There are major differences between the results that search engines deliver on phones and computers.

How can marketers structure their search strategy to maximise results?

Figures from 2013 found that nearly 20% of the average adult American’s daily media consumption was on mobile devices, a trend that is only accelerating.

Echoing this, search queries on mobile devices grew five-fold in the last two years, according to Google.

On one hand, this is due to the expanding number of smartphones and the greater time spent by users on these devices. On the other hand, given the small screen size and keyboards of phones, it is a lot simpler to search (either by text or voice), rather than type a long, complex URL into the address bar when you are on the go.

The rise of mobile is consequently changing the search landscape, with an estimated 26.7% of Google’s ad revenues expected to come from mobile search in 2014.

The results that search engines deliver on phones and computers vary dramatically. Our own data found that 36% of web pages (URLs) shown in mobile Google search results are different to those that appear for the same searches carried out on a desktop or laptop.

Nearly a quarter (23%) were from completely different websites (domains). This reflects Google’s increasing focus on the context and intent behind queries, which vary dramatically from device to device and are also strongly related to local aspects.

Given these factors, how should marketers approach their overall search strategy? Do they look to keep content the same or vary it, according to device?

Based on our experience, here are six key considerations to keep in mind.

And for more on this topic, download the Econsultancy Mobile and Local SEO Best Practice Guide or read our post on 30+ compelling mobile search statistics.

1. Focus on the context

As I’ve said the intent behind a search query is often radically different between devices. If you search for pizza on your laptop, you are more likely to be at home looking to order a delivery.

On mobile you are probably on the move, and hence searching for a restaurant nearby (which is why the factor 'local' is much more important when performing mobile searches).


This is also why mobile search is particularly strong in specific sectors. For example, Google reports that 30% of all restaurant searches and 25% of all film searches are performed on a mobile device.

Additionally a mobile search can be more time-critical and less speculative – typing 'petrol station' could well mean that your car is running low and you need one now, rather than just researching a future purchase.

2. Speed is a factor

People read less,and want information faster when accessing content on their mobile devices. Screens are smaller, and searchers are usually on the move, so they don’t have the time or inclination to read long-form content.

Attention spans are shorter on smartphones, meaning bounce rates are higher. Essentially people want information quickly and immediately, rather than having to scroll through pages of results. Answers have to be briefer, relevant and easily understandable, otherwise they simply will not be read. 

3. Search engines treat mobile differently

As our results show, mobile results vary from other devices when it comes to Google searches. This is due to better understanding of the context, particularly as Google has additional information about the mobile searcher, such as exact location, to help it provide more relevant results.

With the form factor, particularly screen size, being different on a mobile device, Google displays results in a simpler way, using features such as Knowledge Graph to deliver answers in a straightforward, easily readable manner.

Knowledge Graph results


Hence, organic results are sometimes not visible without scrolling because the Knowledge Graph is delivered above them due to space constraints.

4. Content type is important

Figures from comScore reveal that the time spent consuming rich media (such as video) on mobile devices is actually higher than on the desktop. This could well be down to the fact that it is easier to listen or watch rich media than pure text while on the move.

Consequently marketers needs to factor this into their planning, ensuring that they offer a range of content types, optimised for different devices.

5. Mobile ranking factors are different

The factors that correlate with high rankings for mobile search are different to those on other devices.

A Searchmetrics study indicates that mobile search results on tend to include pages with fewer backlinks from other sites than comparable results for the same searches on desktop and laptop.

This makes sense because mobile content contains fewer ad hoc links, as mobile users are much less likely to link to pages, preferring to share/like through social media.

Additionally, mobile results often feature shorter content and also tend to display pages with a smaller file size on average than those delivered on desktop or laptop.

This could be because smaller pages will be quicker to download on a mobile and use less of a phone subscriber’s data allowance.

Marketers need to be aware of these differences and optimise content accordingly.

6. From responsive design to responsive content

Through techniques such as responsive design and HTML5, many organisations are creating web pages that change to fit different screen sizes and device interfaces.

The next step in this process is going to be responsive content. Take the example of a retailer – its traditional website should be optimised for desktop and laptop searches, with long-form, text-based content that covers all potential areas of interest to searchers.

For smartphone searchers, content should be condensed to what is relevant to them, perhaps using video rather than text, with the option to click to access the fuller desktop style article. 

We now live in a mobile-first world, which has a significant impact on how brands engage with consumers when it comes to search.

Marketers therefore need to understand how ranking factors vary between smartphone, tablet and desktop/laptop computer and put in place a strategy that delivers optimised content, whatever device the search is carried out on.

Marcus Tober

Published 21 October, 2014 by Marcus Tober

Marcus Tober is CTO at Searchmetrics GmbH and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (5)

pk vaish

pk vaish, MD at Livelink New Media

Great article! I agree, many businesses need to acknowledge the shift from desktop to mobile and optimise their sites accordingly. Livelink can’t recommend responsive design highly enough; it’s well worth getting to grips with

almost 4 years ago


Andy Marchant

Having a mobile friendly site is a necessity, steps on the conversion path quite often are carried out on mobile. From research about a holiday destination to checking out if those shoes you saw in town are cheaper anywhere else.

We have more information available to us instantly than ever before and we are aware of this.

Sites need to be more than responsive, they need to be able to meet the needs of the person visiting the site. Google does this well, they are starting to know what type of content you want to see without you even making the search, and being cross platform (Google Now).

Ranking factors mean nothing if you can't understand the intent of your audience, and how it differs between users and between platforms.

almost 4 years ago


Joe Morecroft, Founder at Yellow Jam Marketing

SERPs in mobile tell you if the page is mobile friendly. I refuse to click on any result which doesn't have it when searching on my mobile.

If others are the same, and presuming CTR is a ranking factor, any non-mobile/responsive sites will find themselves sliding down the mobile SERPs.

almost 4 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

The essential things for local search are:

(1) setup a Google+ page for each of your offices/shops.

(2) verify all your pages (e.g. get Google to send each of them a post card, with a code for you to enter).

(3) get staff who live in each local area to search for your business from assorted locations, using Google Search or Maps with the search phrases that you think customers will use, and make sure your local office/shop shows up

Do these things immediately, if you haven't already. Then follow the advice from OP for taking the next steps.

almost 4 years ago


Lauren Barham

Hi Marcus, thanks for your post! This is very interesting and it is clear that particularly the smart phone mobile user market is continually increasing so it is important to make marketing content mobile friendly. I work for a marketing and PR recruitment agency and we have recently launched an app, which we hope will make marketing job-seekers lives easier as they can apply for jobs quickly and easily on their mobile phones. I certainly agree with your point about speed, we all know when we are looking at or for something on our mobile phones it is often because we want to know quickly, so I feel keeping things quick and simple here is key. Kind regards, Lauren

almost 4 years ago

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