I just put this post up on SearchEngineLand, but I liked it so much I decided to republish it here:

Does Your Local Mobile Search Strategy Suck?

If you are a small or local business, I bet it does. If you are a big business I bet it does too, but let’s stick with the small guys today.

Mobile usage is growing and because location is often at the heart of mobile search queries, mobile is important to businesses that rely on local search. But you know that already right? So what are you going to do about it?

Last spring, Cindy Krum put together an excellent piece on Mobile SEO. I highly recommend you check it out, but if your eyes glaze over whenever someone starts to talk about transcoding and mobile stylesheets, then forward the link to your Website developer and stick around. It’s time to get the executive summary on some basic facts:

For the purposes of this discussion, I looked at Google Analytics data for ten local retailers in the same industry (flooring) that have similar sites. Each business is located in a different U.S. city and none of them are doing anything to target mobile users on their sites. Here’s what I found:

  1. Mobile visits from search to your site are growing (like crazy). On average, each site experienced a 500% growth in mobile visits from search over the past year.  We are still talking small numbers – the biggest site I tracked only got 50 mobile visits last week, but in general, these are 50 very local visitors most likely very interested in finding the particular business in question.

    In January of 2010, all mobile visits (includes visits from search, referrals from other sites and direct traffic) accounted for 0.1% of the traffic to these sites (including search, referral & direct). In the first two weeks of January 2011, mobile visits accounted for 8% of the total traffic to these sites on average, an 80% increase.

  2. Mobile visitors will view fewer pages than web visitors. Makes sense right?  Who wants to click around when they are on the phone? For the ten sites in question, non-mobile (aka “Web”) visitors from search averaged 4.4 pages per visit v. 3.4 for mobile visitors from search. I was kind of impressed that mobile visitors spent any time at all on these sites. The layouts are not optimized for mobile browsing and in fact are quite clunky when viewed on a phone.

    While page views per visit is not always the best number to rely on – maybe the person just wants to find your address or phone number – it still can be a proxy for how engaging your site is. Perhaps you might want to consider designing a version of your site specifically for mobile users that reduces the amount of clicking necessary to get to a desired result.

  3. Mobile visitors spend a lot less time on your site. This may not be true for all sites (I do a fair amount of blog reading on my phone) but for these local SMB sites, mobile users averaged 2:46 per visit v. 3:38 for Web visitors. As mentioned above, you may not need to increase time spent on site, but rather you might need to make it easier for mobile browsers to get what they need in the time they are willing to devote to you.
  4. Mobile search behavior can be different than web search. While this factoid is entirely dependent upon the type of business and the business’ rankings for various queries, in the cases I studied sites were three times more likely to get mobile visits from queries for categories (e.g. “San Francisco Carpets”) vs. queries for a specific product (e.g. “Mohawk Carpet San Francisco”).  I suspect this would differ for a business that carried well-known brands (e.g “iPod”, “Xbox”, etc.). But it’s important to understand how a mobile device would change the way a person might search for your services v. a normal Web query.


This data took me about ten minutes to put together. If you are thinking about a mobile search strategy for your business and not sure where to start, the best thing you can do is to figure out how mobile visitors are using your site.

If you are a Google Analytics user I recommend setting up an Advanced Segment that filters reports by visitors who are classified as Mobile. Here’s how:

  1. Click on the “Advanced Segments” link on the lower left hand side of the Google Analytics navigation
  2. Click on “Create a new custom segment” at the top of the page
  3. Under the “Dimensions” section click on “Visitors”
  4. Drag the green “Mobile” rectangle into the “dimension or metrics” box.  Make sure the “Condition” equals “Matches Exactly” and the “Value” equals “Yes”
  5. Name the segment “Mobile”, test and save
  6. Now you can view any report in Google Analytics with only mobile user data simply by choosing “Mobile” from the Advanced Segment menu at the top of the page.
  7. You can also create similar reports for different phones and browsers if you want to really drill down.

Now I know what you’re thinking – creating a mobile strategy and building a mobile version of your site sounds like a lot of work and is going to be expensive. In fact this may be the case, although there are any number of services ready to do it for you.

The thing you need to ask yourself is how much business are you losing right now by not having a mobile strategy? And how much more are you going to lose next year?

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6 Response Comments

  • John@ Vancouver Washington  January 24, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Andrew, I set an Advanced Segment like you’ve described and that is Very Nice! I drilled down a little further and can see my visitors with Android phones are having a different experience from those using iPhones. Thus, I’m sure I have more work to do! Thanks!

  • Dan Kaplan  January 24, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Great summary, Andrew. I agree that mobile versions of websites should be simpler. Here’s an example of what this might look like. As you can imagine, this client is a perfect candidate for mobile search.

    Standard Site (with video & more nav options): http://www.FredFrankBailBonds.com

    Mobile Site (with call to action, front and center): http://www.FredFrankBailBonds.com/?mobile

  • Stuart  February 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Superb post Andrew, it’s amazing how fast mobile search is growing and how this influences local search too. There are a good few on page optimisations that will help with conversions fron mobile search visitors too, like a very simple one of replacing a telephone number that is an image to text so it can be selected to call directly from the mobile browser!

  • Jonny Quick  February 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    I submitted a thoughtful comment, and it’s been deleted? What gives?

    • Andrew Shotland  February 6, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      Not sure. Could have got caught up in a mass spam delete project last week. Sorry if you were unduly torched.

  • Jonny Quick  February 8, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Ok, well let me try again. My comment was that I know of a very well-qualified SEO expert has stopped doing “straight” SEO and now does nothing but optimizing websites for mobile devices. I’m still a novice at this, but another expert told me that the “end result” of the optimization service is to build some kind of code into the site that senses if it is being accessed by a mobile device, and if so what kind. He said it matters. It’s not enough to simply make a site “mobile device optimized”, the type of device that is connecting is a factor the optimization service needs to take into account.

    As I understood it, there are essentially two sites, one for mobile devices and the other for “everything else”.

    I think this issue is very hot, very cutting edge. Early adopters that are ready for the mobile device customers are going to have a huge competitive advantage over site-operators that are not ready for the next evolution of internet commerce technology.