Eric Enge: Hi, this is Eric Enge of Perficient Digital, and I am here today with Cindy Krum the founder of MobileMoxie. Thanks for joining us today!
Cindy Krum: Thank you, happy to be here.
Eric Enge: Cindy, you have a lot of background knowledge on the world of mobile search and mobile SEO, so I am hoping to talk about that a bit today. Maybe you could share some of your thoughts on mobile market growth.
Cindy Krum: Sure, so there is obviously been loads of mobile market growth both in the US and internationally and especially in the past years some important things have happened, such as Android overtook iPhone in terms of Smartphone penetration. Then, beyond that Smartphone penetration overall has grown to a really healthy rate where, as much as half of the marketplace would be controlled by Smartphones.
It used to be, we were dealing with feature phones, or mid-level phones that had a Smartphone capability, without a true web rendering experience. So that’s all good. I don’t talk a whole lot about the statistics because it’s difficult in the mobile world to talk about statistics because they come from a lot of self-interested reporting bureaus who have an interest in showing particular kinds of growth.
That’s true of most statistics, but also just because in the world of mobile we don’t have a lot of clean definitions, with the midlevel Smartphones, or the Smartphones that don’t have true web browsing. You would market differently to a Smartphone that doesn’t have a true web browsing experience like a Sidekick or BlackBerry Curve or things like that where it says that it’s a Smartphone and it does email and it does lots of things, but it still isn’t very good at rendering the web.
So, there are three or four subcategories within mobile, you have feature phones, you have the midlevel Smartphones, you have the Smartphones that have true web rendering. And then, some people include tablets in the mobile world. When you are looking at statistics that say there is a massive growth in Smartphones or there is a massive growth in mobile, you have to ask those questions before you can really understand what those statistics mean for your marketing campaign.
Eric Enge: Understand. So, that makes it very challenging to understand where things are really at, especially when you try to compare one set of stats from one source with another set of stats from a different source.
Cindy Krum: Exactly, so if people try and drill me and question me about stats where one set says this is this and another set says this is that, but how could those things both be true? They could both be true depending on the methodology they used in their reporting and what they were considering as mobile and what they weren’t. So, there are a lot of questions to ask to get a meaningful set of statistics.
Eric Enge: Right, if we talk about the difference between mobile and desktop search, there are a number of interesting aspects to that, isn’t there?
Cindy Krum: The most obvious difference is the screen size, where you get a whole different experience between how much real estate you can get and the importance of that, and then also the interaction between organic and paid results. And then, of course there are differences in the results themselves because the search engines and especially Google, when you submit a query from your phone, they look at the phone that you are on in the user agent string that passes through their servers and so they can see what’s phone you are on, and they will adapt the results, sometimes it will make slightly to fit your phone.
So in some cases, you will get the results that are in a different order if you do the same search from two different phones, or results that are presented differently like with a map or without a map, or with a video thumbnail or without a video thumbnail. So those things are different as well. There are so many different things to consider that it can be very difficult to predict what the results will look like on all the different phones so I have actually build a tool to help people with that.
Then, on top of that, there is the inclusion of location in your queries. So if you have a phone that has a GPS or quasi GPS capabilities in it, they will try and add your location into the search query and use that to again change, or update, or inform how the query result should be presented to you.
Eric Enge: Right. And also, users because they are searching from a mobile device, there is evidence that they are closer on average to conversions, isn’t that so?
Cindy Krum: Yes, but a different conversion, one that’s harder to measure. If you are used to being an online marketer, you know what’s really easy to measure is traffic that converts online, but for the most part when you are doing mobile marketing, you are driving a lot of offline sales actually and you are driving foot-traffic which makes it difficult to measure. One of the things that a lot of companies are struggling with is to prove to management the value of mobile SEO for driving foot-traffic or for driving offline conversion because it’s hard to show that in your reporting.
Eric Enge: Right. I mean no better or worse than your average TV ad too?
Cindy Krum: Well, that’s not necessarily true. There are things that you can do that make it slightly better than a T.V., just an average T.V. or radio ad, but essentially it’s the same hurdles. Yes, it’s a bit more of a broadcast message that you push out, but it’s not as much, like in T.V. and radio I feel like a lot of the times you are closing your eyes and crossing your fingers, but there is more you can do with mobile to get slightly better measurements.
