Mobile Ranking Signals

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Mobile Ranking Signals Sent by a Website

The general consensus among experts is that there are about 6,500 distinct Web-capable mobile devices in use: feature phones, smartphones, tablets, ultrabooks, netbooks, e-readers, laptops. There is a huge variation in their specifications and capabilities and, because of the physical constraints of mobile devices — limited memory and CPU power, finite battery life, small screens, variable network connections — the signals a site sends about its mobile usability are more critical than for desktop usability. How does a brand configure its websites to deal with the widely different array of devices that access it? Should it even bother to try?

There are two schools of thought. One is, do nothing: Serve the standard desktop website to all mobile devices, they’ll somehow cope. But since heavyweights like eBay, Google, Facebook and Yahoo serve a mobile site — even to smartphone users — and since Facebook, aiming at feature phone users, launched an app called Facebook for Every Phone that makes a feature phone behave more like a smartphone, then just ignoring mobile probably isn’t the smartest approach.

The other school of thought is to treat mobile as a specific user case, to be proactive around the mobile experience, to optimize an existing site for mobile devices or build a new one purely for them. But from there on out there’s not much agreement as to how to go about it. The mobile-proactive school has two campuses: “native” and “standards”.

Mobile Standards versus Native Apps

Native apps. Those who back native apps will tell you to build a different site version for each major device type. Unsurprisingly, this tends to be the approach followed by the larger brands. With this model, ranking signals are actually largely irrelevant because the user is locked into the app platform owner’s walled garden aka proprietary commerce network.

Standards. Those who support HTML5 will tell you that it, with CSS3 and JQuery, will ensure compatibility across different mobile platforms including iOS & Android, even though HTML5 is not yet deployed widely. Still others will tell you to use HTML4 and CSS2 for “lowest common denominator” Default Delivery. This works currently but will become obsolete over time as HTML5 + CSS3 gain traction.

Default Delivery for Interoperability & Accessibility

The market for devices and browsers is highly fragmented. Standards, like HTML, which provides a single codebase and is therefore the ideal workhorse for everything other than the most intensive mobile apps, are the best guarantee for the widest possible interoperability — i.e. accessibility by almost all phones and tablets. If you find yourself agreeing with this, you’re in good company. Avinash Kaushik, Google’s digital marketing evangelist, says that an effective mobile Web strategy “starts with HTML5 and ends with a screen-agnostic approach”. If there’s ever one case where you want to understand exactly and fine-tune the signals your site is receiving and responding to, Mobile is it.

If you’re offering native apps, there’s frankly not much you can gain from our Mobility analytics because native apps can only be accessed by the device they’re developed for. But if you’re aiming at Default Delivery now (HTML 4) but also keeping an eye on the future with its successor (HTML 5), then SignalsRank’s Mobility report can help you by showing you how mobile-friendly are the signals your site transmits. Also, running the same analytics against competitor sites will give you valuable insights into their mobile strategy.

Few brands have the budget and the tech skills (or the need) to customise a site or app for every version of Windows Phone, Blackberry, iPhone, iPod, Android, Kindle, etc. (and for every browser they might run on; and for every network the site content might get carried over…). The reality is, for mobile, compromise is necessary. Hence the logic of the HTML standards approach.

It also helps to keep mobile in perspective: According to Monetate, smartphone users use their devices mostly to access social networks, spend more time using apps than mobile web browsers, and their e-commerce conversion rates are low (around 1% for Android and iPhone users).

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