Mobile SEO – What’s The Best Strategy?

responsive_design_SEO_8MS
28 Aug 2013
Simon Heyes

In a recent RFP, we were asked to describe our approach to mobile SEO. Optimising for all devices is something the 8MS team have been promoting for many years. But is there one best way to go about optimising for mobiles?

We work with many retail and travel brands. Day by day we swim through their analytics data, watching intently as the traffic from mobile and tablet devices slowly increases. 6%….8%…9%, and now many brands can allocate more than 20% of web traffic to ‘mobile‘ devices.

Why did I surround the word ‘mobile‘ with single quote marks? A few years ago it was easy to separate a mobile digital marketing strategy from your main desktop strategy. Making sure content renders on all devices, a different domain strategy, maybe even different hosting. Today, I don’t believe ‘mobile SEO‘ should be separated from a brands main SEO or marketing strategy. Instead, SEO should be viewed as integrated – all platforms, all devices.

In our recent retail white paper, we commented on how many retailers are adopting an ‘omnichannel’ marketing strategy. Whilst this integrated approach isn’t new, the approach to customer service and customer experiences certainly is.

‘What has this got to do with mobile SEO?’ I hear you ask. Let’s look for a moment at John Lewis’s approach to omnichannel marketing. Andy Street, John Lewis’ Managing Director since 2007;

When you go into one of our shops you are being served by an owner,” he emphasises, “and that is bound to see you getting better customer service at the front line.

Good approach. Now consider that notion across every single customer purchase point….

We know that about 60% of our customers buy both online and in shops so the approach is to make it absolutely seamless for them to move from one to the other. So they can research in one place and shop in the other, they can buy in one place and pick up in the other – the art of sales is consistent across channels, so the whole approach is to make it channel agnostic. They’re not even supposed to know or see or realise which channel they’re using because it’s one overall customer offer.

Herein lies my point about ‘mobile’ SEO. The strategy should not be different. It should be the same user experience for desktops, laptops, mobiles and tablets. If you want to create the best strategy for SEO for the people using your site, you should give them a consistent experience across all devices.

Easier said than done I hear you say. True enough, many brands have taken a mobile specific strategy route, and are now stuck with that strategy for the next few years. But for those that haven’t, my suggestion is to look at responsive design.

What Is Responsive Design?

Responsive design basically analyses your screen resolution, and then fluid images,grids and content (basically your CSS) respond to your screen environment to allow you to view everything in proportion.

Not sure what I’m on about? This blog uses responsive design. As does our main site. If you’re reading this post on a desktop or laptop, grab the left or right side of the browser window and make it as narrow as possible. You’ll notice the text, navigation and images shrink to fit the width of your browser. That’s the responsive design part.

Pretty cool.

Don’t just take our word for it. It’s also Google’s preferred recommendation;

Google logoSites that use responsive web design, i.e. sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device. This is Google’s recommended configuration.

What Are The Other Options?

Google also supports two alternative methods for mobile SEO;

  • User Agent detection – basically content is served on the same URL, but different HTML and CSS is served depending on whether you access the site from a mobile device or desktop
  • Separate URL strategy – you may notice many brands serve mobile content on a separate URL (e.g. http://m.example.com)

Whilst it’s not always possible to choose the strategy that fits the latest trend, it’s important to consider the right strategy for your current situation and budget.

Also remember that SEO is only one channel of your marketing. As such, decisions about ‘mobile SEO’ should be considered and made with other channels in mind. How does it affect customer service? Will there be any bottlenecks in the purchase process? How easy is it to set up and manage a sub-domain? Can I integrate my booking system?

Mobile web traffic continues to grow. According to recent data, 17.4% of global web traffic now comes from mobile devices. This will continue to increase year on year, so we recommend an integrated, consistent strategy across all devices.

Crowd of people using smartphones during Obama speech

Still not convinced? Here are a few other blog posts, for and against responsive design for SEO;

Responsive Web Design is Good for SEO: 5 Reasons Why

How Does Responsive Design Affect SEO?

How Common Are SEO Problems With Responsive Web Design?

3 Reasons Why Responsive Web Design is the Best Option For Your Mobile SEO Strategy

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