Mobile Search Optimization Development at SES San Jose

It’s very exciting to see that mobile search optimization is still top of mind with the SEO community, and I’m very grateful to my colleagues at SES and SMX for helping to keep it there. Cindy Krum (not Crum or Drum, fellas), Gregory Markel and Rachel Pasqua have done a fine job of stepping forward as evangelists of mobile search optimization, and I celebrate them as innovators for that. However, when I saw the coverage from SES San Jose, I was disappointed to see that the focus was still less on optimization than development, and that most of panelists were still not demonstrating expertise at mobile search optimization so much as telling the community that they need to start thinking about the impact of mobile users on SEO. That may be fine for the SES crowd, but as a marketer with Fortune 50 clients with the opportunity to connect them with millions of users they wouldn’t have otherwise, I’m already sold on the idea. I’ve already developed the sites. And now I’m looking for mobile search optimization experts to tell me how to do it well, and I get something else entirely. Finding this information can be a bit frustrating, to say the least. Apparently there aren’t that many of us who are optimizing at this level, but for those of us who are, where can we turn?

To help move things along, we at Resolution Media have developed a mobile search optimization white paper, which will be released in the next week or two at (and the mobile-friendly If you’re interested in actually optimizing mobile web sites, optimizing your web site for mobile users, and distributing mobile and local content to users on the go, I would highly recommend keeping an eye out for it. There’s apparently nothing else like it for mobile SEO at the moment.

That being said, I wanted to go through some of the comments that were reported on in this session that appear to be false or misleading, and try to clear things up a bit. My assumption is that these are the same comments that were made in the Mobile Search Optimization panel I attended at SES in Chicago last December; but if I’m misinterpreting something I would invite each of the panelists to please clarify. I know Cindy is a member of our Mobile SEO Google Group, so I will invite her personally to respond. To the rest of the panelists, I would extend the same invitation, and hope that you recognize the force behind my comments not as derision, but as the sincere hope for advanced discussion that likely motivated your appearance at this session in the first place.

I’m taking these comments from David Dalka’s and TopRank’s coverage of the session. David, if any of my comments misinterpreted your notes, I’d appreciate clarification.

1. Many aspects of Mobile Optimization follow Traditional SEO Wisdom
This is true to some extent, but clearly false in others. In our research we’ve found sites that weren’t validated for mobile best practices (and weren’t even validated XHTML) from sites with very little link popularity that were listed on the first page for some very competitive mobile terms. Accessibility and W3C compliance are important from a development standpoint, and important for optimization in the sense that they theoretically allow spiders to crawl and index more content and provide for a better user experience; but at this point it doesn’t appear to be much of a ranking factor for mobile search. For those of us who use Google’s or Yahoo!’s mobile search engines regularly, only to be frustrated by 413 and 502 errors in the first three results, there seems to be something else at play. Many of these listings are inaccessible web pages in the mobile results that were created without having given mobile searchers a second thought.
In terms of mobile search optimization being similar to web search optimization, consider this: in our study of mobile SERPs, 47 of the 129 (36%) sites found on the first page for highly competitive mobile queries were not in the first 30 listings for the same term in web search listings, 104 of them (80%) were either higher or lower than their web search counterparts, and all but three of them failed the MobileOK Basic test. With these numbers we can’t exactly see what is different in mobile search optimization than traditional SEO, but such a discrepancy also can’t be accidental. In just as many aspects, mobile SEO appears to be a whole different animal than traditional SEO.

2. Get listed in Google Local Business Listings
I was pleased to see this, as it’s a large part of what is missing from the discussion on mobile search optimization currently. Google has foregrounded local search in mobile to such a large extent that Search nearby boxes appear at the bottom of searches for seemingly unrelated queries, and in both Google and Yahoo! local results frequently appear first on the SERP if there’s the slightest possibility that the query intent is geographical in nature.
What’s missing is that Local is only one of the channels that marketers should be taking advantage of in order to compete in mobile. Universal search is nowhere more important than in mobile, as there are generally fewer listings on the SERPs, and web results are often buried beneath local, shopping, image, and other non-web results (not to mention paid search advertising). In our view, any explanation of the mobile channel that doesn’t address optimizing all of the types of digital content that appear in it is incomplete.

3. dotMobi is diminishing in importance
From the context I’m going to assume that the speaker was making his point about the iPhone being a game changer in terms of how people can access the Web. While this point is debatable, the idea that the dotMobi TLD is diminishing in importance is clearly false.
According to the dotMobi blog, the pages indexed in Google are higher than ever–more than ten times just six months ago:

For the indexing part of SEO, dotMobi doesn’t seem to be diminishing at all–just the opposite, in fact.

For ranking purposes there’s no evidence that it has ever been a factor, so I’m not sure how it could be diminishing in that respect. It also doesn’t seem to be much of a factor today, as zero of the sites in our study were at a dotMobi TLD. However, in our study we’ve found that sites with mobile versions often appear side by side in the mobile search results, giving marketers another chance to appear on the page with the same content, knocking their competitors out. In this sense, having a mobile version of your web site is still very important, and there’s really no indication that it won’t be anytime soon.

So while overall I’m happy that these issues are being addressed, I would be happy if we could advance the level of discussion a little further faster. If any of the panelists would like to do that here (or in our Mobile SEO group), I would welcome the opportunity to discuss.