One of the things I found interesting in the Google SearchMasters camp at their Bangalore office is the session on “How to build websites for mobiles” by Ankit Gupta.
I couldn’t have disagreed with Ankit on almost everything. Search Engine Optimization is changing or rather “evolving” into more intrinsic and complex patterns, be it on the web or elsewhere.
We know the iPhone apps have stirred up the mobile utility concepts completely and with Android and all the new platforms coming up on mobiles, things are going to (or already are) get hotter with those little handy things called mobiles.
Now, why SEO for mobiles ?
1. Higher rate of penetration
Mobiles are on an alarming high rate of penetration compared to that of the Internet. Agreed, that internet was the best thing that could have happened to the world (“euphoria??”) but looks like considering the ratio, mobiles are going to overtake it and in a smaller time frame.
So that means, if it took three years for your ISP to convince you take an internet connection, mobile companies may don’t even have to try. We are already lined up.
So with a higher rate of penetration crossing all levels of the society, the possibility of people finding alternate and easier options to the internet to get things done is just so “closely real.”
2. Easier and Quicker options
You thought Googling was easy ? It sure is, especially on a mobile. So if it takes me five minutes to start my computer/lappy, open the browser and hit Google, I find it extremely easy to just hit Google directly from my iPhone “desktop”
So coming back to the real discussion.
How can you optimize your websites for mobiles and prepare them for a mobile Google search ?
1. Dedicate a mobile access URL
First and foremost is to have a dedicated URL for mobiles. Either have a mobile phone friendly version of your existing website or have a separate version of your site / app on a new domain. While if you’re dealing with lot of textual content, there might be chances of duplication with mirrors, so its safe to have a downgraded, mobile friendly version for mobiles rather than a new domain altogether for mobiles.
2. Get ready to re-size
Okay so that large fancy display LCD screen on your PC/Laptop is just that – fancy. You thought big was cool, but its not ! Getting small is cooler. Mobile phones come with all sorts of crazy alignments, horizontally scaled, vertically scaled, both vertical and horizontal on motion sensing – but one thing is common that they are really small. From few centimeters to few inches, they have a bracket and they stay within. They are definitely not going to grow larger than your palm, so keep that as the maximum.
3. Panic if its a mobile
If your visitor is on a mobile, you have every reason to panic. First “detect” him. Find out what mobile device he is using. Is he on an iPhone or a Nokia smart phone? Find out the resolution and the possible display size. And then get your appropriate mobile friendly version ready, and show it up. Until you give the right version for the right mobile (and get smart at that), I wouldn’t want to call it a good one. So have a mobile version ready for every possible varieties of mobile or at least, a standard fitting one for all types and devices.
3. Follow the standards baby !
I’m sort of in a confusion on this. Because for mobiles there’s one standard today and there’s another one tomorrow and I’m guessing there’s lot more to come. However, following the common web design standards is a great way to make sure that people like your site and use it repeatedly.
4. Keep things simple and neat.
We’re here looking for info, so please let me read this stuff. People don’t want to go through 4 clicks before they hit the content. They might think the back button is easier.
5. Use above the fold (ehhmm..above the button ?) area wisely.
Just like on websites, the above the fold area is the most important zone. If possible give the content in this area with a neat navigation besides it. cluttering this area with ads is an absolute no-no.
6. Don’t let people scroll down.
You know people don’t like to use their fingers too much. Once they are on something, a page say, they’d pretty much find out if they are going to find out the information they are looking for in the next few seconds or not. Once they find that the chances are less, they don’t even want to try. ( My tip – Don’t let them scroll horizontally either. )
7. Offer simple navigational menus.
May be one that dynamically displays the buttons based on what page they are on with a >> more and << back link rather than a << Start here 1, 2, 3, 4, The end >> kinda stuff ?
8. Help them get the target in fewer clicks.
The less, the merrier, is the law when it comes to mobile surfing. I would want to find the maximum info in the fewest possible clicks. Though I like the sound of click, I don’t really like to click. So study them and make sure the visitor don’t have to click too much when they are on your site.
9. AdSense ? Keep it low – clever boy !
The last thing I want to see on a page is an AdSense ad right on the top area. I mean.. they are so evident and glaring, so give me one good reason why I shouldn’t think that the webmaster is keen on serving me with the wrong info and ads ?
While I don’t have anything against “AdSense for mobiles” its painful to see ads appear on every page while I’m surfing on a mobile. If you’re keen, place them in a corner may be.
10. Follow the standards
I’m sort of in a confusion on this. Because for mobiles there’s one standard today and there’s another one tomorrow and I’m guessing there’s lot more to come. However, following the common web design standards is a great way to make sure that people like your site and use it repeatedly. So that’s validated code with the W3C and no broken links, broken header etc.
You know these Google peeps has this strange “thing” towards the W3C standards that I’m beginning to think there’s something between the two. I dunno, however practicing good web and mobile standards are crucial here at least.
And here are some tools that will help you optimize your site for mobiles / create mobile friendly sites.
1 – Firebug – The popular web development app that will help you develop standard sites.
2 – Y Slow for Firebug – YSlow analyzes web pages and tells you why they’re slow based on the rules for high performance web sites.
3 – Useragent Switcher – Switch between browsers to ensure cross browser compatibility while designing sites.
4 – Google Transcoder – Search engine for cell phones, use it to test your website and its ranks even.
Thanks to Ankit Gupta from Google for throwing light on Building Mobile Friendly Websites at the Google SearchMasters conference.