SEO is on the move as search goes mobile

Few people would argue – particularly within the online marketing industry itself – that mobile search is growing in importance at present.

An ever-increasing array of mobile devices, from smartphones (Android, iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry among them) to tablets including Apple’s iPad and the Microsoft Surface, are putting search at the fingertips of a new generation.

It’s probably the single fastest shift in search habits since the creation of search engines themselves – and certainly the biggest non-Google impact on search in recent years.

And that means you need to be ready to react – or even to proact, if you want to lead the charge towards truly search-optimised mobile sites.

What does mobile mean?

You might think you know what mobile search means for common metrics like average query length – searching while on the move, on a tiny touchscreen keyboard, probably means shorter search queries on average, right?

If you think that, you’re wrong, according to figures published by Yahoo! and based on usage trends on Yahoo! Search for Mobile.

Between 2007 and 2010, the average mobile search query overall grew in length from 3.05 words to 3.6 words, and from 18.48 characters to 22.16.

There are plenty of reasons why this might be the case, but an obvious one is voice recognition – in many cases, searches are no longer manually typed in, but simply spoken into the handset, making it much easier to search for a longer sequence of words, or even for a full phrase in the form of a question.

How long is the tail?

In the same report, Yahoo! revealed that mobile search is still in its infancy, relatively speaking, and that despite the figures above, short-tail search queries are more common than their longer-tail counterparts.

“There are more head queries – queries with high frequency of repetitions, with small number of words,” reported Yahoo!, “while long queries are also increasing on torso and tail queries.”

Mobile search is still coming up, but is very nearly there, making it important to have a comprehensive SEO agency in place to target these more competitive short-tail key terms, and the more relevant long-tail phrases.

But if 2010 seems like a lifetime ago in this fast-moving market, a separate Yahoo! report puts all of this into a much more contemporary context.

Mobile search in 2013

In a one-sheet update on mobile search – covering both Yahoo! Search for Mobile and Bing Mobile – the company predicts that 2013 will be the year in which mobile searches “eclipse” desktop search.

“Mobile search is no longer ‘coming on’; its time has arrived,” Yahoo! states, adding that Android and iPhone searches account for more than 50% of the mobile queries it receives, and that it and Bing together share over a third of the mobile search market.

This last point is worth remembering, because perhaps more than in the desktop and laptop markets, smartphone users are often tied to the search engine provided by default on their handset.

While this may still be Google for Android users, it’s likely to lead to a sustained and substantial share in the mobile search market for Bing, if Windows Phone sales reach relatively high figures.

As such, any mobile SEO campaign would be wise to span not only the appropriate range of query lengths, but also to take into account non-Google search engine optimisation, ensuring strong performance on Yahoo! and Bing, and tapping into this sizeable but arguably less competitive search market for mobile devices.

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