Usablenet is one of the most popular mobile web platforms available, because they provide a turnkey solution for businesses that are looking to take advantage of mobile web traffic. According to their web site, they have built mobile solutions for over 300 companies, many of which are Fortune 100 companies like Dell, Delta Air, Walgreens and Sears. They’re popular because they make it easy for a brand to leverage standard web content for the mobile user.
However, if you’re considering using a solution like this for your company, understand that a solution like Usablenet can index multiple copies of pages on many domains, making for a duplicate content issue that can be far more significant than what you might encounter in the standard web world, and this can make it difficult for your page to appear in competitive mobile searches.
Case in point, travel site Expedia.com, who was nominated for a Webby for their Usablenet site, currently has about 4,800 results in Google using the site: search. However, only 3-4 of these pages are the transcoded Expedia site. The rest of the content is other Usablenet clients that appear to be hosted on the Expedia.com domain.
308 of these pages have the title tag Best Western for example.
And 373 are copies of AA.com.
And 1,060 pages indexed in Google under the Expedia.com domain are actually pages from Delta’s mobile web site.
Apart from the potential legal nightmare of hosting content on your domain that you haven’t created and have no disclaimers for, there are other reasons why brands who are interested in being competitive in mobile search should care about having other brands’ content indexed on their domain. These duplicate content issues are well known to SEOs who optimize standard web content.
For one, it could mean fewer actual pages will be indexed, as a search engine comes to a site with a limited crawl budget. In the case of Expedia.com it means that their home page is not currently indexed on Expedia.com, and since the majority of their inbound links (including the Webby links) are pointing to that page, the link popularity to that page is not helping Expedia rank for competitive keywords.
Another problem is that if these pages appear on Expedia.com’s domain, it’s possible that Expedia.com’s pages are being duplicated on other domains, which could be competing for competitive keywords with Expedia.com. The problem is not widespread for Expedia, as it is for many brands, but their pages are also currently indexed at the Usablenet domain, which could be splitting their link popularity if Google or Bing mistakenly identifies those pages as canonical.
I don’t want to harp on Expedia or Usablenet, as I don’t work for either of them and am not here to do a site audit. The point is that SEO doesn’t become irrelevant because your pages are mobile in nature, and if you’re not paying attention to search engine optimization issues like how pages are crawled, indexed, returned and ranked, it could have real consequences to the visibility of your pages, regardless of whether they are intended for desktop or mobile users.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the American Airlines mobile site powered by Usablenet comes up fifth in Google for the navigational mobile query [aa mobile], for example. Imagine how such a site might rank for nonbranded informational or transactional queries that are more competitive.
What’s really disheartening is that this has been a problem with Usablenet since I interviewed their VP of mobile products almost two years ago, and I know that most of the companies who can afford their services have excellent SEOs on staff who should demand more from their mobile content. I understand why it might not have been a priority for SEOs two years ago, but with mobile searches currently being 10% of Google queries, or more than 1 billion monthly searches per month in the US alone, and growing by triple digits year over year, I wonder how much longer enterprise SEOs like these will be able to ignore the mobile searcher.
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