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SEO Strategies for Mobile Phones and Tablets

Experts have been espousing for years now that mobile is the next big thing to hit the technical stratosphere. The truth is, the (mobile) eagle has landed. We can no longer anticipate the relevance of small screens; it’s a bona fide reality. If your business hasn’t yet embraced mobile and tablet designs, you’re late to the party. But there is still time!

While it’s true mobile SEO tactics share many similarities to web strategies, there are plenty of differences too, and these are what separate the masters from the fledglings. Looking for advice on how to rise the ranks in the mobile space? Keep reading and get in-the-know.

It’s Time: Go Mobile

If you don’t have a mobile site for your online business yet, it’s way past time. If you’re ready to hit the small screen with a big splash, you have two options – and this may even be your most important mobile decision:

1) Stand Alone Mobile Site – Many businesses opt to create a site unique for mobile users (also called an m.). These are advantageous because they allow your business to address the specific needs of your mobile customer, without watering down your traditional website.

2) Responsive Web Design – Responsive design is all the rage these days, and for good reason – Google has named it their preferred method for mobile. Responsive design is a site developed to automatically adjust screen dimensions and graphical elements to fit smaller screens. The important factor here is that your URL remains the same for all versions of your site. To quote Google: “Sites that use responsive web design, i.e. sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device. This is Google’s recommended configuration.”

Which should you use? It truly depends on your business. While Google and the masses are currently having a love affair with responsive design, know that this can create a generic experience for all your users, and it isn’t always the right decision for your site. Native development, or sites built specifically for small and large screens, allow you to creatively meet the needs of each audience, and often provide a better user experience.

If you do choose to go native, never fear, Google will list your results as usual. But make no mistake, if you do not choose an m. or responsive site, you may lose your rankings all together. Google will soon be weeding out desktop-only page results to mobile users, and they’ve already started suppressing mobile results that are sub-par.

Don’t assume that because you have a website, it is automatically accessible on mobile devices. Most websites still function poorly, unless they’ve adapted one of the two solutions above. Unless you want to be nixed from mobile entirely, you’re going to have to spend significant time serving this audience.

SEO for Mobile: The Nitty Gritty

Another advantage of choosing an m. mobile site is the ability to create unique on-site SEO strategies for your small screen users. Because responsive design integrates all versions of your site into a single URL, on-site SEO remains the same across the board.

To determine your best move, consider the very telling results from a recent survey of mobile users. A significant 1 in 3 mobile searches were for local results, with 61 percent of those users calling a business as a follow-up.

If you’re a local business, this is big news. It means a large portion of your customers will find you through their phones, and as such, you’ll either want to focus all of your SEO efforts on local strategies, or have a native mobile site with special local tactics.

On the flip side, if you’re strictly online or national/global, responsive design is likely the most logical route. The study shows that while 71 percent of users who respond to a TV or online ad by visiting the merchant’s website on their smartphones, only 21 percent of major online businesses currently have a mobile-specific site. See how many customers you could be wooing? And because the space is still riddled with bad user experiences, loyalty is easier to maintain, just by catering to the small screen audience.

Mobile SEO: What Not to Do

It’s already abundantly clear that assuming your desktop site caters to a mobile crowd is a major no-no, but here are a few more cautions in the small screen SEO space:
Pay special attention to load times on mobile devices; this is even more critical than on your desktop website, as smartphones usually have significantly less processing power. Google is still keen on penalizing sites with long load times.
Make sure to test your mobile site on as many phone types and operating systems as you can. It’s not a one-size-fits-all world, and many issues are specific to device types and the user’s OS version. You don’t need to cater to everyone, but make sure it functions well on all the current heavy hitters.
Optimize your mobile site to not only load and function well, but to tell the story of your site in a quick and concise manner. Mobile users have even shorter attention spans than desktop visitors – make sure your site converts in an instant.

Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.

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