Mobile and desktop SEO: is there really a difference?

Twice this year, I had the honor of teaching the Mobile SEO course at SES London and ClickZ Live in San Francisco. 

In the four-hour sessions we explored the unique techniques required for Mobile SEO and while many of the foundational elements of mobile SEO are identical to desktop, there are a number of techniques that are required to amplify search signals for mobile devices.

For example, the standard SEO elements of good and rich content, a natural backlink portfolio and semantic keyword optimization are important to both. However a number of unique areas need to be addressed which are specific to mobile.  

These include:

  • Local listings optimization
  • Apple and Google Maps
  • Voice search (e.g., Siri)
  • Mobile web presence
  • Local listings optimization 

By now you are all probably tired of hearing from me how big a mobile advantage local listings optimization is. But a picture is worth a thousand words:


In this example, a B2B marketer, Spec-Clean enjoys first position below the paid search ads and above traditional organic search results because of the work it has applied to optimizing their local listings and citations.  

This technique works especially well for businesses that have low competitive density in their market, yet is often overlooked as an marketing opportunity. 

I will often hear, “Nobody comes to my location, why would I promote my local listing location?” Well the advantage of positioning on mobile devices definitely should be taken into account. Many people, including myself, have written numerous articles on local listing optimization techniques. My own archive can be found at ClickZ and it’s also worth consulting The 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors.

Apple and Google Maps

Apple and Google Maps are both scored in comScore’s top 25 mobile apps in the USA by unique visitors aged 18+. This location and directional information is often consumed primarily or solely on mobile devices. Yet, I seldom hear of traditional SEOs optimizing for maps and almost never for Apple Maps. 


With so much consumer usage it is vital that this information be up-to-date and optimized. Proper local listings optimization is a starting point but specific tweaks are often required in Google Maps via Google Map Maker and Apple Maps via Apple Maps Connect.

Voice search (e.g. Siri)

Okay, I can almost see you rolling your eyes. ”Siri doesn’t work, Google is a pain in the…” But the fact is that hands-free searching is utilized on mobile devices more often than in the past and is used for local search and locational information. 

On iOS devices it is amazing how a few relevant keywords in a business’ Yelp rating and review can provide improvements in a specific business. A tactic I reviewed in more detail in an article back in 2011, Will Apple’s Siri Change the Voice of Local Search?

I have traditionally focused on iOS devices for my voice search designed experiments, so if anyone has similar techniques for Android or Windows Mobile voice search please share them in the comments section below.

Mobile Web Presence

I would have thought that the only businesses without a mobile-friendly web presence were small businesses. Unfortunately that is not true, as there are still substantially sized companies which market online that rely on their desktop formatted website as a one-size fits all strategy.

That strategy is like asking me to fit into a pair of pants I wore in high school. One-size does not fit all, and the visual is, well let’s just say… not pleasing to the eye.  

Google recommends a responsive design that responds to the various devices that we all use, desktop, tablet, phone, etc. Additionally it has developed a significant amount of tips and tools for testing your mobile presence. My recent article Is Mobile-Friendly Good Enough? contains links to these tools along with a perspective on mobile design and content.

So is mobile SEO really different? 

Unequivocally yes. If you are a traditional SEO and you are not spending 50% of your effort on mobile, you’d better get to it.

Back in May, Google let us all know that “more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers”. And I always like to bet where the eye balls are going. Get optimizing!

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