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Everything a marketer needs to know about mobile search

August 26, 2013


Matthew Capala is head of search at Profero

Matthew Capala is head of search at Profero

By Matthew Capala

I doubt that the readers of this publication need convincing that investing in mobile is important. It is becoming increasingly evident that mobile marketing will be the key growth driver for brands globally, and most businesses have already jumped into various mobile tactics to engage and acquire customers online.

However, your mobile strategy is not complete without a holistic mobile search plan in place that integrates effective earned and paid mobile media strategies.

Mastering mobile search can seem like a daunting challenge at times, even for brands with the most established online presence. This is especially the case when mobile is a large part of your customer’s digital lifestyle.

An effective mobile search strategy should also be scaled globally when you operate in many markets around the world. Here are a couple of mobile search statistics that you should know:

• In 2013, about 20 percent of Internet traffic is projected to be mobile (KPCB)

• Use of mobile search has grown by 500 percent over the past two years (Econsultancy)

• Eighty-two percent of mobile shoppers use search to influence their purchasing decisions (Google Online Shopper Study)

• Across all industries, mobile traffic is increasing by 3.5 percent per month (Televox)

• Of the estimated 30 billion annual mobile searches, about 12 billion are local searches (Search Engine Land)

• Including a city name in mobile ads increases click-through rates as much as 200 percent (MediaPost)

• Seventy-seven percent of mobile searches occur at home or work—even if a PC is nearby (Search Engine Land)

• Forty percent will click another mobile result if a site is not mobile friendly (Icebreaker Consulting)

Mobile search requires a unique approach
As more smartphones get activated every day, the need for better mobile search strategy should become a priority for businesses large and small.

It is crucial that brands implement mobile search engine optimization (SEO) tactics on their site to earn a greater share of voice in the mobile space.

For the most part, many elements of desktop and mobile search are very similar.

Providing a great user experience, a responsive site design and offering real value for users are core values for success in both traditional and mobile SEO.

That said, there are also a number of challenges in establishing your brand as a leader in mobile search.

Mobile search requires a unique approach because of differences in requirements concerning user behavior, search patterns, SERP presentation and browser requirements.

Mobile SEO needs to inform the build of the overall brand’s mobile ecosystem.

Additionally, you need to leverage various paid search ad formats available in Google to amplify your paid search performance.

Mobile search is part of the customer lifecycle
At its core, the act of searching online can be defined as “problem solving.”

While desktop search usually happens in the living room or in the office, mobile search occurs pervasively at the point of sale and is highly driven by a local intent.

In fact, according to Google, about 50 percent of mobile searchers are local.

Therefore, mobile search offers a unique, intent-based opportunity to connect with customers at a critical point in their product discovery journey.

According to Google Online Shopper Study, 79 percent of shoppers now say that they use smartphones to help them with shopping.

Moreover, two-thirds of the world’s population says that they sleep with smartphones beside them. That is 3.3 billion people globally who have smartphones around them all the time.

To achieve success in mobile marketing, businesses have to become the first port of call for customers. This is what makes mobile search important since it is the vehicle that helps your Web site become findable to your customers who are increasingly turning to mobile as the platform for Web search.

In fact, mobile search now accounts for more than 20 percent of the search volume in the United States and is growing at 500-plus percent a year.

Key mobile search considerations
Mobile SEO requires a process of research, analysis, developing, optimizing, maximizing and measuring.  There are a few key differences in mobile search that affect a user’s behavior, rankings and click-through rate (CTR) and these need to be considered in your mobile strategy:

1. Mobile searches are much more likely to display local results. This may mean you have to develop your local search strategy and make more investment in this area.

2. Mobile search keywords are usually shorter and include misspellings due to touchscreen typing, which can make a user’s intentions more ambiguous. In addition, shorter terms are much more competitive to rank.

3. There is less organic search above-the-fold area compared to desktop and, as a result, it is key to earning high ranks on mobile search, which gets significantly higher CTR.

4. Mobile results often display more specialized widgets or interactive features in search results depending on the device – for example, a search for “weather” on Android devices displays weather details for your current location, pushing most other results below the fold.

5. Auto-complete results display while the user is still entering her search term.

Mobile SEO best practices
Similar to traditional SEO for the desktop experience, mobile search needs to be optimized to gain a greater share of voice. The following are several guidelines to ensure that your mobile presence is providing the best SEO value:

− SEO best practices that apply to all Web sites still apply to mobile sites. This includes proper use of H1/H2 tags, meta titles and descriptions, applicable and good content, and site maps. Social signals also affect indexation, therefore, social media can be leveraged to boost rankings.