Eric Enge: If we are trying to rank well in mobile SEO, it seems to me that there is a few basic questions to start with and one of those is what platforms you intend to support where you know, at a very high level, choices of things like feature phones, Smartphones, and tablets. What are your thoughts on that decision-making process?
Cindy Krum: Well, there are a lot of things you can do to have a good experience across all of them. It more depends on what your resources are in terms of development. When you are thinking about SEO, you can focus more on the tablets and the Smartphone than on the feature phones. Now, a lot of mobile marketers hate to hear me say that because the feature phones still make up a big portion of phone owners even in the US, but studies show that people with feature phones are less likely to search and less likely to be on the web even if they have web capabilities on their feature phone, they are just not as active because it’s such a bad experience. So, you want to focus your energy and focus your planning on the Smartphones because the better the phone the more likely the user is to really engage.
Eric Enge: Yes, understand and I guess you can just use your analytics to see whether you are getting feature phone visitors, right?
Eric Enge: Right.
Cindy Krum: So you don’t, I never say write them off entirely, but you can definitely prioritize your efforts towards the Smartphones and the true web browsing experiences and true web browsing search.
Eric Enge: Right. And, Google has a separate bot called Googlebot Mobile, right?
Cindy Krum: That’s true. It’s interesting that they don’t, it’s hard to tell exactly what the point of Googlebot Mobile is anymore except that Googlebot Mobile does seem to focus on feature phones content or older text-based WAP sites. And so, for a while, the people in the SEO, the mobile SEO space figured that they would update Googlebot Mobile to address the Smartphones and do a better job indexing and organizing for Smartphones, and it doesn’t seem like that’s happened.
It seems like Googlebot Mobile has really focused mostly on feature phone content, and that they are doing the mobile search queries that come from Smartphones from the traditional Google algorithm, and they are so doing slightly differently, but it seems like the indexing with Googlebot Mobile does not, as far as I can tell, have a super duper strong effect on your rankings in a mobile search from a Smartphone just from a feature phone.
Eric Enge: Yes, it’s interesting and that leads to the next big question that people face, do they implement the mobile sub-domain or do they implement something on the same URLs. Essentially so, if you are on the mobile device you are seeing the content and exactly the same URLs as you do on your desktop, but you see mobile phone version when for the content. What are your thoughts on that discussion?
Cindy Krum: So, there is a couple different ways you can go. For a very long time, I have said your best option is always to use the same URL on mobile as you do for your desktop searchers. The reason is because you get to leverage all of the links, and history, and good stuff, good SEO efforts that you have been doing on those URLs. You don’t have to start over. If you wanted to do an “m.” mobile subdomain, which is very common, that’s fine, but you have to acknowledge, in terms of SEO, you might be starting over to get those “m.” pages to rank.
Now, even if that’s the case, it’s not the end of the world because what we are seeing now is that if you have page-A on your desktop site and you have same page, but a mobile version of page-A on an “m.”, and they both have the same keyword saturation and you know, essentially the same SEO indicators. When you do a search from an iPhone or an Android phone, anything with a true web browser, what’s going to happen is that traditional page (the desktop page) is still going to outrank the mobile version of the page.
Possibly, because it has more history and links or possibly because the Google algorithm just isn’t that good or isn’t sophisticated enough to say hey, this is a mobile page and that is traditional page, these are the same thing and they are on the mobile device so we should rank the “m.” one better. So, you see lots of problems with that where people will build an “m.” site and they will say look we did everything you said we have these light, grey, awesome pages that work really well on mobile phones, but Google is still ranking the traditional versions better.
I don’t expect that that’s going to happen forever, but the best solution or the best way to share the values that you have created on your desktop site with your mobile pages is to set up what’s called user agent detection and redirection on all of your desktop pages and you can even do it on all of your mobile pages too. And, the idea is that it detects if you are on a mobile phone or not and redirects you to the right version of the page.
