Optimising for search on the go
Written by....Vanessa Clark
I don’t know about you, but I am doing more and more web searches using a mobile device every day. But, I am behind the curve when it comes to the rest of the African continent. I have the luxury of access to a desktop broadband connection, so I have followed a developed world trajectory of desktop first, then mobile. But for the majority of the continent, and increasingly around the world, mobile is the primary, and often only way people have to access the internet.
But, the mobile-only generation is being shoehorned into a desktop version of the internet, by companies building and optimising for a desktop internet first, and only then thinking about mobile. Companies still aren’t optimising their sites for a mobile browsing experience or thinking about the type of information a mobile user wants, compared to a desktop user, and then delivering it to them fast. Let’s face it, all I care about when I am searching something on the go is the opening times and directions, or price of a product, or a traffic report, not your slickly produced, on-brand welcome video.
To be fair, Google sets the agenda when it comes to search. And anecdotally, it does not seem that the search giant is giving preference to mobile-optimised searches – yet. Sure, some e-commerce outfits such as Kalahari will deliver a mobile site, but I am referring more to searching for information you don’t have, such as “best Thai restaurant in Sandton” or “electrician in Woodstock”.
My hunch was borne out by a trawl through a couple of forums, where opinion was split over whether Google would or wouldn’t penalize sites that weren’t mobile optimized – note the use of the future tense. What seemed a likely outcome was that over time non-mobile sites will drop down in the rankings thanks to a poor user-experience, slow site speed and high bounce rate when encountered by a mobile user.
Frustrating for mobile users today, but a massive opportunity for savvy businesses to get ahead of the game today. Indeed, Mobithinking compares today’s mobile web with 1999 and the development of web 1.0: an open playing field and veritable Wild West where “search and search engine optimization (SEO) is going to be critical”.
So if the bulk of the visitors to your website are mobile, what should you do to be discovered on the go?
Understand how your mobile visitors behave
People typically use mobile search in different environments and for different purposes than desktop search. They could be en route via public transport typing one handed; in a shopping mall carrying groceries; sheltering from the rain or bright sunshine on a pavement; or relaxing on their couches multitasking while watching the football. Input mechanisms generally vary and definitely differ from the desktop world, from a rudimentary cellphone key pad to a sophisticated high-res touch screen.
Build a responsive website
Google favours responsive websites when it comes to mobile SEO. This means that rather than having entirely separate sites for desktop and mobile, either with a unique URL or delivered on the fly when your site detects what device the visitor using, you have one site, with one URL and use CSS (cascading style sheets) to adjust how the site is displayed depending on the device.
This means you only have to maintain and optimise one site, but does present a challenge if your visitors use your site differently depending on whether they are using a mobile device or a desktop device? For instance, they might do their research about a product at home on a desktop or tablet, but then need to find a specific detail while standing in the shop looking at the product in real life. Think carefully about what information is presented when and in what format in order to meet most of your visitors needs, rather than none of them. Use good keywords and page descriptions to make sure the right content gets delivered first time.
Don’t underestimate the mobile visitor
South African entrepreneur and inventor of Dry Bath, a waterless bath substitute, Ludwick Marishane researched his idea and wrote his 8,000-word business plan in batches on his Nokia 6234. Where there is a will there is a way with mobile devices – more so than on the desktop where if something is too complicated people will often just give up. Even non-tech savvy users are doing some pretty sophisticated things with a mobile device – and I’m pretty sure half the time the site owner doesn’t even realise.
Mobile search phrases
Think about how your mobile users are searching for you and whether that differs from your desktop visitors. For instance, a person on the go is going to be searching quickly and usually typing with one hand – so mobile search terms tend to be shorter than desktop. Google came to the rescue with the launch of its predictive search terms text that makes suggestions for the user. Know what mobile search terms are being used and optimise for these. Also keep location in mind – very often people are looking for specific information based on their immediate location.