Desktop Rankings ≠ Smartphone Rankings

Gyi Tsakalakis
November 3, 2014

While we regularly point out the issues, problems and limitations of rank tracking, lawyers love to spot-check their search engine rankings.

By now, you probably know that search engine rankings fluctuate a lot. Here's an example for rankings for a popular legal directory's rankings for the keyword 'attorney' between 10/31 and 11/2:

Search Tracking   Analytics Tools attorney

You also probably know that they search engines serve localized and personalized results. This means that the location from which a search is performed, as well as, the searchers previous behavior can greatly influence the results.

But here's something you might not have considered: Search engines can also serve vastly different results based on the type of device the searcher is using.

In other words, searches performed on desktop computers can be much, much different from the same search performed by the same user, in the same location on a mobile device.

Here's an example of a site's positions in Google for the same keywords, in the same location, but on a desktop vs a smartphone:

STAT Search Tracking Analytics Tools

As you can see, this particular site holds the #3 position on a desktop search, but the #12 position, for the same keyword in the same location on a smartphone.

This has been known in SEO circles for a long time. Bryson Meunier pointed out 14 differences between mobile search and desktop search results at Search Engine Land back in 2011. He added 16 differences between mobile and desktop in 2012 too.

And Google has confirmed updates to their system to address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.

So, if this is news to you, you have some catching up to do.

One possible reason for such a disparity between desktop and smartphone rankings is whether the site has mobile optimization issues. In the instant case, the site uses a mobile sub-domain to serve up mobile pages. This is usually a sub-optimal implementation and the site should probably switch to a responsive web design that serves up the same URLs regardless of what device the user is searching on.

If you're going to spot-check rankings, and I suggest that you don't, don't forget to compare them on multiple devices. A better approach is to follow search engine technical guidelines to make sure that your pages are accurately communicating as much information to search engines as possible.

Technical SEO is an are that is often overlooked but can have a very significant impact on your visibility in search results.

To many lawyers, marketers and their webmasters seem to think that all you have to do is "use compelling headlines" and the rest of SEO will somehow sort itself out. It's just not true.

We see countless examples of sites that contain basic technical SEO mistakes that are greatly impacting the site's visibility within SERPs.

Some of these relate to mobile optimization issues. And as we discussed above, these issues can make sites that appear in top positions in desktop results, be relegated to the second pages of SERPs on smartphones. Hopefully you recognized just how serious such mistakes can be in terms earning attention from organic search results on mobile devices (you know, the devices that are exploding in usage).

Gyi Tsakalakis
Co-Founder of AttorneySync
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