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Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

Mobile Search Site Creation and Optimization: Part 1 of 2

 

The following is coverage of the Search Engine Strategies (SES) New York presentation called “Mobile Search Optimization” by Cindy Krum of Blue Moon Works, Gregory Markel, President of Infuse Creative LLC and Rachel Pasqua, Director of Mobile Marketing at iCrossing.

This presentation provided a fascinating glimpse into the young realm of mobile site creation, compliance and optimization. I have a lot of information to work with here so to make this article a little more digestible I have broken it into two parts; one is the site creation and the second is the site optimization.

Mobile Website Design & Creation
During this presentation two very different lines of thought were noted regarding the best method for creating a mobile website, one from Cindy Krum and the other from Rachel Pasqua.

> Cindy Krum’s Presentation

Cindy Krum felt strongly that an existing website should pull double-duty as both the wired and the mobile version by using CSS to provide an alternative, mobile friendly version shown only to mobile users.

Cindy provided some great tips on how to create a hybrid mobile/wired website:

  1. Ensure your website is 100% W3C XHTML compliant because mobile browsers are completely unforgiving when it comes to improper coding.
  2. Follow strict XHTML accessibility guidelines to provide the best quality product for both wired, mobile, and those that require accessibility (i.e. the blind). She also noted that by following accessibility requirements any images that do not show up on the mobile browser will be defined in text format – a nice backup.
  3. Avoid unnecessary code to minimize download times.
  4. Ensure the site uses CSS to control content – this is critical to ensure the mobile version can have reorganized placement of content. (i.e. the menu might be at the bottom vs. the top)
  5. Use external CSS files to provide maximum flexibility such as the ability to specify a different style sheet for each mobile browser.
  6. Use the LINK element to attach style sheets because it is a much friendlier format for mobile browsers.
  7. Use multiple style sheets. The minimum would be a style sheet called “screen” for regular wired visitors and a second style sheet (provided below the first) called “handheld”.
  8. Use “display: none” to hide elements in either rendering. This is useful if you have page elements you do not want to appear to mobile users or vice versa. Using this method of hiding content is part of what makes Cindy’s hybrid approach feasible of using a single website for both viewing technologies (handheld, and wired).
  9. These headers will help you identify the mobile device being used to access the content. HTTP User-Agent headers, HTTP Accept Headers, and UAProf.
  10. Use the appropriate MIME type: “text/html” or “application/xhtml+xml”.

> Rachel Pasqua’s Presentation

At the opposite spectrum was Rachel Pasqua who firmly stated that offering your current website to users, reformatted or not, would likely provide a less than desirable user experience. She went on to explain that mobile users should see an entirely different, more time efficient version of your website because such users are task oriented. Rachel put her thoughts into excellent perspective when she stated that mobile search is “not surf media, it’s search media”. She also went on to state that iCrossing decided to proceed with the subdomain concept rather than a separate domain such as a .mobi. In this case their mobile site is located at mobile.icrossing.com; a sensible concept that retained the branding of the top level domain name without having to rebrand a new one (i.e. going with the .mobi version)

Rachel had some interesting metrics and tips to share with the group that were researched at iCrossing using focus groups and other research (sorry I don’t know the source but the report is due to be released soon I hear). Here are a few tidbits that I caught on paper:

  1. Mobile searchers tend to utilize the same search engine they use when they are on their PC.
  2. Only 10% of the estimated 234 million US wireless subscribers are active users of mobile search.
  3. Searchers are task oriented, they tend to want to get their information and get out; mobile surfing is extremely uncommon.

My Take on Hybrid Sites Versus A Separate Mobile Website
Of the two beliefs I felt myself more strongly drawn to the concept of a separate mobile site. Why? I think the maintenance of a hybrid website is bound to be far more difficult because design updates will require designers to think in both realms which is likely to make updates laborious for the average business owner.

