Mobile SEO, Which is Better: Same URL or Mobile Subdomain?


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Cindy Krum is a recognized expert in the field of Mobile SEO. We setup a Skype session to discuss some of the recent developments. Its been a busy year, first with Google launching a Smartphone Googlebot, and then with them clarifying more of their thoughts on mobile site structure of SMX Advanced. This gave us plenty to talk about!

Note that the video had some overlay problems for a small portion of it, so my apologies for that! I have yet to find a great video recording tool for Skype after trying EVAER, VodBurner, and Supertintin, and we also had some connection problems. That said, the content rocks, so have a look, or check out the transcript.

Full Transcript

Eric Enge: My name’s Eric Enge. I’m the CEO and Founder of Stone Temple Consulting. We’re a general purpose internet marketing optimization firm that does pay-per-click, SEO, social media, and various other things to help people increase their sales and traffic from search. I’m here today with Cindy Krum. Cindy, can you give us a little background on yourself?

Cindy Krum: I’m the CEO and Founder of MobileMoxie based in Denver, Colorado. We offer mobile marketing consulting and mobile SEO consulting, and we have a cutting edge set of mobile marketing and mobile SEO tools available on the site.

Eric Enge: The first thing I wanted to talk about is Google’s recent announcement of having a smartphone version of Googlebot-Mobile.

Cindy Krum: Previously, Google only had a desktop bot and then a WAP bot that would go and look at your site as if it was a WAP phone (a really unsophisticated phone.) Now, since December, they’ve launched this new smartphone bot which emulates an iPhone 4.

It’s looking for smartphone friendly pages, and it’s especially looking for redirects between desktop pages and mobile pages.

Eric Enge: That was a pretty big development. I think there’s been a lot of discussion around the time of that announcement, and since then, about whether the same-URL strategy for mobile SEO versus having a mobile subdomain were the best ways to go.

Cindy Krum: There has been a lot of debate on this since the early days of mobile. In these early days, we had these really unsophisticated phones that were kind of like early internet browsers. They could only see text and not a lot of images, and definitely no motion or JavaScript, or anything.

Then, it made a lot of sense to have a separate mobile page that was just text, especially with the slower networks. Now, networks have gotten faster and phone browsers have gotten better. We now have this situation where some mobile developers really want to have a mobile specific experience, and other mobile developers really don’t want to be bothered with two different URLs or two different versions on a page. They just want to make the desktop page work on a mobile phone.

It’s an ongoing debate and it has implications for SEO, because as we know, consolidating your URLs has benefit, right? You can keep all your links and all your history if you use the desktop URL for mobile, and that’s great. But with this new smartphone bot, it’s actually passing the value of the desktop page to the associated mobile page, or at least that’s what they say.

That means that if you want to have a mobile specific experience on an m-dot subdomain or even an m-subdirectory, you totally can. Or at least that’s the point that they’re saying with this new smartphone bot.

Eric Enge: Have they indicated any preference as to which they prefer?

Cindy Krum: At SMX Advanced, Pierre Farr from Google was on stage and he said (and I think in the official announcements they say) that they have a preference for a one URL solution. Bing has come out and said this as well. That’s really not a surprise to anyone who knows how search engines work, because search engines aren’t limitless.

They have a limited amount of bot time that they can associate with your site and they have a limited amount of server space that they can use for your site. When you duplicate everything on your site or a majority of your site, you’re doubling the effort that the search engine has to do to index it properly. So, their preference for a one URL strategy is basically a preference for you conserving their resources.

Eric Enge: One of the things I think Pierre Farr also talked about at SMX Advanced was rel=”canonical” and rel=”alternate”.

Cindy Krum: In addition to having this new smartphone bot that helps associate a mobile page with a desktop page using a redirect, Google has announced an official way in the code to join the two pages. Normally, you have the user agent detection and redirection happen on the server. A mobile phone requests a desktop page, the server says, “Hey, wait a minute. You’re requesting a desktop page but you’re on a mobile phone. I bet you want this page,” and they send you to the mobile version of the page.

Now you can also affiliate the two pages in the code. You put a rel=”canonical” from the mobile version of the page to the desktop version of the page. Then you do a rel=”alternate” from the desktop version of the page linking to any other iterated versions of the page.

Let’s say you have a WAP version of the page, a smartphone version of the page, and a tablet version of the page. You could link to all of those from your desktop with the rel=”alternate”. That tells Google to go crawl and index those as alternate versions of the page.

Rel=”canonical” has been really useful for SEOs in some ways. But in some ways it’s kind of a mixed blessing, because when you use a rel=”canonical” to join two pages, what you’re saying is, “Index that page. Don’t necessarily index or rank this page.” So, you’re essentially giving Google permission to let your mobile page fall out of the index or fall into a lower priority and that’s risky.

What I’m telling people is to approach this recommendation cautiously, because Google doesn’t usually recommend things that are not in its best interest. But they will recommend things that might not be in your best interest.

I think the rel=”alternate” tag is a great way to notify Google and say, “Hey, pass on the value of this page to these other versions of the page.” But I would say, don’t just rel=”canonical” your entire mobile site to your entire desktop site right away without testing it. Do it progressively and test it, and see if you like the results to make sure that this is a recommendation that’s right for you.

Eric Enge: There’s also an issue with different use cases too, right? You might have a different page that you want for your mobile experience that you don’t want for your desktop experience.

Cindy Krum: There are some websites that match up really well with their mobile sites, and they have a one to one page ratio where this kind of arrangement will work. But there are other mobile sites that really don’t match up to their desktop counterparts because they have such a different use case. So, that makes this new suggestion from Google difficult for some companies to implement because they haven’t given a lot of instructions for how to handle situations like that.

Eric Enge: Thanks for joining us today, Cindy.

Cindy Krum: Absolutely. Thanks so much.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Eric Enge
Eric Enge is a partner at Stone Temple Consulting (STC), which has been providing SEO Consulting services for over 5 years. STC has worked with a wide range of clients, ranging from small silicon valley start-ups, to Fortune 25 companies. Eric is also co-author of The Art of SEO book.


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