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April 20, 2007

Mobile Search Site Creation and Optimization

The following is coverage of the Search Engine Strategies (SES) New York presentation called “Mobile Search Optimization” by Cindy Krum of Blue Moon Works, Gregory Markel, President of Infuse Creative LLC and Rachel Pasqua, Director of Mobile Marketing at iCrossing.

This presentation provided a fascinating glimpse into the young realm of mobile site creation, compliance and optimization. I have a lot of information to work with here so to make this article a little more digestible I have broken it into two parts; one is the site creation and the second is the site optimization.
Mobile Website Design & Creation
During this presentation two very different lines of thought were noted regarding the best method for creating a mobile website, one from Cindy Krum and the other from Rachel Pasqua.

> Cindy Krum’s Presentation
Cindy Krum felt strongly that an existing website should pull double-duty as both the wired and the mobile version by using CSS to provide an alternative, mobile friendly version shown only to mobile users.
Cindy provided some great tips on how to create a hybrid mobile/wired website:

  1. Ensure your website is 100% W3C XHTML compliant because mobile browsers are completely unforgiving when it comes to improper coding.
  2. Follow strict XHTML accessibility guidelines to provide the best quality product for both wired, mobile, and those that require accessibility (i.e. the blind). She also noted that by following accessibility requirements any images that do not show up on the mobile browser will be defined in text format – a nice backup.
  3. Avoid unnecessary code to minimize download times.
  4. Ensure the site uses CSS to control content – this is critical to ensure the mobile version can have reorganized placement of content. (i.e. the menu might be at the bottom vs. the top)
  5. Use external CSS files to provide maximum flexibility such as the ability to specify a different style sheet for each mobile browser.
  6. Use the LINK element to attach style sheets because it is a much friendlier format for mobile browsers.
  7. Use multiple style sheets. The minimum would be a style sheet called “screen” for regular wired visitors and a second style sheet (provided below the first) called “handheld”.
  8. Use “display: none” to hide elements in either rendering. This is useful if you have page elements you do not want to appear to mobile users or vice versa. Using this method of hiding content is part of what makes Cindy’s hybrid approach feasible of using a single website for both viewing technologies (handheld, and wired).
  9. These headers will help you identify the mobile device being used to access the content. HTTP User-Agent headers, HTTP Accept Headers, and UAProf.
  10. Use the appropriate MIME type: “text/html” or “application/xhtml+xml”.

> Rachel Pasqua’s Presentation
At the opposite spectrum was Rachel Pasqua who firmly stated that offering your current website to users, reformatted or not, would likely provide a less than desirable user experience. She went on to explain that mobile users should see an entirely different, more time efficient version of your website because such users are task oriented. Rachel put her thoughts into excellent perspective when she stated that mobile search is “not surf media, it’s search media”. She also went on to state that iCrossing decided to proceed with the subdomain concept rather than a separate domain such as a .mobi. In this case their mobile site is located at mobile.icrossing.com; a sensible concept that retained the branding of the top level domain name without having to rebrand a new one (i.e. going with the .mobi version)

Rachel had some interesting metrics and tips to share with the group that were researched at iCrossing using focus groups and other research (sorry I don’t know the source but the report is due to be released soon I hear). Here are a few tidbits that I caught on paper:

  1. Mobile searchers tend to utilize the same search engine they use when they are on their PC.
  2. Only 10% of the estimated 234 million US wireless subscribers are active users of mobile search.
  3. Searchers are task oriented, they tend to want to get their information and get out; mobile surfing is extremely uncommon.

My Take on Hybrid Sites Versus A Separate Mobile Website
Of the two beliefs I felt myself more strongly drawn to the concept of a separate mobile site. Why? I think the maintenance of a hybrid website is bound to be far more difficult because design updates will require designers to think in both realms which is likely to make updates laborious for the average business owner.

> Gregory Markel’s Presentation
Gregory Markel of Infuse Creative LLC, dropped a very intriguing bombshell at the beginning of his discussion when he noted that Google’s Voice Local Search just might take the world of mobile search in an entirely different direction. According to Gregory, his friends and network of mobile enthusiasts have been impressed by the results of using 800-GOOG-411 and conducting a free voice search; the results have been extremely relevant and Google immediately connects the user to their preferred result by phone. After this bombshell had sunk in, he went on to discuss many of the points already mentioned by Cindy but he had a few highlights definitely worth mentioning including this valuable tip: get into Google local for your area so that you can be found on Google’s Voice Local Search, it is free and easy to do. (Note, I wrote an article on how to do this a few months back called: Have Your Company Listed Free in Google Maps). Unfortunately, Google Voice Local Search is experimental and only available in the United States.