For instance, Google rewards shareable content, thus Twitter’s new Vine video app creates ideal shareable content and especially influences real time results.

− Mobile Web sites need to be optimized for small screen experience. Think about your user first when you build your mobile UX strategy.

Content and design elements need to be responsive and account for a touchscreen experience. Call-to-action buttons need to be bigger to allow for easy engagement.

If your intent is to connect with a mobile audience, you need a sleek experience that will increase stickiness and lower your bounce rates.

− Leverage responsive design. Properly implementing elements such as a rel=canonical tag, mobile browsers can be pointed to the mobile version of a site (use one URL for the mobile site and one for the traditional site).

This will ensure that all of the “link juice,” PageRank and other elements of the main site stay with the mobile site as well.

Using a single URL for a piece of content makes it easier for your users to interact with, share and link to your content, and a single URL helps Google’s algorithms assign the indexing properties for your content.

− Dynamically serve different HTMLs on the same URL. By setting up dynamic serve up where the site is set up, it is possible to serve users and search robots different version of the same site from the same URL.

− Prioritize what keywords to target. Mobile search converts to action faster. The user has stronger intent with mobile search, therefore it is important to consider their intent, keyword competition and analyse KEI (keyword effectiveness index).

− Align and synergize strategies for mobile site and branded applications. While both a mobile-optimized “.com” and an app are great ways to engage with your customers and prospects, the mobile site should usually be focused on new user acquisition, while the branded app should be used as a platform for continued engagement and retention.

Apps should be optimized for keywords on app search platforms such as iTunes and include encouraging reviews, which affect the app search algorithm and CTRs.

− Optimize location-based mobile searches. Simplify the presentation of results in relation to a user’s immediate location, leveraging microdata formats, maps and Google+ Local.

− Standardize device and browser requirements. This requires the presentation of content in an accessible way and the assurance of a good user experience, regardless of device and browser.

− Leverage mobile content formats. Certain content formats work well on smartphones given a mobile user’s limited attention span, including simplified navigation to discover and engage with site content.

Local search best practices for mobile
Local SEO for mobile is crucial for businesses to successfully benefit from the popularity of mobile search with local intent.

A successful Local SEO campaign relies on optimization of your Google+ local listing, Yelp, directory citations and on-site SEO.

Without thoroughly optimizing every aspect of your on-site and off-site mobile content as well as technical optimization, earning search visibility is difficult.

Below are three local search statistics to keep in mind as you consider your mobile strategy:

• Eighty-seven percent of customers who search on a mobile device visit or call that location within 24 hours

• Yelp pages now power Apple’s Siri voice search

• Google+ Local pages rank prominently for local terms on mobile devices

Local search on mobile devices occurs (a) when a keyword has a local intention (i.e. “Best Burger in New York City”) and (b) when you are logged into Google and have your location set to a city.

If you are wondering where to start, below we have composed a basic action plan based on top local ranking factors to help you drive local search results. To learn more about Local SEO ranking factors, check out the study by David Minh.

− Claim, verify and optimize Google+ Local and Yelp. Since directories like Google+ Local and Yelp will rank highly in Google on mobile devices, you need to claim these listings first.

− On-page optimization. Make sure that the pages of your Web site that display your business address are optimized. Below are a few useful SEO tips:

1. If you have multiple locations, make sure that you have an individual location page for each location on your site.

2. Make sure the business name, addresses and phone number (NAP) on your site is formatted the same way as the NAP you are going to submit to directories.

3. Add Schema code to your site and to the various location pages. Raven Tool’s Schema Creator is a great tool to help you easily create schema code.

4. Add the location and keywords you are targeting to H1-H3 tags on the page (tastefully).

5. Add the location and keywords you are targeting to the URL, meta title and description tags.

− Review management. Once these steps have been completed, it is time to think of how to generate reviews for your Google+ Local and Yelp pages, which are an important local ranking factor.

You have to be very careful when you do this because you cannot buy reviews or incentivize clients in any way (i.e. through gifts, prizes or discounts).

Reviews have to be honest and authentic. The best way to do this is make it easy for people to find them on your home page. Using tools such as’s review widget can be helpful.

− Citation building. The next part of the local SEO process is probably the least fun. 

