Mobile SEO Best Practice & How it Differs From Desktop SEO

Posted: 30/07/2013

mobile seo

This article was written by Miki Clarke who is an SEO Manager for MEC Australia.

With smartphone penetration now 60% among online Australians and anticipated to grow to 70% by the end of 2013 (Nielsen Australian Connected Consumers report February 2013), more and more brands are building mobile friendly websites although quite often in the rush to get something live they don’t necessarily always design or build them with SEO in mind.

Mobile search results on currently remain the same as those found on desktop (as seen in the screenshots below), however Google finally announced last month that this is about to change, with the underlying message being that sites providing a sub-optimal experience for mobile users could see their rankings demoted, below those sites that do cater better for mobile users.  Therefore, it’s crucial that your mobile site adheres to Google’s mobile best practices in order to ensure your hard earned natural search rankings on desktop continue to translate to mobile search.

Top 3 on Google Mobile

Melbourne flights mobile results

Top 3 on Google Desktop

Melbourne flights desktop results

Mobile SEO Architecture


Google recommends hosting a mobile site on the same domain as the main desktop site and utilising responsive design to render the site appropriately to the multitude of devices with differing screen sizes.  The alternative is to set up your mobile site on a separate domain, the most common being:

Getting Indexed

If you host your mobile site on a different domain you will need to ensure it is indexed.  This can be done in one of four ways, best practice being all three:

Switchboard tags – Adding rel=alternate tags to your desktop pages referencing the equivalent mobile URL and conversely adding canonical tags to the mobile pages referencing the desktop URLs.

Correct Handling of Googlebot – Google has a specific crawler for mobile optimised sites and so if you automatically redirect smartphone users to your mobile site then be sure to handle Googlebot-Mobile in exactly the same way.  This will help ensure Google crawls and indexes your mobile site and enable their Skip Redirect feature for Smartphone-Optimized Pages to kick in, in which they change the link target shown in the search results to point directly to the final destination URL to help speed up the mobile search experience.

Mobile sitemap - As with desktop SEO, it is best practice to create a Mobile Sitemap and submit it to Google to inform them of the site’s existence. A Mobile Sitemap can be submitted using Google Webmaster Tool, just like a standard xml Sitemap.

Link from main site – Include a link, ideally site-wide, either in the footer or header to the mobile site to help legitimise the site’s existence and also allow smartphone users that may not have been correctly detected to navigate to your mobile site.


Promote the information/ categories on the site which mobile users will most likely be looking for, which can be determined by good keyword research (below).

Mobile SEO Relevancy

Keyword Research

User behaviour and intent on smartphones quite often differs from desktop users, particularly when there are physical locations involved, and your mobile site structure and content should reflect this.  Some examples of the skewed focus in search types by industry:

Air travel – Flight arrival/departure times and status updates.

Automotive – Showroom information: address and opening times.

Insurance – Claims contact information.

Motoring – Traffic updates, car park location and pricing

Retail – Physical store information, including address and opening times and increasingly pricing comparison information for larger purchases.

Travel – Train timetables and journey planners.

Meta data

Due to obvious space restrictions, titles and particularly meta descriptions are shorter in mobile search results so to avoid them getting truncated try to keep within the following limits, or at least ensure that your most important message is included first:

Title:  60 characters (including spaces)

Meta desc: 100 characters (including spaces)

For your most important pages we recommend testing this since the true measure is based on pixel count and so brands/messages with lots of i’s and l’s may be able to get away with longer messages.


Keep it simple and only include content which users need, as opposed to what is traditionally deemed necessary for SEO.

According to Google search volumes for Qantas’s top 100 brand terms, 17.9% are searched for on Google Mobile, but by isolating those keywords that have a higher proportion of searches on mobile you can soon see that mobile users are much more likely to be searching for flight status and contact queries than desktop users and as such this is exactly the sort of content you want to be prioritising on your mobile site.

Mobile SEO Trust


  • As an extra way for search engines to discover your mobile site, as well as help reinforce the legitimacy of your mobile site, link to it from your homepage.

User Signals

  • Ensure page load time is as fast as possible.  Not only will this help your rankings in natural search but it should also decrease the chances of users abandoning your site and help improve conversion rate.
  • Look out for pages with high bounce rates and ensure content is adequately meeting the needs of users landing on these pages.


With a growing mobile search user base with differing behaviours compared to the desktop/laptop equivalents, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure your site is geared towards ensuring mobile users get what they’re looking for in order to avoid being left behind sites that do.  Technical restrictions will always be an issue for large companies but more you invest in your mobile site the more prepared you will be to take advantage of the expected shift in mobile search algorithms, and most importantly help future proof your business.

For more information on optimising your mobile site, or desktop site, contact our media agency:

Miki Clarke
SEO Manager
Office: +61 2 8356 0655

Posted: 30/07/2013