Highlights from Markel:

  1. Mobile search adoption has been slower in the US than expected at only 19%
  2. An excellent source of mobile statistics is the self-described authority on mobile metrics, MMetrics.com.
  3. When users conduct searches, they are more likely to search using 2 or a maximum of 3 words.
  4. Nokia has decided to try to simplify the process of searching by integrating it into its future line of cell phones.
  5. Mobile devices require ultimate simplicity to ensure compatibility across the vast number of proprietary mobile browsers available.

Part 2: Mobile Site Optimization

The question remains; how should you optimize a mobile web page? All of the presenters provided tips, but Cindy Krum’s presentation provided the majority of information. I listed a blend of the tips from all presenters below:
1. Make certain that no information is located more than 3 clicks from the home page
2. Organize the page so the main content appears first on the page followed by the navigation. For most this will seem counter intuitive, but by laying out the mobile page in this manner mobile users will see the content they want faster and thus know they are on a different page; versus seeing the same navigation listing again if the navigation was at the top – which would look the same across all pages. In addition, mobile users want to avoid scrolling as much as possible so having the content first will offer better visitor retention.
3. Organize your navigation in the most logical fashion. In other words, place what is likely to be the most popular buttons first using text links, followed by the others in order. In addition, make certain to word the buttons clearly and succinctly to use as little screen real estate as possible while applying good call to action principles.
4. Offer a sitemap so that spiders and users alike can quickly navigate the mobile site if need be.
5. Keep the filenames for the mobile pages short and keyword rich.
6. Do not use pop-ups, frames or Flash because these are likely to block mobile browsers, not just search engine spiders.
7. Optimize mobile pages for short keyword phrases since mobile users tend search using up to three words in a single phrase.
8. Rely only on the textual content, not on images, objects or scripts because they may not appear on handheld browsers.
9. Minimize file size for faster content loading.
10. Use optimized heading tags wherever appropriate. Just like standard web pages, properly optimized Heading Tags play a significant role in search engine algorithms.
11. Test and validate your mobile website to ensure maximum effectiveness for both users and spiders alike. Here are some options that Cindy Klum provided in her presentation:

Simulators: Skweezer, Google,

Validators: .Mobi Validator, W3C Mobile Web Validator
12. Conduct a traditional link building campaign specifically for your mobile website. Do this by submitting to local and mobile directories and getting links from other mobile websites. Also, purchase text links from other mobile and traditional websites.
13. Announce to the world that your mobile website now exists through press releases. This will add bonus backlinks to your website.
14. Offer social book marking and tagging functionality to your mobile website.
15. When a user clicks on one of these phone numbers their mobile phone will immediately connect them to the number.Include your main website address in the footer of the mobile page and make your phone numbers clickable using the following sample syntax:

< href=”tel:2503851190″>250-385-1190< /a >
Note: eliminate spacing immediately beside brackets for the code to work.
Other Tips from the Mobile Optimization PanelAmidst discussion and the question and answer period there were a few great points that I felt were worth adding to this summary:
– If you choose not to use a .mobi domain as your primary address for the mobile website then you should still purchase the domain and forward traffic to the alternate address. In this way, you will at least protect your brand. As an added note, I would strongly recommend using a 301 redirect from the .mobi to the main address if you decide to follow this path.
– Google offers a transcoding system that will attempt to change any website into a mobile website automatically. It was universally agreed on the panel that depending on transcoding to provide your mobile users with a mobile-friendly website is a very bad idea.
– According to Gregory Markel, approximately 17% of mobile traffic comes from users navigating directly to a URL. As a result, it is strongly recommended that your mobile URL is very simple to remember and easily typed in (no too long or difficult to spell).
– The current best source for mobile user statistics is http://www.mmetrics.com/
– Google produced a (PDF) Mobile Search Behavior study that Gregory Markel mentioned was an excellent source of information.

I will end this synopsis with an apt quote that Rachel Pasqua began her presentation with:
“… it’s really not a matter IF the mobile phone will become the dominant internet platform any more but WHEN…” – Yahoo! analyst Russell Beattie

Author:  Ross Dunn is founder and CEO of StepForth Search Engine Placement. Celebrating its 10th year of operation, StepForth is one of the oldest and most trusted names in Search Engine Optimization and Placement. For more information, please call 1-250-385-1190, or 1-877-385-5526 (toll free in North America)

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