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Mobile Search and SMEs: Stay Right Where You Are

boland-michael
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SES is winding down, and so am I. There have been lots of interesting sessions that will continue to be reported by the stable of SEW bloggers and experts (many of whom I was finally able to meet last night).

Yesterday, I attended an interesting mobile optimization panel that combined tactical coaching, with some interesting insights to the general direction of mobile search, including user adoption, advertiser adoption and ties to local search.

The discussion on stage was interestingly split between two paradigms. A few presenters have spent most of their time explaining how to build a mobile (.mobi) website -- separate from a primary web page.

At the same time, there is a looming reality to which panelists gave a nod. Gregory Markel, president and CEO of Infuse Creative first acknowledged this elephant in the room, which is that there aren't enough users of WAP-based mobile search for some businesses to waste time and money building a separate mobile website. Unless you are MySpace or ESPN, this could be premature.

This comes down to the simple reality that the WAP browsing experience is vastly inferior to that which users are accustomed to online. Non early-adopters or non-power users won't be inclined nor patient enough to deal with this interface. Get used to it.

So instead of spending time on WAP-based website development, it could be smart for some business to wait for the next state of the art that could essentially leapfrog WAP site optimization before it gets off the ground (with respect to mainstream use). This next state of the art could be led by the iPhone and the mobile browsing standards it will set (more commentary on this at the Kelsey Group blog).

In other words, if you are an iPhone owner, there is no need to go to an inferior .mobi website when you can go to a .com site that is more or less an exact replica of the site you'll find at home on your PC. So instead of building and optimizing mobile websites, most businesses should wait for the mobile technologies to become ubiquitous that can read and display their current website.

Along these lines, the strategies for some businesses interested in getting in front of mobile users should involve optimizing their primary website. This means engaging in the tried and true SEO tactics, provide as much relevant business information as possible into internet yellow pages, and local search providers.

At the same time, start to think about how this site displays on the iPhone browser, keeping in mind its positioning of information, and embedded media (given the iPhone's currently-slow download speeds).

With content-rich and optimized listings and profiles throughout these sources, these businesses will be well positioned for the day when the web as we know it is accessible in easier ways by greater segments of the mobile market. This will happen as the iPhone comes down in price and copycat devices enter the market and compete on price.

There is time to do this, again, for most small businesses that don't have a realistic dire need to get on the mobile web right away. Your users and customers aren't there yet, so wait for the technology to get to the point where it both entices them in large numbers, and also allows them to access your website in its current form.

But until that day comes there are still some low hanging fruit methods to get in front of mobile local searchers. Given the Google Maps button on the iPhone home screen, any small business interested in mobile search should get themselves and their relevant business information into Google Maps through its Local Business Center (this is something they should be doing anyway).

This is a backdoor way to get in front of iPhone users today - and it doesn't require resource constrained, cash strapped, and sleep deprived small business owners to get lost in the alphabet soup of SEO, CSS and xhtml for .mobi and WAP optimization.

Michael Boland is a senior analyst with The Kelsey Group’s Interactive Local Media program, and a contributor to the Search Engine Watch Blog, focusing on local and vertical search topics. Prior to joining The Kelsey Group, Boland spent several years as a technology journalist.

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