While certain segments of the mobile industry consistently generate buzz that far outweighs real traction – point-of-sale payments and augmented reality immediately come to mind – search is clearly gaining substantial ground. The rise in mobile search appears to have led to an unprecedented dip in desktop search activity, according to recent data from ComScore via the Macquarie Group, and BIA/Kelsey predicts that mobile will outpace desktop local search by 2015.
That drastic growth presents an enormous opportunity for retailers and other businesses to present their brands to users on the go. But the competition for prime placement in those search results will be increasingly brutal as the paid-search space heats up: Mobile devices accounted for 23.4 percent of all paid search clicks in the U.S. in December 2012, Marin Software recently reported, up from 14.2 percent at the beginning of the year. And pay-per-click spending on mobile devices jumped 30 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 compared to the year-ago period, according to Covario, and 10 percent over the previous quarter.
Real estate at the top of those search results is particularly valuable in mobile, because the screens on smartphones and many tablets are substantially smaller than those on PCs and laptops. So organizations looking for prime placement have two choices: They can pay for it, or they can look to SEO. And those adopting an SEO strategy must tackle three crucial challenges:
- Be aware of your audience. Use Google Analytics or other tools to find out as much as you can about which keywords are driving traffic (shorter is often better in mobile), what your visitors are looking for, where they’re coming from and what devices they’re using.
- Be comprehensive. Make sure your business is accurately registered and listed with every noteworthy search engine on the market – Google Places is a must-have, of course, but so are Bing Maps, Yahoo Local, Yelp, the online Yellow Pages and others. Make sure details like hour and location are accurate, and monitor each directory for user reviews, responding when necessary.
- Be social – and local. Social is becoming inextricably linked with mobile, so your mobile site should be inextricably linked with social. Be sure to include social media sharing links whenever possible and appropriate, which makes it easy for your customers to do some marketing legwork for you. And be sure your site is included in results for the local searches that offer so much more promise than a simple PC search from home.
- Be ready for traffic. I’m still amazed at how often I’m directed to a mobile site through search results only to find that the site I want is difficult or impossible to use on a handset. So whether you choose responsive design, a stand-alone mobile site (which I suggest) or another configuration, constantly test to make sure your site is usable on smartphones, tablets and even feature phones. Present a clean, simple home page that enables users to drill down if they want more detailed information, and leverage the power of mobile by making it easy for users to call you with a single click.
Traditional advertising can be extremely expensive, of course, and paid search ads will only get more expensive as mobile search ramps up. But we’re in the very early days of mobile SEO, which provides a huge opportunity for many small and medium-sized businesses to drive traffic to their mobile sites and acquire consumers for a relatively small investment. Savvy companies who pursue a mobile SEO strategy immediately will have a big jump on those still testing the mobile-search waters.