Is your business trying to reach potential customers who search for information online? Of course it is.
But be sure not to neglect those who use mobile phones -- used by more than 90 percent of U.S. households today, according to CTIA, the wireless industry association. That compares to home Internet usage estimated at about 74 percent, according to Nielsen Online.
The CTIA also says data usage on mobile phones has surpassed the amount of voice data in the U.S. for the first time last year. Along with using mobile versions of Web browsers, on-the-go Internet users are increasingly turning to social media and specialized apps to help them find what they're looking for.
In the era of mobile Internet commerce, businesses need to re-evaluate their search engine optimization strategies. Here are some tips on taking advantage of this shifting trend from computer to smartphone from experts in the field.
Drop .mobi, but limit Flash
"The recent and continued advancement in smartphone technology has brought mobile browsing and search engine optimization (SEO) much closer to standard web SEO practices," says Dustin Ruge with the SEO Consultant Firm, based in New York City. "Previously, companies would pursue the creation of mobile sites (.mobi), with much lighter content and faster load times to support first generation mobile browsers, but today, mobile browsers are becoming much more 'normalized' in nature and tend to perform similar in results to standard Web browsers."
That said, Ruge still suggests to utilize XHTML formats, limit excessive load times (i.e. Adobe Flash) and make sure critical information -- such as phone numbers and addresses -- is prominently displayed and readable in mobile applications.
Test is best, click to call
Amber MacArthur, a new media strategist and author of Power Friending: Demystifying Social Media to Grow Your Business (2010 Portfolio), agrees with Ruge's last point.
"To ensure that consumers get what they want when searching on a mobile phone, companies need to ensure they have mobile-friendly websites," says MacArthur. "Businesses don't simply have to check their sites on one device, they should test across multiple smartphone platforms, such as the BlackBerry, iPhone, and Android."
Smartphones with these three dominant operating systems allow users to call phone numbers listed in their Web browsers with a single tap or click, which then launches the phone function of the device. You'll know if a phone number or email address can be used as such if they're underlined in the browser.
The most significant change to how consumers are using smartphones to find companies is the widespread popularity of mobile apps."To put this into context, Steve Jobs recently said that there are now more than 200,000 Apple mobile apps," says MacArthur. "In other words, individuals are no longer going through a browser get information, such as restaurant reviews and product recommendations -- this means that traditional SEO placement tactics are less effective."
Ruge acknowledges mobile apps are "exploding in use," but he feels it might be too early to develop any concrete conclusions about its effectiveness in user search. "Based on learned user behavior, I suspect that standard browsing practices through the traditional search engine interfaces will not be threatened anytime soon," says Ruge.
Social networks, too
Customers are also relying on their social networks to find what they're looking for, reminds MacArthur, who says she uses Google less and Twitter and Facebook more."The tipping point for me was a couple of years ago when I went online to Twitter to ask my network where I should stay in the D.C. area. Within minutes, I had dozens of recommendations and links, which was a lot easier than sifting through pages and pages of random search results on Google."
According to MacArthur, about three quarters of cellphone users are using mobile phones to frequent social networking sites. "With such a high penetration of users on Facebook, Twitter and in other online hangouts, it's key that small and mid-sized businesses put time and effort into social networking strategies."
MacArthur suggests businesses consider a free Web service called HootSuite. "Not only will this tool allow companies to post to multiple accounts at the same time within an easy-to-use dashboard, it makes networking with the people on these sites easy and it also makes it a cinch to monitor your brand's reputation (and respond when necessary)," adds MacArthur.
As for the future
Both Ruge and MacArthur were asked about location-based services.
"This is a very difficult issue to address at this point since there are ongoing privacy related issues dealing with mobile browsing and GPS," says Ruge. "Recent privacy issues dealing with Facebook should be a shot across the bow to any unauthorized future use of personal online browsing coordinated with GPS data; the technology is certainly there for some amazing capabilities but Americans are very particular when it comes to privacy issues," he adds.
MacArthur is more optimistic about its immediate future. "Location-based services are exploding as a key marketing platform for many businesses." "For starters, setting your company up on a site like Foursquare won't cost you a cent, giving businesses an opportunity to bring their online relationships with customers offline."
MacArthur also says "augmented reality" tools that add informational layers on top of what you see through your smartphone's camera, "is about to change the way most of us get information." "For example, imagine walking down the street, pointing your phone's lens at a restaurant, and then seeing live links to menu item reviews online."
Although augmented reality is a hot trend, "it's somewhat more complicated to develop, compared to location-based apps and GPS tools, so companies are a slow to jump onboard," says MacArthur.