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How Mobile Search is Changing the Culture of SEO

Over the past 2 years, the increased usage of mobile devices within search has opened up a whole host of new opportunities for search engine optimisation. The way that we report on our campaigns have changed and in particular, the way that we look at keywords has dramatically altered.

The Death of the Keyword

Is the Keyword Dead?photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc

Ok, maybe that’s slightly over-dramatic and, if I’m honest, I don’t think we’re anywhere near seeing the death of the keyword. What I definitely have noticed is the difference in the way that we track our SEO campaign performance.

Traditionally we would start an SEO campaign by targeting some keywords that are relevant to the client’s niche, location, products/services, etc. When it comes to the end of each month we would drop through our nice little report that said ‘keyword X is now on page X position X’. This kind of reporting has now become increasingly difficult, especially since the introduction of personalised search, heavier localised results and a far greater number of blended search results – it’s actually become almost impossible to say the definite ranking of any given keyword within the SERPs because it is so dependant on lots of contextual factors.

Implicit Query Factors

I recently watched an awesome video from Will Critchlow and Tom Anthony of Distilled that discussed the explicit and implicit factors of a search query. The explicit part of a search query is the keywords itself; for example, ‘coffee shop’. Now, the explicit factors of the query look at all kinds of contextual factors, for example:

  • Is the searcher on a mobile device?
  • Where are they searching from?
  • What is their search history?
  • Are they logged into G+?
  • What time/day is it?
  • What colour underwear is the searcher wearing? (only joking… but you get the idea)

We don’t know exactly how many of these implicit factors are taken into account by Google but it’s clear that they have a huge bearing on the results being displayed. If we look at the term ‘coffee shop’ without any implicit factors taken into account then we would probably be looking at SERP results containing photos of generic coffee shops, a wiki on ‘coffee shop’, some news articles (possibly) – pretty much the kind of results we saw around 3 years ago.

Implicit and Explicit Querysource: http://www.stateofsearch.com/the-crisis-of-search/

Once we then add in implicit factors, we will open up a whole new type of results. If the user was searching from a mobile device then it’s likely that the search results would adapt to show local coffee shops in the area. On top of this there might also be suggestions from personalised results based on where the searcher’s friends have visited. This is a clear signal that Google has adapted to understand search intent on a much greater level.

So What Does This Mean For SEOs?

We, as search marketers, need to understand that there is a lot more to search than just simply the explicit keywords being typed into Google. When tracking SERP rankings, especially if you’re scraping the SERPs, you need to have a think about how this method of evaluating success correlates to the actual searchers that are finding your website.

If every Google search was done through a proxy, without being logged into Google+, within an incognito window, on a desktop PC that has just had its search history cleared… then yes, we can easily track keyword performance. The fact is that it’s now close to impossible to finding out each keywords ranking at any given time. This is because the rankings are not universal, they aren’t static, but they are dynamically changing and evolving based on a huge number of factors.

Is Short Tail The New Long Tail?

We have been programmed for years to ‘chase the long tail‘. This is because there was a much clearer intent from the user when searching for something like ‘Indian restaurants in Birmingham’, as opposed to ‘Indian restaurants’. Most people would say that ‘Indian restaurants’ is too broad a term because the client would only want to target people within their local area. This has now changed…

What we have been doing is targeting implicit query factors, explicitly (if you catch my drift?). It isn’t just Google that has evolved to understand queries better, but it is the searchers themselves that now understand they don’t have to explicitly state all the different aspects of their queries within Google. For example, how many times would you search the following:

‘Indian restaurants within the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham that are open on Saturdays’

The answer… very rarely, if not never. Searchers understand that you can simply search for ‘Indian restaurants’ and Google will adapt to find results from your current location and also pull off related Knowledge Graph data to show you opening times, reviews and contact info, etc. Over the next year, with a widened use of voice search, we should start seeing a far greater level of short-tail searches from users, and more importantly, a much greater conversion from these short-tail, explicitly broad terms.

Rounding Things Up

It’s clear to see that the search landscape is changing both from the increased level of intelligence and understanding of the search engines, and also from the searchers themselves. This shift in user search culture could be one of the most significant developments within SEO for some time. This also opens out the industry to new opportunities and gives more scope for creativity – it’s now time to get your thinking caps on…


  • Searchers understand search engines better.
  • Traditional keyword tracking is old-hat.
  • Factors like ‘where the user is searching’ and ‘what device they are searching on’ have huge effects on search results.
Qasim Majid About the author
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Spook SEO
10 years ago

This clearly shows how the search results are evolving yet again. The fact that Google’s search engines are now able to analyze and give the users the local results with them actually typing in the place is a game changer especially for those who’ve been targeting the long tail keywords.

10 years ago
Reply to  Spook SEO

Couldn’t agree more. Nobody really knows how many different factors that Google uses when taking the rankings of sites into consideration – this is increasing as the search engines evolve. With this, SEO needs to evolve as well.

Spook SEO
10 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Barby

Indeed. The good thing is, the more SEO evolves, the better it is for white hat SEOs. The time will “probably” come where spammers won’t have any way of spamming at all (this is probably just wishful thinking though :)).

[…] Matthew Barby says- any SEO campaign till date would start by targeting some keywords but its not case anymore. Getting results like ‘keyword X is now on page X position X’ has become increasingly difficult and reasons begin the personalized search, localized results and greater number of blended search results. All these make it difficult to define keyword ranking within SERPs. […]

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