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Everyone is Behind on Mobile SEO: Seize the Opportunity of the Mobile Revolution

By Chris Birkholm / September 10, 2013

Mobile SEO was one of the hottest topics in the industry within the last year. Mobile marketing is mentioned by nearly every speaker at every conference worldwide. With all this emphasis on mobile, you would think you are behind. The reality is that you couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone is behind.

The Reality
Despite the increasing importance and discussion on mobile, a recent study by Pure Oxygen Labs found that only six of the Top 100 Fortune 500 company websites completely comply with Google Mobile requirements. In fact, with the forthcoming mobile SEO changes, at least 66% of those sites risk “ranking downgrades for not serving mobile versions of indexed pages.”

The Opportunity
It’s not too late to catch up but you will want to move quickly. In late 2012, Comscore conducted a study titled Share of Digital Media Time Spent: Desktop Computer vs. Mobile. The study found that in the U.S. more than one in three minutes spent online was spent on a mobile device. Smartphones have surpassed the 50 percent market penetration rate in the U.S. and one in four smartphone users also owns a tablet.

Gartner predicts that, in terms of the basic and premium tablets sold in the US, the industry could increase by nearly 59% or more by 2017. In Europe, this number is expected to be nearly 150% and globally, it is forecast to increase nearly 135%.

The mobile revolution provides an opportunity to begin to pull ahead of your competition by implementing a basic best-practice strategy in regards to mobile. Here are a few best practices to think about:

  • If you do not have a smartphone friendly version of a URL, it is better to show the desktop version of the page than an error page.
  • The lighter the page the faster the performance. Page speed plays an important role in mobile SEO.
  • Refrain from re-directing a mobile user back to just the homepage. Whenever possible implement 1:1 page level re-directs from desktop to mobile versions of the page.”
  • If different URL’s are used for mobile and desktop versions always remember to canonicalize the mobile version to the desktop version and on the desktop version add the “rel=alternate” tag to reference the mobile URL.

By working with knowledgeable agencies and consultants, companies can build a mobile site that utilizes a best-practice approach to help prevent rankings from being negatively impacted by Google’s implementation of a new mobile SEO algorithm.

What are you doing to improve your mobile SEO? What do you want to know about mobile SEO?

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2 responses to “Everyone is Behind on Mobile SEO: Seize the Opportunity of the Mobile Revolution”

  1. Kieran John Hawe says:

    Thoughts on the impact of user-centric requirements impact Mobile SEO? For example the use of responsive design and / or device detection + redirection.

    • Great question. Either responsive or separate mobile URLs will work, but both come with their own bit of nuance. In regards to a focus on the user experience, a responsive setup is probably preferable since it minimizes the time to load as it lacks the necessary re-direct that a separate URL would require. As mentioned in the article though, there are some things to remember when utilizing a re-direct to a mobile version of your pages. Always try to re-direct at a 1:1 page level and not re-direct back to the homepage. This is definitely not a desired experience and will irritate users. Also remember that if you do not have a mobile version, it is best to provide to a user the non-mobile version of the page rather than displaying an error page or re-directing to the homepage. When utilizing separate mobile URLs, you should always use the canonical tags on the mobile version to point to the desktop version and to include a rel=alternate tag on the desktop version to reference the mobile version. This ensures that you are not competing with your own pages and creating duplicate content.

      In regards to device detection, it is highly recommended that you let a search engine know that different versions of pages are going to be served based on the user agent detected. This is done by updating the Vary header that the server sends in the HTTP request to include user-agent.” An example of this looks like the following, which was provided by Google:

      GET /page-1 HTTP/1.1
      User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 4.0.4; Galaxy Nexus Build/IMM76B) AppleWebKit/535.19 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/18.0.1025.133 Mobile Safari/535.19
      (…rest of HTTP request headers…)

      HTTP/1.1 200 OK
      Content-Type: text/html
      Vary: User-Agent
      Content-Length: 5710
      (… rest of HTTP response headers…)

      You may have different versions for a number of reasons based on the device, but one of the more important reasons would be for page speed. By minimizing some of the heavier content on a page and also minimizing the number of requests to the server, you are inherently minimizing the time it takes for that version of the page to load. Faster page load times allow for a better user experience and with that comes better treatment from Google and the other major search engines. It is always important to remember that in the eyes of the search engines anything that is good for the user experience is generally a good practice in SEO as well.

      Hope this helps answer your question.

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