The Basics of Mobile Search: What You Need to Know

Mobile search and traditional search are two very different animals and just because you optimize for one doesn’t mean it’s optimized for the other. The reason for this is user habits — people searching on their mobile phones are looking for different information, have different limits, and different habits. Therefore, the algorithm and set up are different and your optimization techniques need to reflect that.

Algorithm Differences

While no one really knows what desktop or mobile search algos include or how they work, it’s easy to see they’re very different. For example, desktop search places far more emphasis on brand searches than mobile search. So, if your site relies a lot on its name and the name of its products and services, it likely won’t do as well in mobile search.
Solution: Don’t assume that just because a term is successful in desktop search that it will be equally successful in mobile search. Take time to examine your analytics to see how the two campaigns compare. Use the strengths of each one to your advantage.

Location Matters

Unlike someone using a desktop computer, mobile phone users place a significant emphasis on location. They want to find information about local businesses, attractions, and events. This means they are more likely to want local results and to use geographic modifiers with their keywords.
Solution: Make sure to set up and optimize a Google Places listing.

Functional Results

Rather than receiving purely informational results (a title and description), mobile users will often receive functional and interactive results. So, for example, a search for a basic term will return a local business or location, an option to search for additional local results, popular websites with the keyword in the title or URL, the option to go to a list of keyword domains (if clothing is the keyword, it will ask if you want to go to,, etc). However, this also means regular results are pushed down in the results and may not be seen on the main screen at all.
Solution: You may need to adjust the keywords you target. The best option is to borrow an Android and iPhone to see how they work and how they return results, so you can better optimize your site.

Personalized Results

Mobile phones gather information differently than desktop computers. For example, they constantly track your location, and in the case of Android phones, users are always signed in. This takes a lot of the emphasis off search results and more on personalizing the options users can choose from.
Solution: Focus on personalizing their results in your favor. Encourage people to bookmark your site on their phones, for example. Another option is to consider creating a simple app that gives users direct access to your site, rather than pushing search.

Results Formatting

Desktop search results vary greatly, but they’re generally formatted the same way. Local results bring up a map with a small pack of results on the side. Video and image results appear in a line and search suggestions and social results appear at the bottom of the page.
In mobile search, video and image results don’t appear in a line. Instead, they appear one above the other, before regular search results. There are also fewer filters at the top of the search results, which means there are fewer options and the possibility of higher click through rates.
Solution: Keep the search filters in mind when creating and optimizing your content. Image and video SEO are extremely important. Carrier content such as ringtones and downloads also appear at the top of the results, regardless of what the search term is. This may also play into your marketing plans.

Autocomplete Filters Results

With standard searches, users either get direct results only after they click search. With mobile search, however, results are filtered with an autocomplete feature long before the results appear. This means users will likely use different terms than they normally would and see the the results differently.
Solution: Put the most important content first and include a search call to action in your broadcast advertising.
Have you noticed any significant differences between mobile and desktop search results?


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