from SEOMoz by Phil Nottingham
When the iPad first came out, like many people, I didn’t really get it. My initial thoughts were something along the lines of “Steve… what the hell?! You’ve produced a giant iPod and are somehow trying to claim its some sort of brilliant new product.” I resolved never to buy one, considering it simply a folly for overly wealthy businessmen or an iPod designed for the visually impaired.
18 months later, a lot of words have had to be eaten with very little garnish or dressing. Now the proud owner of an iPad 2, I consider the tablet to be the coolest gadget ever made and the piece of technology I use most at home and when out and about.
My belief is that the form-factor of the tablet PC will become the primary device for personal computing over the coming decade and will form conduit for the bulk of consumer search queries.
While this “tablet revolution” may end up meaning very little for the classic SEO model, unaffecting the nature of link-building, keyword targeting, on-page optimisation, content creation or social media; It will form a catalyst of change for the world of CRO, analytics and offer new vertical opportunities so far mostly untapped…
In this post I hope to scratch the surface of things that will need to be considered by the SEO community going forward.
Tablets have been common-place now for a over year and a half. Yet, the world as a whole, still seems relatively baffled by them. Where do they fit in relation to the notebook and the smart-phone? Are they a mobile device or a static home-based device? Are they more useful in a personal or a business environment?
The answers to these questions remain somewhat elusive as we see tablet devices used creatively and strategically in numerous different arenas for multiple different purposes, but without a singular, uniting core function.
Some of these uses have been inspiring in their creativity and originality…
Some of these have amused us with their breathtaking ill conceived stupidity…..(fast forward to 0:24)
In beginning to question the exact USP of the iPad, it becomes clear that the mutually exclusive definition of “personal computer” and “mobile device” is broadly defunct, false dichotomy.
By displaying multifunctional appeal, eluding concrete definition, yet morphing its value and form to fit the subjective perspective of the user, the Tablet PC defines itself as a post-modern tool for personal computing – doing nothing particularly new, but a number of things much better, than any other device.
The defining feature of the tablet is clearly its UI. While the touch screen technology used in smart-phones and tablets is essentially the same, the way that translates to end usability differs considerably. The size of tablet allows for multiple fingers to be used simultaneously, allowing for a wider frame of user interaction with content previously viewed primarily on laptops or desktops; made navigable through the integration of a full two-handed QWERTY keyboard.
The touch-screen tablet interface on the iPad is extremely intuitive, feeling responsive, flexible and mutable to the chosen behaviours of its user. Using the device feels effortless compared with the computing via a keyboard and mouse, requiring considerably less mental investment or formal effort.
When we are on a desktop/laptop computer, we are normally entirely using a computer; unable to be simultaneously cooking, brushing our teeth, watching the television or walking to work. The same is not true of a tablet device, where the “pick up and play” nature of the hardware and operating systems allows for genuine multi-tasking and partial engagement with technology.
As such, the tablet perfectly fits the frame for what the PC always felt a bit forced into, casual web usage and content consumption. Most of the time we use the web in a personal frame, it is for an immediate task – be that finding the answer to a question, reading the news, communicating with our friends or making a necessary basic purchase.
Last week Amazon announced the Kindle Fire, a tablet with a similar 7inch 16:9 form-factor to the Blackberry Playbook and the original Samsung Galaxy Tab.
The fire looks to be an incredible product and an un-missible bargain at $199 (£130), but while the eBooks, music, movies and gaming functionality on the Fire may be superb, I do not think it will prove to be a viable or productive device for mobile computing and therefore search.
I played with the original Galaxy Tab for a while when it was released and found it the screen far too small and restrictive, with too low a resolution to be used effectively as a tablet computer. It was not large enough to be more functional than a large smart-phone, yet too cumbersome to be used instead of one. I expect the same to be broadly true of the Playbook and the Fire.
