Mobile Visibility: Search Optimization for the Mobile User

By Bryson Meunier
Appeared in Visibility Magazine

It’s 2008, and advertisers both large and small are looking for the next big thing. Fortunately, they may not have to look any further than the palm of their hand.
ReadWriteWeb, a leading technology blog, is predicting that the mobile web will finally break into the mainstream in 2008. Innovative devices that have recently come out on the market (like the iPhone in 2007) are increasingly making mobile web browsing addictive. The search engines are also betting on mobile, with Yahoo! going so far as to say that there will be more mobile Internet users than Web users by 2017.

This may surprise you, as most interfaces on mobile phones currently make searching difficult at best. Yet people are conducting mobile searches right now, with 219.2 million mobile search users in 2006, according to eMarketer. This is predicted to grow quickly to 844.9 million by 2011, with mobile ad revenues soaring to $2.4 billion in 2011 from $6.8 million in 2006.

With such large numbers, it’s hard to believe that more people aren’t realizing the potential of this untapped market. Unfortunately, because mobile SEO is a hybrid of mobile marketing and search engine optimization, many practitioners of either mobile marketing or search engine optimization find the language to the other discipline a barrier to entry. As a result, there are only a few professionals in the world who are optimizing mobile content regularly and successfully. Here are some tips for making your content accessible to mobile users.

1.Mobile Keyword Research –Unlike web search where keyword researchers have any number of keyword tools to extract relevant keywords (e.g., WordTracker, Keyword Discovery), there are currently no mainstream keyword tools with mobile features or keyword tools created specifically to display mobile queries. Mobile keyword research, then, requires a little more creativity. Students of keyword research for the web are often told to think like a searcher, and this is especially true of doing keyword research for the mobile web. When characterizing the mobile user experience, Leland Rechis, a Google User Experience Designer, explained that Google thinks of mobile users as having one of three aims:
• Bored now
• Repetitive Now
• Urgent Now.
It’s helpful to consider the queries that these users would input on their phones, which are typically:
• Informational
• Navigational
• Location specific, due to their individual needs.

According to recent Google Research, the top five categories in Mobile Search are:
• Adult (25% of all queries)
• Entertainment (10% of all queries)
• Internet/Telecommunications (>4% of all queries)
• Lifestyles/Online communities (>4% of all queries)
• Local (>4% of all queries)
• Other (45% of all queries)
o And the average length for a mobile query is 2.56 words

When researching mobile specific keywords, it is possible to use popular web search keyword tools and filter the list based on these criteria.

Another possibility for mining mobile keywords is to use the “Related Searches” at the end of a Yahoo! Mobile Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Similar to Yahoo! Suggest, this provides popular mobile-specific queries that keyword researchers can add to their mobile pages, thus increasing visibility to mobile searchers.

2. Validate Your Code – It’s unclear at this point whether validating your web pages and mobile web pages will help directly with mobile search rankings, but validation is still seen as an important step in making more of your mobile content accessible to multiple devices. This will allow site owners to get more of their mobile pages indexed by the mobile search engines, which gives site owners more opportunities to rank on specific keywords.
The W3C provides a free validator that can be used to validate both mobile and Web pages. I recommend validating your primary web site with the standard validator in order to make it accessible to mobile devices, and validating your mobile content with the mobile-specific validator provided by This popular validator validates your code and checks for several mobile development best practices.
3. Create Device-Specific Versions of Your Content – Many developers are intimidated by mobile site development because they don’t understand the “alphabet soup” of acronyms associated with mobile languages (cHTML, iMode, xHTML mobile profile, etc.) and they see it as a barrier to entry. In reality, it’s sufficient to validate your web site for mobile accessibility and build a mobile specific site using xHTML mobile profile. Development details can be found in the comprehensive Mobile Developer’s guide.

However, if you have the time and resources to build a site in multiple development languages, it can help increase your visibility in mobile search engines. In the Resolution Media Mobile Search Optimization White Paper, we found that many mobile search engines index content in multiple languages, and serve them up when no MIME Type is associated with the browser. This could potentially give one savvy mobile developer the opportunity to own the mobile SERPs for brand-related terms if multiple versions were developed.

4. or .com? – Don’t think of it as either/or. It’s not really a search engine optimization question, as there’s not currently any evidence that or domains do better in mobile search engines in terms of indexing or ranking; but there are many reasons to own your domain, including reputation management and usability. For SEO, we recommend redirecting your domain to something easy to type in on a mobile device, like

5. Submit Mobile Sitemaps – Many webmasters use sitemaps to submit their mobile content to mobile search engines. It’s not true across the board, but in many cases we have seen content indexed faster (and more accurately) when a sitemap is involved. Since Google and Yahoo! both offer support for mobile sitemaps, there’s really no reason not to take advantage.

6. Participate in the Mobile Development Community – Mobile Development and optimization has been discussed for at least three years now, since the mobile web w3c working group released its Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0. Nonetheless, mobile SERPs are continually evolving to provide a better user experience, and marketers need to pay attention in order to keep up. If you’re interested in optimizing for the mobile Web, don’t let this article be the last thing you read about it this year. If you’re interested in mobile marketing and mobile search, I recommend browsing Russell Beattie’s extensive list of mobile marketing web links ( for general information. For mobile development, pick up a copy of Cameron Moll’s phenomenal Mobile Web Design ( Mobile SEO resources are not as easy to find. However, I blog on the topic bi-weekly at the Natural Search and Mobile SEO Blog ( and at the new Resolution Media blog ( Please join us as we lay the groundwork for the future of SEO.


Copyright © 2008 Resolution Media, Inc. All rights reserved.