Mobile SEO: Fact or Fiction?

January 17th, 2012 by

Recently, we’ve been having some internal discussion regarding SEO and how it affects mobile—or more importantly how mobile optimized sites affect SEO. The conversation originated after stumbling upon an intentionally provocative blog post from October of last year titled “Mobile SEO is a Myth” by Ryan Jones from Search Engine Journal. What really got our discussion juices flowing was not just the article itself, which takes an extreme stance on the triviality of mobile-optimized SEO, but the healthy debate in the comments section that follows.  Although the article is a few months old, the topic is highly relevant (and increasingly so) and it’s a good time to take a fresh look at what really is going on with the mobile SEO landscape.

Merely looking at the article, it’s quite obvious opinions on mobile SEO are as diverse and polarized as a lot of developer’s perspectives on mobile web strategy in general. Opponents of mobile SEO, like Ryan, brush it off as either a buzzword with no deeper significance past boosting a sales pitch, or as a case of mistaken identity for localized search. But is this really the case? Or is this too simplistic of view on the impact that mobile devices can have on search results? We think the latter is likely the case and here’s why:

The easiest way to go about proving that mobile SEO is not a fictional concept is to begin with the assumption that it is indeed a myth – that is, there’s no difference between the web and mobile index. Basically, if mobile SEO is myth and should be ignored, then there would have to be zero difference between search results listings on a desktop and search results listings on a mobile device. As you can probably guess, this is not true.

The differences between search results on a desktop and search results on a mobile device are plenty and have been reviewed extensively by leaders in the SEO space.  You can read about 14 specific differences here at Search Engine Land or look at a highly detailed report from Covario, a leading SEO/SEM company, here.  These are only two of many similar articles out in the WWW showcasing examples of just how varied search results can be depending on device.

To supplement the work that has already been done, we wanted to look at an example showcasing one of our customers, Citysearch, and how they are specifically affected in certain cases. For our example, we saw the greatest difference between desktop results and Blackberry results, as you can see in the screenshots below for our search of “Amici’s pizza San Mateo”. Citysearch’s listing is in the top slot with the Blackberry search and the “mobile” filter, but only gets the 7th slot on the PC page. Meanwhile, Yelp’s 6th slot for Amici’s on the PC results doesn’t event show up on the Blackberry.

This of course is an extreme example, and the mobile optimized filter is no longer offered by Google for devices that better support full HTML. However, it is still quite obvious that there are clear differences in desktop search and mobile search from device to device. Although the differences may not be drastic, the slight deviations in listing structure, keyword use and screen size alone are evidence enough that mobile SEO is not a myth and there are clear opportunities to profit from adjusting accordingly.

Furthermore, we think as the mobile space continues to fragment, brands that intentionally vary their offering between tablets, smartphones and PC websites to optimize the relative experience can expect that Google and other search engines’ indexing efforts will increasingly reward sites that are comparatively sticky for a given platform, and punish those that have higher bounce rates. Brands that historically ignored catering to mobile SEO failed to capitalize on the revenues offered by being elevated in the mobile specific indexes, and that trend is likely to only continue and increase in scale. Recently, we saw the firm pro-mobile optimization stance Google has taken with its GoMo initiative and mobile-specific updates to Google Analytics and it seems safe to bet they won’t be turning their back on device specific search indexing anytime soon.

The bottom line? Mobile SEO is not a myth.


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