For my money, the 9-10 Inch 4:3 screen will push forwards and the main tablet form factor for years to come, with screen-size slightly expanding to 11-12 inches, – increasing when technology allows for smaller, lighter batteries and even thinner devices. Until the Android UX improves and the App store expands dramatically and a hardware manufacturer is able to produce a device with design quality on par with the iPad for significantly less cost, I can’t see Apple’s sales figures or market share slowing down anytime soon. Even if the iPad doesn’t gain users, it probably won’t lose many due to the core Apple ecosystem i.e. those with iPhones, Macs etc will probably not switch to Android. According to technology research firm Gartner 69.7 million tablets were sold his year, of which a vast 68.7% were iPads. While Microsoft may eventually produce an exciting iOS competitor with Windows 8, this release is still a way off and with the luke-warm consumer reception to Windows Phone 7, one does have to wonder whether Ballmer and co will enthusiastically turn up just a bit too late for the party, arriving to discover the revellers have long-ago passed out drunk on Steve Jobs’ sleek, minimalistic, unibody aluminium sofas.
Therefore, I think it’s worth putting time and development resource into optimising for the iPad form factor, treating it as the only current tablet device worthy of consideration for site-optimisation.
The iPad crosses the boundaries between mobile and desktop, being of particular value in the following locations and situations:
- In front of the TV
The iPad is great for finding out the names of actors, undertaking research alongside informational programming or casually engaging with twitter while keeping up to the date with the latest sit-com.
- As a TV
This morning, I could not be bothered to move into my living room to watch the Rugby World Cup matches at 8am GMT, so kept up to date with all the action without leaving my bed. This felt awesome, even if it was just laziness on an unprecedented scale.
- As a complementary device for meetings conferences.
In an age of earth shatteringly boring powerpoint presentations, the iPad is a welcome visitor to help liven up even the dullest of boardroom presentation. You can easily pass round presentations, videos and images with the rest of the room.
Trains and planes are not designed with laptops in mind. The iPad’s shape, size, weight and battery life take away the cumbersome hassle of trying to do work on the move.
Not only books, but also reports, PDFs, articles and newspapers are a breeze to look through while on the move or multi-tasking.
- In and around the home
Particularly for casual browsing and quick enquiries, where the effort of loading up a PC seems unwarranted – the Tablet is the go-to device.
Happiness is best when shared and the iPad works really well for watching Youtube videos with friends, reading articles together or sharing holiday snaps.
My hypothesis is that sites in certain niches are likely to see more growth from tablet devices than others.
Everyone who has currently bought an iPad will have tethered it to a personal desktop or notebook pc. While this will change going forward, with the introduction of iOS 5, most tablet owners will still have access to a desktop or laptop and probably a smart phone too, meaning they have an option for devices to search from.
Due to usability factors such as screen-size, technical incompatibilities, typing efficiency and to the poor integration of tabbing within the native Safari Browser; the iPad is not suitable for heavy or sustained internet usage, the kind of which you are likely to do at work or when undertaking serious research.
Where the iPad comes into its own is with quick, frivolous tasks and I think this nature is beginning to manifest itself in the sites generating the most tablet traffic. The graph below shows the percentage growth of access from iPads for Distilled clients in a variety of different niches.
A Distilled Client in the TV Entertainment Niche has had considerable growth of traffic from iPads over recent months, while maintaining a steady level of traffic across the board. Year on year for the month of august, traffic from iPads has grown from 0.47% of total traffic, to 2.52% of total traffic. While this may sound like only a small fraction of overall traffic, this growth represents a 400% increase. Meanwhile traffic from Windows devices reduced considerably over that time frame, by about 9.5% from 82.49 to 72.95%.
The further development of excellent TV media apps such as TVguide, Sky remote record, Netflix IMBD should be increasing the amount of traffic driven to entertainment and media sites via the iPad, as people choose not to switch devices in order to find out the name of that actor, or when the next episode of a certain program is on.
If you’re going abroad, a tablet is great way to keep up with your communication and computing on the move, without worrying yourself over luggage allowance or battery life. Ticketing sites, restaurants, hotels and activity planning businesses should start to see sustained growth in visits from tablets.
If you’re making a major purchase, such as a car, business insurance or an engagement ring you’re going to want to meticulously check through different options, from multiple providers and make copious notes on all the actions as you go. This sort of purchase is unlikely to be undertaken from the armchair with iPad in-hand, however smaller, more frequent purchases often are. The touch screen interface can be a fantastic way to browse through the kind of items that don’t require as much research and planning. For example, when searching for a gift for a friend, people will often browse a store on a sofa while perhaps taking into account other’s opinions.
