There has been much debate amongst SEO professionals about the differences between smartphone listings in Google and desktop Web listings. Most claim that they’re the same, but a recent study suggests otherwise…

Last week, Bryson Meunier shared an interesting blog post about the Differences in Mobile Smartphone Ranking and Desktop Web Ranking in Google Search”.

In order to gauge a better understanding of whether or not the desktop web results are the same for the smartphone results, Meunier analysed Google Webmaster Tools data over the period of one month, from both smartphone and web rankings – if the results are actually the same, average ranking for mobile smartphone results and Web results should theoretically be the same as well.

The data that Meunier analysed;

  • Source: Google Webmaster Tools
  • Mobile (smartphone) and web queries in the US between 21 November 2010 – 21 December 2010
  • Random sampling of clients from various industries and with varied traffic levels
  • No clients with mobile sites or mobile specific content
  • List of 25,582 total queries, contain 24,061 unique keywords across 5 domains. 1,118 of these unique keywords contain position data for both mobile and desktop, and were analysed for the study

Meunier’s study revealed some very interesting results.

  • 13.42% of the queries have the same ranking in desktop results that they do in smartphone results, the great majority of the queries do vary slightly
  • Nearly a quarter of the listings vary by two positions or more, which in the limited real estate of smartphone screens might as well be page ten
  • For a small percentage of the listings, the difference in ranking can be as much as ten positions or more

He goes on to explain, “There are a few factors that are responsible for the variations in ranking, and without getting into the predicted “negligible” effect of mobile on SEO, I will say that SEOs who want to do well in mobile search results need to understand how these factors might affect their listings in Google smartphone search results:”

And these factors include;

  • Local results are more likely in mobile, so Google Places listings sometimes appear higher in results than they do in desktop, and domains with local intent more likely to appear
  • Positions of vertical results are likely to be different in smartphone results
  • Blended mobile ranking algorithm for mobile queries
  • Android Market or iTunes results for queries that include “download” or “app”
  • Brand and store filters don’t currently occur in mobile smartphone search
  • If CTR and bounce rate data is used to determine ranking in smartphone results, CTR and bounce rate more likely to vary in mobile smartphone listings, as listings in search suggest, abbreviated title line breaks and descriptions, unusable desktop sites in mobile results, increased engagement of mobile users and the variations in ranking mentioned above are all likely to change click through rates and bounce rates for smartphone searches

SEO’s take note of these findings because as this research suggests, smartphone results and desktop results are not the same. In fact, in the case of this research there were huge variations for smartphone queries, with 86.58% varying from desktop search results.