I owe a debt to Bryson Meunier, who exposed the myths I’m going to discuss in his post on Search Engine Land. If you’re trying to reach a mobile audience, you face enough challenges without trying to do things that will at best have no effect and at worst might actually be harmful. Let’s take a look at these myths.
The first myth is that you need a dotMobi site for indexing and ranking purposes. Yes, the whole point of the dotMobi global top level domain is to serve those who want their domains to reach mobile users. But you might be surprised to learn that most businesses, when building a mobile domain, seem to go for m.domain.com. At the very least, Google has far more of those indexed than any of the other mobile site options often utilized. Clearly, you don’t need a .mobi domain to get your mobile site in Google’s index.
The second myth Meunier discusses concerns something called metatxt. “A metatxt file is similar to a robots.txt file and an XML sitemap in that it is a text file at the root location of a server that helps mobile search engines discover mobile content,” he explained. It sounds like it would be common sense to use some kind of parallel to these files to help index your mobile site. But here’s the problem: neither Google nor Bing support metatxt, and these two search engines together hold 99 percent of the mobile search market. So using metatxt for your mobile website is nothing but a waste of time.
The third myth Meunier mentions is the necessity for your mobile website’s code to validate. That may be necessary for other purposes, but not for SEO. This myth refuses to die because a parked domain from 2005 mentioned it first, and that site continues to rank well for terms such as “mobile SEO.”
There is a grain of truth behind this myth, though, if we separate more “ordinary” mobile phones from smartphones. The former feature more limited browsers, and as Meunier notes, “search engine spiders try to display content that is accessible to the devices that display them.” These older or more limited mobile phones can’t handle websites with code that doesn’t validate. But code validation is not an issue for smartphones, and as these phones become more of the rule rather than the exception, code validation becomes less of an issue for mobile SEO.
For this next myth, it’s important to distinguish between “necessary” and “helpful.” It concerns mobile sitemaps. As Meunier notes, “These can help with indexing feature phone content, and for letting Google know that you want your content to appear in their index of accessible mobile content.” But if you want to claim smartphone users for your target audience, mobile sitemaps aren’t necessary. They don’t hurt you, and you might be able to get more of your mobile site’s unique content indexed using them, but you probably can think of better ways to spend your time as far as SEO for your mobile site.
Now here’s a myth that’s likely to die very hard, because its death means a lot more work for mobile website developers. That myth states that mobile formatting that lets your site be displayed and viewed successfully on all kinds of devices, by using CSS, is sufficient when building a mobile website. If you give this just a little thought, you’ll see at once that simply reformatting the content on a website designed with the desktop in mind is insufficient.
A user surfing the web from her desktop will likely have a different mindset and different goals from a user surfing the web from a mobile device. This is true even if it’s the same user! Here’s an example Meunier hints at: when are you most likely to want to search the Internet for roadside assistance? I bet it’s while you’re stranded somewhere with a car that stopped working. You may not have access to a desktop, but you’ll have your phone with you.
A number of organizations, such as auto insurance firms, offer roadside assistance as one of a long list of services. They might not list this service prominently on their regular website, and they might not even try to rank for it as a matter of course – but wouldn’t it make sense for them to do both of these things on a website geared to mobile users? In such a case, painful as it may sound, the business will get a better return on their investment by redesigning their mobile website’s information architecture from the ground up to aim it specifically at the needs of mobile device users.
Here’s a myth that sounds like common sense, but the truth will surprise you. The myth states that mobile queries are shorter than those made from the desktop. One would think they’d have to be, as it’s much less comfortable to type on mobile devices. If this myth is true, it carries with it all sorts of implications – for example, when you’re doing keyword research, you should set up your mobile website to target shorter keyword phrases than your desktop website targets.
As I noted, though, it’s a myth; way back in 2009, Google published a study that showed almost no difference in the length of keywords used by mobile searchers and regular computer searchers. In fact, iPhone-based searchers used keywords that were just as long as those used by computer-based searchers. And the game continues with speech; now that you can use your voice to search with your mobile device, mobile searchers will typically make verbal queries up to six words long. For queries longer than that, mobile users will actually type the query! As Meunier observes, “Never mind your instincts. Mobile queries are no shorter” than queries made from a not-so-mobile computer.
Here’s one final myth, cherished by those who might not want to get into mobile search. That myth was popularized by no less a figure than Steve Jobs, who said back in 2010 that “search hasn’t happened on mobile devices.” He didn’t quite grasp the full truth then, and those words are actually wrong now. Meunier pointed to a Google report early this year that states one in seven queries to the search engine come from mobile devices. Certain industries, such as restaurants, see nearly a third of their queries come from mobile devices. In fact, more smartphone users use their smartphone to search than use apps. But don’t take my word for it; Meunier reported that “Google research on smartphones from April shows that more smartphone owners search (77%) than use apps (68%).”
After all this, if you want to give your company’s mobile website the best chance it can have for ranking and indexing well, you’ll at least be starting with a lot of misinformation cleared out of your path. Good luck!