So even if your desktop site outranks your mobile site in a mobile search, when people click on the desktop version of the page, it will get them to the mobile version of the page. So, from the search results, even if the desktop one is there, it gets sent to the mobile version of the page. So, that’s a really good, strong, solid workaround; it’s not considered cloaking or anything like that. Google has come out and said that this is okay because it’s for the benefit of your users, as long as the pages, as long as you are not trying to do anything sneaky between the two pages.
Eric Enge: Right. And, I believe Google has also said that it isn’t cloaking provided that you are also bringing Googlebot Mobile to those mobile pages, right?
Cindy Krum: Yes.
Eric Enge: That’s one of their requirements. So, there is a version of Googlebot that is doing exactly the same as what’s the users see.
Cindy Krum: And, you can even take it a step further and I always offer this recommendation with lots of caution, be careful when you do this, but you can canonicalize the mobile versions of your pages up to the traditional desktop ones, so that you consolidate the SEO value. As long as your user agent detection and redirection is really strong and reliable, you can use that rel=canonical tag.
Eric Enge: Right, yes because otherwise if you have a mobile subdomain the mobile subdomain might accumulate some links which aren’t really occurring to the benefit of the overall site.
Cindy Krum: Right.
Eric Enge: So, I guess one of the reasons why someone would do a mobile subdomain rather than the same URL strategy, if I understand this right, isn’t the complexity of the development much higher when you are dealing with feature phones support plus Smartphone support, especially giving that there are so many different form factors with feature phones. In that case, it is easier to deal with an “m.” approach from a technical perspective?
Cindy Krum: It does, and what we find is if you do a mobile site that’s targeted at midlevel Smartphones, but not necessarily the true web rendering Smartphones, then you do a good job for both worlds so the real older feature phones and it should still look fine and you know, work well on the true web rendering phones. And then, it will also force you to keep your page size and load time low, which is a good indicator for Googlebot Mobile and just better for your users in general.
Eric Enge: Right, so that way you are sending positive signals in terms of bounce rates and things like that.
Cindy Krum: And, mobility. Remember that Google is rearranging the rankings based on what’s going to work best on the phone and in general what’s going to work the best on the most mobile phones are clean fast loading pages.
Eric Enge: Yes. So I guess it would be fair for you summarize what we have talking about, it would say that if we are doing feature phone and other mobile device support then arguments for going with the mobile subdomain are stronger. If you are just in Smartphone on up, we would lean towards the same URL implementation, but mobile subdomain with good user agent detection and rel=canonical is okay too.
I mean with the left to right scrolling, that’s miserable. You don’t want to give people that experience. That’s one of my easy to determine if this is a good mobile design is if there is left to right scrolling or if you have to pinch and zoom to interact with the page or to even understand the page, that’s also not a good user experience.
Eric Enge: Right, and the other thing you want to do even in the same URL does things to make the page a little lighter weight without fundamentally changing content of course, but you don’t want to be loading a 150 K.
Cindy Krum: Yes, so what you have to do, one of important tests is that you want to make sure that user agent detection is detecting the mobile bot in the same way as it would detect the mobile phone, and that’s the separate test that you want to make sure that you have done to make sure that the mobile bot is triggering the mobile version of the page.
Eric Enge: Yes.
Cindy Krum: Even if it’s on the same URL, so that it can index that information rather than trying to index the desktop site.
Eric Enge: Thanks so much for joining us today!
Cindy Krum: Thank you!
Cindy Krum is the CEO and Founder of Mobile Moxie, based in Denver, CO. She brings fresh and creative ideas to her clients, speaking at national and international trade events about mobile web marketing, social network marketing and international SEO. Cindy is the author of Mobile Marketing: Finding Your Customers No Matter Where They Are, published by Que Publishing, and hosts a weekly radio show about mobile marketing called Mobile Presence. She writes for industry publications, and has been published in Website Magazine, Advertising & Marketing Review, Search Engine Land, ODG Intelligence, and quoted by many respected publications including PC World, Internet Retailer, TechWorld, Direct Magazine, and Search Marketing Standard.
Cindy also served as the co-chair of the SEMPO Emerging Technologies Mobile Web Task Force, and is an active member of the search community. She is passionate about bringing creative online marketing solutions to clients, and working with clients to develop high level, integrated mobile marketing strategies.