For the past few months, there has been a lot of discussion about mobile search and with over 90% of the population using a mobile device, it’s easy to understand why many webmasters and SEOs are creating mobile versions of their web sites and optimizing them to the fullest.

Back in December of 2011, Google published a set of official developers resources and gave some recommendations for building smartphone optimized web sites. These recommendations explain how to build the mobile site in such a way that gives both the desktop and mobile-optimized versions of the site the best chance of performing well in the Google search results.

 

When building a website that targets smartphones, Google says it supports three different configurations:

-Google’s recommended configuration is for a site to use responsive web design. Sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device.
-Sites that dynamically serve all devices on the same set of URLs, but each URL serves different HTML and CSS, depending on whether the user agent is a desktop or mobile device.
-Sites that have 2 versions, one being a mobile site and the other a desktop site.

 

Google primarily recommends responsive web design, as it is best to build web pages that alter their appearance using CSS3 media queries. With responsive design, there’s only one HTML code for the page, regardless of the user agent or the device that’s trying to access it. However, the presentation of the site changes using CSS media queries to specify which CSS rules apply for the particular web browser that’s trying to display the page. Google takes this a step further on their blog and highlights the advantages of using responsive design. They also go into much more detail about their mobile site recommendations.

 

Now Google understands that in many cases, responsive web design may not be applicable, so they also support device-specific HTML. Device-specific HTML can be served on the same URL or different URLs. If a website uses a dynamic serving configuration, Google recommends using the Vary HTTP header to communicate to caching servers and algorithms. This indicates to Googlebot-Mobile that the content on a page may change, depending upon the user agent and is used as a crawling signal.

 

When it comes to separating the mobile site from the desktop version, it’s important to let Google know that both sites have the same purpose. Google recommends annotations in order to communicate to this to their algorithms and describe the relationship between both versions of the site. Ultimately, you want Google to treat both sites as a single entity, but with each known to target a specific device. Also, annotations help Google learn more about the content and structure of your smartphone-optimized site.

 

Now that you’ve been briefed on what Google recommends, let’s talk about “On the Go SEO.” Julie Ross at SEO News recently published a blog post about Mobile SEO Strategies that she thinks webmaster can try in order to achieve success in mobile search.

1. Submit a mobile sitemap to all search engines. This tells the search engines that the website content should show up in mobile searches because it has been optimized for smartphone use.

2. Next, for the mobile site to work properly, it has to be truly mobile. This means that a desktop site is not sufficient. It’s important to keep in mind the user’s intent when searching on a mobile device. If a person has found a site that worth visiting, it’s highly likely that a user will return to that site when using their smartphone, but would prefer to not encounter useless information in the efforts of saving time.

3. Just like on a desktop site, images will be used on a mobile site. However, these images need to be optimized for mobile SEO too. Each image should be smaller in size and should have a specific keyword attached them that is likely to be entered by the user in mobile search. Targeting keywords in mobile search is just as important as desktop search.

4. Applications need to be a part of your mobile SEO strategy. Your mobile site should be of high quality in that an app can be beneficial to the use of the site. The last thing you want is for users to get your application and then be taken to a poor quality site, as they’re more likely to never use the app again.

5. Stay on top of your game. It’s important to regularly evaluate your mobile SEO strategy, as this is something that’s constantly changing.

 

So how do you stay on top of the Mobile SEO strategy? Aleyda at SEOMoz did a special Mobile SEO White Board Friday that gave some good tips and the top 4 fundamental SEO questions you should ask yourself in order to assess the best alternatives when considering mobile search for your site.

 

So ask yourself…

 

1. How many mobile users do you have and how do they find your site?

Aleyda says to use Google Analytics. Go under Audience, then Mobile. There you’ll find an overview of your mobile search traffic and you have the option of seeing which devices brought visitors to your site.

Furthermore, you can go to Advanced Segments at the top of the screen and view the organic search traffic just from mobile. Here you can also view the keywords that brought certain visitors as well as conversions.

 

 

 

 

Check out Google Webmaster Tools…
Use the Filter option for Mobile Search. Within WMT, you’ll be able to view keywords/queries, see the number of impressions and conversions.

 

 

 

 

Use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool…

When performing keyword research, they Keyword Tool allows you to show queries and search trends just for mobile.

 

 

 

 

2. How does your site look on a mobile device?

Aleyda mentions two tools that can help you view your site from different mobile devices to ensure the presentation of the site is up to par. The first is Screen Fly, which can be found at quirktools.com/screenfly. This tool helps you view the different resolutions of your site.

 

 

Firefox Add on: User Agent Switcher…

Firefox offers this nifty add on that will add a menu and toolbar button to switch the user agent of the browser.

 

 

 

3. What type of Mobile web is right for you?

As mentioned above, the most popular and the one recommended by Google is responsive design. Responsive design allows you to have the same content on your mobile device site as you do on the desktop version. Let it be noted that other configurations may have to be considered if responsive design is not appropriate for your site such as Dynamic Serving in Same URL

Dynamic Serving in the Same URL can be more suitable for sites that offer different content for different users. For example, may you’re offering a coupon or special offer for mobile users. Be sure to implement the user agent detection so you show more than one version.

Parallel site in a sub domain is another design option, however, it is not typically recommended. With this type of design, be sure to add the rel-alternate tag to refer the user from the desktop version to the mobile site or vice versa. However, this isn’t an ideal design because the search engine crawler will have to do more work to identify the site’s content and relationship.

 

4. How can Google find my mobile site (if it’s not responsive design)?

First thing first, you should submit a mobile sitemap and upload it through Google Webmaster Tools. Next, do some wonderful link building between the versions of the sites so both sites are accessible from one another. Third, have a good dynamic serving so the Googlebot-Mobile knows there is another version of the site. You can check the features of your site in Google Webmaster Tools to see if the Mobile Bot is finding your site and all its’ content.

 

SEO, whether on a desktop or on a mobile device, is an art in itself.  It’s important to take the recommendations from Google in order to follow their guidelines while listening to the strategies of SEO enthusiasts to best optimize your mobile site for search. If you’re not sure how to move in the direction of mobile, hire an SEO company to do the job for you.

Let your users find you at home and on the go…