Multitasking @ SES: Cutting Through the Clutter of Mobile Search

I’m at SES San Jose today and tomorrow, where there are some interesting local, mobile, social and shopping search sessions going on. I’m in a mobile session now while blogging, responding to e-mail and juggling the bouncy balls they are giving away in the exhibit hall.

Many of the sessions are presentation format rather than panel discussion, but some interesting topics have been brought up. The scope of many of the discussions are sometimes more tactical than where my interest lies (how to optimize a mobile Web page using XHTML and CSS), but there are nonetheless important industry issues, user adoption trends, and relevant technological directions that have surfaced.

There was an interesting local search panel this morning, which I’ll get more into later, and a mobile panel happening now. The mobile discussion is interestingly split between two paradigms. A few presenters so far have spent all their time explaining how to build a mobile Web site (a separate Web site from your main site, designed for WAP-based browsing on small screens).

Gregory Markel, president and CEO of Infuse Creative, on the other hand brought up a good point: There aren’t enough users of WAP-based mobile search (based on a user experience that is vastly inferior to what they are used to online) to waste your time and money building a separate mobile Web site. Unless you are MySpace or ESPN, this could be premature.

Instead, WAP-based Web site development will soon be leapfrogged by the next state of the art, which will be led by the iPhone and the mobile browsing standards it will set (as we’ve examined in the past). Some businesses, including mostly SMEs, should wait this out.

From a user perspective, if you are an iPhone owner, there is no need to go to an inferior .mobi Web site when you can go to a .com site that is more or less an exact replica of the site you’ll find at home on your PC. So instead of building and optimizing mobile Web sites, most businesses should wait for the mobile technologies to become ubiquitous that can read and display their current Web site.

SME Mobile Tactics: Stay Where You Are

Along these lines, the strategies for local and national businesses interested in getting in front of mobile users is to develop their existing Web sites with tried-and-true SEO tactics. But also start to think about how your Web site might display on an iPhone, considering its positioning of information, and embedded media (given the iPhone’s currently slow download speeds).

There is time to do this, again, for most small businesses that don’t have a realistic dire need to get on the mobile Web right away. To these SMEs: Your users and customers aren’t there yet, so wait for the technology to get to the point where it both entices them in large numbers and allows them to access your Web site in its current form.

So what does this mean for actual SME mobile strategies? For now, local businesses should work on getting themselves and as much relevant business information as possible into IYPs and local search providers (they should be doing this anyway).

With content-rich and optimized listings and profiles throughout these sources, these businesses will be well positioned for the day when the Web as we know it is accessible in easier ways by greater segments of the mobile market. This will happen as the iPhone comes down in price and copycat devices enter the market and compete on price.

SMEs should also get themselves and their relevant business information into Google Maps via Local Business Center. Given the Google Maps button on the iPhone home screen, this is the best way for an SME to get in front of mobile local searchers — and it doesn’t require knowing what XHTML means.

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