Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on March 2nd, 2009

Mobile Web-Browsing Rumors Squashed

There is a gregorian-like chant of rumors growing online that ‘mobile web is dead’, due mostly in part by announcements made at Mobile World Congress (MWC) recently. These rumors seem to be confusing the understanding of what makes the mobile user experience or mobile search different. In a recent blog post at, Bryson Meunier clears up the misunderstanding by helping people understand the issue.

According to Meunier, the issue comes down to one of the following arguments:

1. iPhone killed the mobile web. In this argument, ‘mobile web’ means WAP pages made for simple users. iPhone and other smartphone users now have the ability to access full HTML pages while search engines on mobile devices will show these mobile users. This means there is no mobile specific content to index and rank. This means that optimizing for mobile users specifically is a waste of time.

2. SEO is SEO. Best practices for mobile SEO are the best practices in general web SEO. Title tags, keywords and links are going to be the same for both mobile users and for desktop users.

However, Bryson Meunier argues that the opposite is true in both cases. He argues that iPhone did not kill the mobile web, but birthed it. It made mobile search and browsing nearly mainstream. Last July Nielsen Mobile declared that mobile web had reached critical mass. Kelsey Group said much of the same: smartphone adoption drives mobile web usage. Google also recently reported 50 times the search requests from iPhones than from any other device. This helps turn a myth into the truth: SEO best practices done once will make a site findable by desktop and mobile users. It will generally make a site accessible to smartphone searchers. In search, pages are indexed before they are ranked, so accessibility is an important first step. Accessibility is the first step, but not the holy grail of SEO. Accessibility is OK for mobile search, but accessibility doesn’t always equal optimized. So continue to practice SEO the best way possible so that you will be prepared for the future.

Multiple studies by search engines have shown that mobile search behavior does differ from desktop search behavior in frequency, category and intent. Basically, mobile searchers have a different context than mobile users, and thus search differently. The easiest, most effective way for a webmaster to make their site relevant to mobile searchers is to create mobile-specific content that is themed for relevant mobile searches. It is also important to use mobile search tools like Google’s mobile keyword tool instead of desktop tools like Keyword Discovery and Wordtracker. Meunier argues that keyword research for mobile users is mobile SEO, and it’s relevant today for both mobile sites and desktop sites that want to be more relevant to mobile users. Right now, mobile search and desktop search don’t necessarily yield highly differentiated results, but search engines are focusing on improving mobile search results that will change the mobile SEO game entirely with blended mobile search results. This means that mobile SEO is not becoming obsolete, but more relevant.

As search engines are figuring out how to best serve mobile users, white hat SEOs are going to have to evolve with them in order to optimize mobile content for their clients. Mobile is still going through puberty. It’s voice is cracking and there are awkward moments of bad coordination. As mobile users grow, search engines and SEO companies will have to figure out how to return more relevant results based on context.

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