Mobile sites and search DistilledLive video discussion

In the last DistilledLive video, we talked through the current hot topic of late, content marketing, with the people who know it best; the Outreach team in Seattle. You can also, check out Adria Saracino's Hangout on the very same subject if you want to hear more. This week however, we're back in London as myself and Bridget Randolph give you our thoughts on mobile sites and search.

For the full transcript of the video, see below.

So, what do you need to do to make sure your site performs well on a mobile site?

Bridget and I talk you through the best way to optimize your site for mobile and the things you should be considering, particularly when it comes to mobile vs a more traditional desktop search [did you know 1 in 3 of all searches on mobile are local?]

What's the best way to use mobile when it comes to your site? 

It's hard to know whether you should be building a native app for your site or perhaps, opting for a responsive site design like the Distilled blog, right? Luckily for you, Bridget has been digging deep into both possibilities and in fact, wrote a pretty in depth post over on SEOmoz discussing just that. Check it out over here.

Get involved

As always if you want to talk more about any of the things we've mentioned in this video, get involved in the debate over at the Distilled blog or send a tweet along to us over on Twitter.

Full video transcript - DistilledLive London | Mobile sites and search 

Will: Hi everyone. Welcome to another Distilled Live. I'm Will, and I'm joined this week by Bridget, who's going to be talking to us about mobile SEO and mobile websites in general, which we're finding kind of a fascinating topic at the moment. Bridget is one of the consultants in the London office. She's been digging deep into this stuff.

So Bridget, I'd like to start, I think, by talking a little bit about what do we actually mean by mobile SEO?

Bridget: I think it's good to remember that SEO is a part of a larger picture. So when we're talking about it, it's always going to be intertwined with the idea of the user experience. But if we're saying what is specifically SEO for mobile, I think it's the things we can do to help get a better result in the search engine when you search on a mobile phone, especially if you have a separate mobile site.

Will: I guess there are two parts to that. One is, what kind of search query does someone do when they are mobile? And what do we need to do to make sure our website performs well on a mobile device?

Bridget: Yes.

Will: So talk us through both of those. Do you have an example of each kind of thing?

Bridget: As far as the types of things people are looking for on a mobile and the way that might differ from traditional desktop search, something we've seen a lot with recently is a lot of local search. I think one in three searches on a mobile is local, whereas on a desktop, it goes down to one in five.

Will: That makes sense. And I guess sometimes it's a local intent, even if they don't type a local descriptor in. I mean, if you search pizza restaurant on your phone, there's a lot of stuff baked into that. The phone knows where you are. There's GPS, all that kind of thing. It makes it a bit more sensible search query than on a desktop.

Bridget: I think that's also something to remember when you're talking about mobile is that you can also make use of these phone functions that you get, especially with a smartphone. You get geolocation and that sort of thing, which can be cool. There's stuff in page titles, you can have click-to-call numbers and that sort of thing is very useful.

Will: Yes. Certainly pushing some of that stuff into your titles, into your meta information is a good idea. But the other side of things, making your website work well on mobiles, we've not seen any evidence yet that this is directly a ranking factor. In other words, the search results on your mobile aren't particularly skewed towards friendly mobile sites.

Bridget: Yes. Nothing conclusive, really. I think Google has been experimenting at some point with a little mobile icon next to sites that sort of a more mobile friendly experience. But it's not something that's been rolled out and  . . .

Will: And they used the rel=alternate thing. Wikipedia is a good example of that, isn't it? If you see Wikipedia in the mobile search results, you see the regular desktop version listed. But if you click, you get taken straight to the m. version, which is kind of interesting.

So which leads us on to Wikipedia has two sites. There's a www. and an m. That's not the only way of doing mobile, is it?

Bridget: No. There's quite a lot of debate over which is the best way. Google and Bing have both sort of stated that responsive or a sort of single URL is a good way to go, largely just because it cuts down on the amount of pages they are crawling. It prevents problems with redirects not working and that sort of thing.

Will: Redirects can be a bit slow on the mobile.

Bridget: Yes. But I think, as well, you have to consider it for you own site on an individual basis, because there are certain reasons you might choose to use a mobile site as a separate URL, rather than just incorporating it into your current desktop design.

Will: Which, I guess, one of the biggest reasons would be if you had a different set of pages for mobile. Then I guess it's almost verging on to being app.

Bridget: And that's sort of another question that people have asked is, "Can't we just use an app, and isn't an app the best way to sort of cater to mobile users?" There's a few reasons that they might not be the case. I think an app is generally best used as an additional thing, and the form following the function.

So if there's a good reason to have one, if you're sort of have a big enough customer base that they're going to be willing to download it and be able to find it in the store, because at the moment the search results in the Apple Store or in the Google Play store are not as easy to find things.

Will: Yeah. They're not necessarily fully integrated with the regular search results. We can kind of see how that plays out. But I guess so what we're saying, at the one extreme you need phone specific functionality. It's probably the biggest reason to have a native app. Verging through, it just needs to be a bit different to the desktop site, is best reason to have its own URLs. Then, at the complete other end of the spectrum, we're saying either serve the exact same site, or what did we call the other? Adaptive? Is that the kind of middle option?

Bridget: I've heard adaptive dynamic serving is another description which is sort of describing when you have a single URL, but based on the user agent that's detected, if it's a mobile, it's going to be served different HTML, which is different from responsive, because responsive just changes the CSS style sheet. So it takes the blocks that you've got and stacks them differently, whereas the dynamic serving can be a completely different look, but it's the same URL. So it's sort of in between.

Will: So let's just end with the technical considerations there, because that's sounding a little bit dangerously like cloaking, if we're serving different HTML based on the user agent, to different people. So what do we need to do to make sure that Googlebot doesn't get confused?

Bridget: Well, that's the beauty of the new smartphone Googlebot that has come out in 2011, because it has the same sort of user agent as an iPhone. So as long as what the Googlebot is being served is the same as what the user sees, then technically that's not cloaking, and you can also use the http vary header to make sure that that's made clear to the crawler.

Will: To regular Googlebot. Okay. So as long as regular Googlebot knows that the user agent's making a difference here, as long as the smartphone Googlebot gets served the same as a real smartphone, then we're all okay.

Bridget: Yes.

Will:    Okay. Good luck optimising your mobile websites, people. We'll see you again soon.

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