Building out citations is tedious because you have to claim and optimize all the secondary directories aside from Google+ Local and Yelp such as, and

You have to manually submit your business name, address, phone number and Web site URL to all of them.

To be honest, there are better things your SEO’s can be doing than this. Thankfully, there are companies such as, and to whom you can outsource this work.

Mobile app store SEO best practices
App Store Optimization (ASO) is very important to improve search visibility in Apple’s App store for your mobile app.

According to Nielsen, 57 percent of app downloaders use search to find new apps.

To rank in the App store, you must have your keywords in your app name, description and keyword section.

Below are a couple of app ranking factors you should know about.

− Keyword research, rank tracking and competition analysis should be on going when managing a mobile app campaign.

− Your app should be updated as new findings regarding keyword popularity and competitor tactics are discovered.

You should use App Store specific tools such as to research keywords because App Store search volume and Google search volume vary greatly.

Do not forget to use a compelling app icon to increase the click-through rates. Simple, compelling app icons are key to improving downloads.

While they do not directly improve rankings, the more the app is downloaded, the more potential reviews it will get and that will lead to ranking increases.

Reviews and ratings of your app are very important in increasing visibility within the App Store.

1. Use social media to encourage reviews

Use Facebook and Twitter to encourage followers to download and rate the app. Incentivize in some way.

2. Ad spend

Once the app is launched in the App store, spend to encourage downloads and use. The more people download and use the app, the more the more reviews you will get.

3. Review site campaign

Create a review site campaign and reach out to review sites to get them to write a review of the app.

This example below is similar to a backlink campaign in traditional SEO.

Mobile pay-per-click (PPC) best practices
It is also important that you are leveraging the right mobile paid search ad formats to align with your overall mobile strategy.

According to Google, 88 percent of clicks on mobile search ads are incremental to organic clicks.

Clearly, on small screens, paid search ads take up very significant real estate of SERP (search engine result pages) so both engagement and click-through rates are very high.

Based on your strategy, you may want to offer a click-to-call ad extension or download an app call-to-action.

− Mobile-optimized landing page. Although often outside the control of search marketers, mobile PPC campaigns are often hindered by poor back-end performance stemming from an un-optimized landing page.

Therefore, unless your goals are eyeballs and awareness, a mobile- optimized landing page is the foundation of a successful campaign.

− Tailored messaging. It is important to acknowledge that mobile users differ greatly from desktop users both in intent and interaction.

As such, successful mobile campaigns use mobile-specific messaging such as “directly from your phone” to add relevance and to incentivize users to action.

− Mobile-specific sitelinks. By the same token as tailoring search ad copy, customized messaging should extend into mobile-specific sitelinks.

Links to things such as “Download In-Store Coupons” or “Mobile Banking” may be more relevant to users depending on the browsing device.

−  Enhanced campaign bid modifiers. While Google may recommend a specific bid modifier – typically 20 percent – be sure to test variations in order to position ads above-the-fold and maximize performance.

− Click-to-Call extensions. Google recently announced that it would no longer allow phone numbers directly within search ad copy in an effort to unify user experience. This change necessitates the use of click-to-call extensions as a direct means of contacting your business directly from the SERP.

− Location extensions. With more users on the go, locations extensions can offer an ideal means of converting mobile users into bricks-and-mortar consumers.

By dynamically adding your business address to PPC ads you can promote one or multiple store locations directly to your target consumer at the point of his or her interest.

− App Extensions. If you have ever tried getting your app to rank within the iTunes store, you know it is no easy feat.

Luckily, Google now allows you to promote your App via App Extensions to help increase downloads.

− In-app advertising. Research has shown that users are spending more time within apps compared to mobile Web browsing. This trend presents a new and innovative opportunity for advertisers to reach their target users.

With advanced targeting overlays such as location, time, geography and demographics, in-app advertising can be a powerful tool in an advertiser’s media mix.

WHILE THIS ARTICLE is aimed at providing a holistic view on building a mobile search strategy, there are a couple of broad items that require a separate debate and were not included in this post.

For instance, if you would like to learn more about whether to invest in responsive design or build a mobile Web site, check out this great read on the topic from Moz’s Kristina Kliedzik, The SEO’s Guide to Building a Great Mobile Site.

Matthew Capala is head of search at digital ad agency Profero, New York. He is also adjunct professor at New York University, where he teaches a graduate course on search marketing, and is the founder of Reach him at

This article was written in collaboration with Lavall Chichester and Dan Kastalsky from Profero’s New York office and Mamun Rashid from Profero London.

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