News Information Resources
We have all been in the situation where in the midst of a heated argument one side reaches for the last resort: Wikipedia. Alongside the smart phone a tablet is the ideal device for quick information retrieval on a particular topic of reference. Tablets also provide a great way to consume journalistic content as demonstrated in this recent article from Net Magazine. If you run a content aggregation site, a popular blog or a news resource – prepare for a shift in the devices comprising your overall traffic.
For some reason everybody, when amongst friends and family, usually groans when somebody reaches for their mobile phone or laptop to access a social network. This stigma has so far managed to find itself inapplicable to tablets, their users and their peers. The pedantry associated with social network browsing on a phone isn’t applicable and the giant expedition that requires setting up a laptop with charger doesn’t make it seem like too much of an aside from maintaining the current real-life social setup. A tablet is a complement to a group trying to include, perhaps talk about or explore others who aren’t in their immediate vicinity.
The iPad doesn’t support flash and from the vehemently stubborn quality of the comments made by Apple on this matter, I think it’s pretty safe to assume the iPad won’t be supporting flash anytime in the future either.
The SEO world have been pretty negative on flash for some-time, given Google’s inability to crawl it, but if you need another reason to take it down or convert your content to HTML5, here it is. Creating flash-style HTML5 content sounds extremely daunting to those of us without a front-end development background, but it really needn’t be. Check out Tom Anthony’s post on how to fix common issues with HTML5 and these sites for good tutorials:
Hype, a program for Mac OS X program allows even layman’s to create smart looking interactive HTML5 content and costs only $29.99 on the Mac App store.
Most of the time, tablets will run off reasonably speedy Wi-fi connections in homes, offices and coffee shops. But on trains, buses, cars, in airports and in meetings at other offices, iPads with the capability will often rely on their 3G connectivity to provide internet services.
The BBC recently conducted a comprehensive survey of 3G availability around the UK, which showed patchy connections in many areas outside of the major cities.
Despite an often advertised speed of 7.2Mbps for 3g connections, the BBC found most UK users get speeds of about 1.5Mbps, if stationary. In moving vehicles, connections can slow to a sloth like 284kbit/s – not enough to consistently stream video from YouTube. For iPad users opting to tether their device to their phone’s 3G connection for mobile browsing, the same sort of connection speeds apply.
This data simply reinforces the value of a fast loading, well constructed site, most easily achieved through:
- Ensuring your images aren’t bigger than they need to be
- Minimizing DNS lookups
For tutorials on how to achieve these and more hot site-speed tips, check out Craig Bradford’s guide
Make an iPad friendly site, but not a duplicate
Mobile websites create unnecessary duplicate content, which can have bad consequences for your crawl bandwidth and keyword targeting, yet most desktop sites are not ideal for use on either smart phones or tablets.
The best solution is to serve different versions of the same site, perfectly optimised for each device, through changing CSS. Check out CSS zen garden to see how the same content can be delivered in totally different visual styles.
If you have built a mobile version of your website which you automatically serve to mobile devices, ensure this does not happen for users on an iPad. Although I can’t find any research to back this up (I’d be interested to hear if anybody else can), I expect that the vast majority of web browsing on tablets is done in landscape mode, where most full-sized sites can be navigated without any difficulty. The only reason I can see for supplying a mobile site to an iPad is if the full-sized site contains heavy elements of flash, which you are reluctant to lose.
Simplify the check-out/conversion process
Using the keyboard on a tablet is a little bit arduous. In small doses, it’s not a problem, but typing stuff in does often require the user to put down the device and engage two-hands on the keypad. If you’re looking for a simple conversion to purchase, try to minimise the amount of content a user has to manually input.
