USED: SEO and Web Development: Smartphone vs. Desktop
With the explosive expansion in the use of tablet computers and smartphones for use in web searches, why are many SEO experts still focused on desktop development? Is it because developers do not feel the need to duplicate their efforts, or does the answer lie in the clients’ or employers’ unwillingness to tolerate the extra expense?
If more users are searching for businesses while on the go (e.g. local restaurants, car insurance claims, auto towing services, etc.) through their smartphones, wouldn’t it be worth the clients’ investment to accommodate them?
How Search Engines Work
For most major search engines (e.g. Google, Bing, Yahoo!), the process of cataloging pages for its database consists of three parts:
- The web crawler, which follows links and sends HTTP queries to the millions of sites around the world
- The indexer, which stores all of the relevant content in its database
- The query processor, which evaluates a user query and compares it to the stored content.
The traditional approach to search engine optimization (SEO) has been to concentrate on keywords, tags and content in order to make a page more relevant to a potential visitor’s queries. In both mobile and desktop search queries, the search engine query function works in a similar manner, so developers and SEO consultants have concentrated on desktop development.
Developers have previously addressed the issues of duplication of effort by employing a concept called “responsive design”. The task of responsive design is for the recipient of the HTTP request to check for the platform from which the user is sending his or her request, then displaying the page according to that platform. For instance, when a server receives a request from a user on an iPhone, the server may redirect that user to a page that fits that browser and operating system.
Many developers who create separate content for desktop and mobile site hold the mobile content either under a different domain (e.g. domain.mobi) or under a subdirectory (e.g. domain.com/mobile). While this solution accommodates the users, it may cause problems for search engines. The duplicate content between the desktop and mobile sites may draw penalties from search engines for spamming. Also, separate domains may split the page’s link equity and decrease page rankings in search results.
Smartphone Web Crawlers
Google has already taken steps to consider how to rank pages tailored for smartphones. In December 2011, Google announced the launch of Googlebot-Mobile, a crawler that employs a smartphone user agent to complement its previous mobile phone user-agents. The mission of Googlebot-Mobile is “to increase our coverage of smartphone content and to provide a better search experience for smartphone users.”
Google’s embrace of smartphone technology also extends to changing its search results to reflect URLs specifically designed for smartphones, which saves the time of a URL redirect from the desktop-specific page its smartphone companion page.
What’s the Answer?
At this stage, the question of mobile vs. desktop SEO does not seem to have a clear-cut answer. The changes at Google are an indication that SEO experts may need to shift their emphasis on mobile development. As the technology evolves and the rules change, developers and SEO consultants will need to adapt accordingly.