Are Local and Mobile SEO the Same Thing?

Are Local and Mobile SEO the Same Thing?


Are local and mobile SEO (search engine optimization) the same thing? The very simple answer is no, they are by no means synonymous. However, the full picture, which is essential for today’s content marketers to understand, is quite nuanced, since the two areas are becoming increasingly intertwined.

Before we get to all that, though, what exactly do we mean by “mobile” and “local” SEO?

local and mobile SEO rankingFor a while mobile SEO was just an extension of web SEO, with best practices (such as the proper use of heading tags) applying across all platforms. Recently, however, the major search engines—in particular Google with its “Hummingbird” update—have made it clear that they expect publishers to follow certain guidelines if they want their content to rank well in mobile search.

The full scope of the Google’s mobile search best practices is broad (check out this post from Moz for a good rundown), but a few of the highlights include:

  • Responsive web design, which maintains the same URL addresses for all content and adapts to display based on platform, is recommended over having separate web and mobile sites.
  • Sites that use mobile proxies are frowned upon.
  • Sites that are difficult to view on smartphones (i.e. those that have unplayable video, cumbersome interstitials, or slow load times) are ranked lower in mobile search.

That’s just a sampling, but the general theme of mobile SEO is that search engines increasingly (and understandably) want to surface content that, when clicked on, appears quickly and intact on mobile devices.

local and mobile SEO rankingAs with mobile, local SEO initially was merely an extension of traditional SEO, with publishers optimizing for certain geographical keywords (i.e. “supermarket in Oakland”). Over time this too changed greatly, with local SEO evolving its own set of best practices. Again, the list is long (check out this SEJ piece for an overview) but some examples include:

  • Marketers must ensure that proper business information is included in Google Places (which ties into Google Maps) and other local platforms (such as Yelp, Facebook, etc.).
  • Pages need to include geographic tags, proper addresses, and other indicators of location for search engines.
  • Positive reviews on local platforms are essential in order to have content rank well.

Clearly, then, local and mobile SEO are distinct practices with their own set of rules. So how do they overlap? To put it somewhat simply: mobile is now a huge part of overall search, and local is a very important part of mobile search.

According to 2013 data, mobile accounts for at least one-third of Google’s paid search clicks, 50% of product-based search, and 59% of searches on Yelp. Moreover, 40% of consumers use local search daily and 36% of all searches on iOS devices have local intent.

In essence, people are using their mobile devices a lot for search, and a lot of these searches have a local component. Over time this trend should continue, especially as mobile search further replaces desktop search and people turn to these GPS-enabled devices with their queries.

So what does that mean for content marketers? Mainly that it’s no longer OK to focus on just mobile SEO or local SEO (or, even worse, just non-local desktop SEO). It is now essential to plan for two use cases: One is for consumers using mobile devices to conduct “general” searches for whom distance is not a factor; the second is for “local” search, often done on a mobile device, where location impacts the purchase decision.

Going forward, marketers’ search engine optimization efforts will increasingly need to account for both of these types of behaviors to succeed.

Thirsty for more SEO juice? Take a look at our SEO Strategy Guide for Inbound Content. It’s full of SEO tips and tricks to help you optimize ALL of your online content!



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