We all know SEO is a weird world of half-truths, implied activity, jealously-guarded algorithms, intellectual property, chutzpah, bravado and black and white-hat operatives.
Reaching the elusive top of page 1 of "natural" search is the goal for thousands of businesses - on and offline. Doing so without creating a list of words and phrases that would give palpitations to the editor of the Oxford English Dioctionary and committing - monthly - the GDP of a small African nation to "paid clicks" is an even loftier goal. And one that has created an entire business ecosystem - one mainly based around fear: my business competitor is appearing as a paid link when I search for my company name.. drive hiom off the page by outbidding him! A fear that benefits only one party: the search engine itself.
Be the bookie, not the gambler, as my nan used to say!
And yet, there is an increasingly large elephant in the SEO room, and it's name is "mobile".
Yes, there are lots of hints and implied outcomes, and specific tick boxes and campaign areas that are bandied about at conferences and in training rooms. But have you actually searched for anything and looked at the results?
Try something basic like : shoes
Pick up your phone, open the web browser and go to your search tool of choice. I'm going to use the obvious one.
Two paid ads appear at the top of the page. The SECOND one has an m.xxxxx URL (good start), and in it's descriptive text, it says this is a mobile site. Fantastic!
The TOP paid advert takes you to a desktop website. For a shoe-shop I'be never heard of (probably I'm not in their target audience, to be fair). They are obviously spending high on generic keywords for desktop and ticked (or didn't un-tick) the "appear in mobile results" box. Bet their bounce rate is pretty high.
Then we get to the "natural" results. (I'll ignore the location-based results... that is a topic for another blog about how mobile can complement and improve the fortunes of the high street retailer). Top site: not optimised. Next one IS, but doesn't tell me it is. Next one redirects as well (ie the search engine is not ranking these highly because it recognises them as "mobile" sites), not optimised, redirects (no mention in description), ditto, nope, nope (really? at THOSE prices, Mr damned expensive fashionista brand, you can't shell out for a mobile site???), and mobile redirect, but not mentioned.
If I put that same search into a desktop computer in the same search engine, the same natural search results pop up.
So, search engine A is serving pretty much the same resulsts, whatever I am searching on. At least they get some money from it and provide a generic service and don;t make the searcher feel short-chhanged.
But. Surely there's a new business model here? One that rewards searchers on phones looking for sites that work on their phone and downgrades ones that are built for desktop?
That SE algorithm should be capable of making some set of value-judgements about how good/well-designed/ well-built for mobile that mobile site is (see ready.mobi for an exaple of how this could be done) and rank for that - as well as for appropriate content, obviously.
This would reward the searcher with sites that work and would reward businesses and marketers that invest in mobile and do so in a sophisticated manner that delivers a good experience for their customers. There is all sorts of research out there that says conversions, basket values and customer satisfaction levels (not to mention word of mouth recommendations and their ilk) all benefit markedly when customers go to a site built well for mobile devices on their mobile device.
Time to reward that in the main start point for most people's mobile internet activity: the search engine??