Mobile and desktop websites are not the same. And with smartphone usage growing exponentially – and estimated to soon overtake desktop search – it’s wise to understand where the parallels end and the differences begin.

Different rules for different uses

People browse the web differently when they’re mobile. Many mobile searches are based on a person’s activity or location. On-the-go users have limited time (hence speed is important). They’re easily distracted. And because the screen and keyboard are small – and their thumbs are involved in typing – their search terms usually are just one or two words (and oftentimes they’re riddled with typographical errors).

To add to the challenges, the mobile environment is fragmented by an array of different devises and operating systems, each using a unique set of features and functions.

So what’s the best way to optimize your content without building an entirely parallel mobile site? Make you desktop website content as mobile-friendly as possible. And the best way to do that is to adhere to best practices for search engine optimization and accessibility.

Mobile-specific search engines

Most major search engines have mobile-optimized versions of their products that take into account the nuances of the mobile platform and the unique needs of mobile users.

At its most basic, mobile search typically fills three user needs:

  • It’s immediate.
  • It’s actionable.
  • It’s location-based.

As you shape your site content, consider the following to enhance the mobile experience:

Keywords in headlines and copy – Since mobile search is more focused on task and location, it’s important to craft headlines and copy that reflect these search tendencies.

Relevant page titles – Page titles are the first website elements that mobile searchers consider. Do the right keyword research and you’ll increase the odds of matching your titles with their search queries.

Accurate page descriptions – The description of your pages provides another opportunity to deliver relevant, high-quality content. Use it well!

Standard coding – For the best results, since there are a variety of mobile operating systems, use standard html coding on your site.

Determine what kind of user they are – Take advantage of user agent detection in your code to present a mobile user with a mobile version of your site.

User opt-out – Give users a viewing option: desktop or mobile.

Image rendering – Use percentages or relative dimensions rather than pixels or absolute dimensions so that your images remain scalable.

The action goes top left – Position any call-to-action in the top left of your page rather than the top right since the top right of the page may get cut off when viewed on a mobile device.

Minimize your clicks – Mobile users don’t like to click more than two times.

Test, test and test again – Test your site by viewing it with several mobile devices. There also are several free sites that perform various tests to determine the mobile-friendliness of your site:

The W3C mobileOK Checker: http://validator.w3.org/mobile.
The Ready.mobi site: http://ready.mobi