search market as possible.

There are several validators available on the web where you can test the validity of your markup and your site’s “mobile-friendliness” such as the .Mobi Validator <http://ready.mobi/index.html> and the W3C Validator <http://validator.w3.org/mobile/> . These give detailed error reports which allow your web developer to know precisely how your site would fare on the mobile web and what specifically he or she would need to do to make it standards compliant. There are simulators which allow you to view what your site looks like on different mobile handsets such as the Opera Mini <http://www.opera.com/mini/demo/> /demo <http://www.opera.com/mini/demo/> and the .Mobi Emulator <http://ready.mobi/index.html> . For the .Mobi Emulator you need to enter your url to test the validity of your markup before the emulator renders the page for you. Modern browsers like Firefox and Opera also allow you to turn off certain components (CSS, frames, images, flash, java, javascript, etc.) in your browser which is another way to get an idea about how your pages would render without all of these technologies. Finally, methods for mobile browser detection provide you with the tools necessary to detect which mobile configuration is making the HTTP request and deliver the appropriate content to the appropriate device.

Now the mobile search public is a different kind of searcher than the…um…stationary public. The bulk of mobile searchers tend to be on the move and focus more on things like taxis, pizza, movies, sports scores, local services, and other “give me quick information now” type things than they are in reading, researching, or lengthy browser sessions. This doesn’t complete the entire mobile web picture, of course, but the GPS capabilities of modern mobile devices allow companies like Google and Yahoo! to provide very accurate local search results for mobile users who are most likely looking for a phone number they can automatically dial with the fewest “clicks” and the least amount of scrolling possible. This can even be done on handsets that don’t have a full blown browser installed, without the user even asking or searching for it, basically providing a permanent “contact list” of local services on their phone which is updated in real time. This is basically a “411” of websites.

The full browser capabilities of modern cell phones and PDAs, especially of higher end devices, allow mobile users to navigate your site in much the same way as they would on their PCs. It’s simply a matter of accommodating not only coding requirements, but also the physical limitations of the medium (smaller screens, less processing power, and limited keyboards). The KISS principle applies here more than anywhere else, both in content and in presentation. But the most important thing to remember is that because the attention of the average mobile searcher is focused more on local searches, the mobile SERPs tend to reflect that. Therefore if you want to place well in the mobile world, you need to focus your SEO efforts locally, if you can. There are ways to do this beyond just signing up for Google Maps, Yahoo Local, etc., but signing up for those services will help.

Of course, there are other kinds of mobile traffic besides search traffic. Referral traffic and direct traffic can also come from the mobile web. On that note, while link-building in the PC world is the best way to increase your page rank, in the mobile world “citations” are the holy grail of page rank, rather than links. A citation is when your location information appears somewhere on the web, that is it’s “mentioned” somewhere on some page. So, make sure you put your location and contact information on all your pages and try to get them mentioned elsewhere. Paid advertising on the mobile web also works the same as it does in the PC world. Google Adwords automatically includes your PPC ads in their mobile search network. So, as mobile technology is ever improving and the number of users ever growing, making your site mobile friendly is worth looking into for your particular product or service.

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