> Gregory Markel’s Presentation
Gregory Markel of Infuse Creative LLC, dropped a very intriguing bombshell at the beginning of his discussion when he noted that Google’s Voice Local Search just might take the world of mobile search in an entirely different direction. According to Gregory, his friends and network of mobile enthusiasts have been impressed by the results of using 800-GOOG-411 and conducting a free voice search; the results have been extremely relevant and Google immediately connects the user to their preferred result by phone. After this bombshell had sunk in, he went on to discuss many of the points already mentioned by Cindy but he had a few highlights definitely worth mentioning including this valuable tip: get into Google local for your area so that you can be found on Google’s Voice Local Search, it is free and easy to do. (Note, I wrote an article on how to do this a few months back called: Have Your Company Listed Free in Google Maps). Unfortunately, Google Voice Local Search is experimental and only available in the United States.

Highlights from Markel:

  1. Mobile search adoption has been slower in the US than expected at only 19%
  2. An excellent source of mobile statistics is the self-described authority on mobile metrics, MMetrics.com.
  3. When users conduct searches, they are more likely to search using 2 or a maximum of 3 words.
  4. Nokia has decided to try to simplify the process of searching by integrating it into its future line of cell phones.
  5. Mobile devices require ultimate simplicity to ensure compatibility across the vast number of proprietary mobile browsers available.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this presentation brief on Mobile Site Optimization.

Written by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth SEO Services
Celebrating 10 Years of SEO Excellence

3 Responses to “Mobile Search Site Creation and Optimization: Part 1 of 2”

  1. Vance Hedderel, Director of PR, dotMobi

    I was surprised to read the section in Rachel Pasqua’s presentation summation that says, “iCrossing decided to proceed with the subdomain concept rather than a separate domain such as a .mobi. In this case their mobile site is located at mobile.icrossing.com; a sensible concept that retained the branding of the top level domain name without having to rebrand a new one.”

    I was surprised because, up until then, the ideas in her section seemed well thought out.

    It’s rare to see companies that hinge their brand on a domain. Even the greatest Internet success stories like Amazon, Google and Yahoo aren’t tied to a domain. They realize a domain is a channel; to them, a .fr, or .co.uk or .jp matters as much as a .com. That’s what .mobi brings to branding: a distinct, easy-to-remember formula for finding the mobile content of a brand and a distinct channel, much the same as a country code offers.

    The subdomain strategy that iCrossing is employing is what has brought mobile users addresses like http://wap.oa.yahoo.com and http://proxy.espn.go.com/wireless/espn/. With .mobi, users can easily guess — say — “cnnmoney.mobi” or “google.mobi” and know that they’ll get content that works on their phones.

    Now, think about brands that did tie themselves to a domain. Here’s one: pets.com.

    We’ve talked more about this in our own blog’s misconception series at http://dotmobi.typepad.com/dotmobi/misconceptions/index.html. Our contributor, Ronan Cremin, remarked, “Third level domains such as wap.domain.com and mobile.domain.com do not work well for the purpose identifying mobile content, nor do special URLs such as domain.com/mobile and domain.com/xhtml because there are no enforceable standards for doing this (DNS is inherently distributed — registrants can do whatever they want with third-level domains). A top-level domain, on the other hand, can do this, and help the user to identify (and trust) mobile friendly sites.”

  2. Jo Rabin

    I’d encourage your readers to look at the dotMobi Mobile Web Developers Guide, which, among other things, covers the issues of:

    a) whether to build a separate site, differentiate using style sheets or do something else

    b) provides some explanatory text on the W3C Mobile Web Best Practices document which it draws on for inspiration

    I’d like to add that there are some significant caveats to the technique of using display:none, suggested by Cindy Krum. In most cases the element is still loaded by the browser. So, for example, if you have a large image for desktop presentation and a small image for mobile presentation, the large image is still loaded by most mobile browsers, even though it is not be displayed. This clearly adds cost and delay to the user experience.

    Finally, if your readers are interested in checking whether their sites are mobile ready, they should visit the dotMobi ready.mobi checker, which provides a preview of how the page may appear in mobile devices, analyzes page load costs and time, and points out ways in which the technical construction of the page deviates from best practices and suggests ways in which it could be improved for mobile devices.

  3. Buy Calling Card Online

    I love Google Voice. There SMS feature actually got me into it. I am able to send free text messages to Bangladesh, India, and USA. It saves me some good money on my texting program from Verizon Wireless because I can use that to send now. I think Google always does a good job of giving users what they require and need. I have heard in the future they are integrating Voice with the Android. Plus they bought a new VoIP company which they will integrate with the other two to give some excellent features. I need to get me a Androind now haha.

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