This can be achieved by:
- Only forcing the user to input the minimum amount of data you require
- Using cookies to store data from previous visits
- Automatically matching addresses from postcode/zipcode inputs
- Allowing payment through paypal
Create an App
My iPad has a folder on it labelled “Shopping”. If I have something i wish to buy, then my first port of call will be the two clicks required to open up one of the apps in this folder, rather than the lengthy process of searching Google then trawling the results. Ebay, Asos, Amazon and Ocado have all done really good iPad apps which are worth taking a look at for anyone with an E-commerce focus.
Apps allow you to permanently store your payment details and ensure you can produce a graphically rich online store without the concern of page loading times. While an app will likely provide conversions in its own right, they are also valuable tools for generating brand-trust and can act as fantastic bits of linkbait for improving overall domain authority.
Scrolling through lengthy pages is a breeze on a tablet, requiring only a casual flick of the finger to move the page down. Clicking through to another page, however, can be time consuming – especially if the clickable icons are difficult to locate and the page contains heavy graphical content.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t paginate content when serving tablet devices, providing your “next” and “previous” icons are suitably tablet friendly, but simply that the visual impact of long pages is not such an issue.
While there are decent third party browsers available for the iPad; particularly Opera Mobile, Diigo Browser and Dolphin HD, the vast majority of users (around 96%) use only the native Safari browser, which currently offers an inelegant solution to tabbing.
If you’ve set all your external links to open up in a new tab or window in order to keep users on your site, beware that this may have an adverse effect for iPad users. Clicking back on the iPad is not nearly as dull or time consuming as going back to a page in another window.
Smart use of HTML5 and CSS3 allows you to integrate scrollers and multitouch into your site delivery, as seen in Google tablet search and the upcoming BBC site redesign, currently in beta testing.
The best of use tablet UI and architecture is where traditional vertical scrolling is combined with horizontal navigation, to allow a great deal of content to be delivered on a single page. This lessens the need for tabbing and 3+ click journeys to deep pages; which feel irksome on the iPad, while allowing users to locate content without spending a long time finger-flicking through giant pages.
Check out the way my previous company, LocateTV, integrated horizontal navigation, and the way the extremely pretty Sky News App displays big pages of rich content.
Fingers are bigger than cursors and therefore require more space to be clicked. Having to zoom-in in order to make a selection gets extremely tiring, so nip this issue in the bud by making small adjustments to your CSS.
Downloads for Quality Content
One of the most useful and natural functions for the iPad is as a portable eReader. The iBooks application contains an extensive bookstore, offering a wide variety of both paid and free content. The iBooks App also works as the primary PDF reader on the iPad, allowing you to bookmark places, zoom in and out and store the content in an extremely visually appealing library.
One way we can utilise this functionality as website optimisers is to ensure quality content is PDF downloadable, giving users to option to store our content on their tablet device for viewing in environments absence of an internet connection. With many iPads only offering Wi-fi connectivity and frequent usage in internet free areas such as the London Underground, having offline readable content can improve long-term user engagement.
Two ways to make effective use of this would be to ensure that any HQ content you produce has a PDF download option as per the SEOmoz Beginner’s Guide or hitting mail subscribers with PDF versions of your new content so they can quickly upload it to iBooks in the morning before beginning the train journey into work.
When building the acrobat files, carefully consider the formatting of your document. The standard PDF looks like this:
An iPad in portrait mode has a width of 728px , considerably less than the average 15 inch laptop monitor screen, which clocks in at about 1440px. It’s best to test out your PDF document on an iPad so you avoid the need to excessively zoom in and out in order to make the text legible.
With the introduction of Apple’s reading list into the latest version of Safari on OS X Lion, expect iOS 5 on the iPad to provide an integrated system, which may open up more possibilities in off-line downloadable content.
Google Analytics make it very simple for you to work out how much traffic your site is getting from iPads, by treating the device as an operating system entirely separate from iOS on the iPhone or iPod touch.
Just go to Visitors Browser Capabilities Operating Systems to see a basic report.
However, I think setting up an “Tablet” Advanced Segment is the best way to go with this, so you can include the appropriate Android versions and other tablet devices in overall analysis.
You may notice unusual referrers coming in through GA, ones which don’t drive any traffic from other devices. These will most likely be Apps and if you’re getting significant traffic off the back of these, it’s well worth delving a bit deeper to see if you can leverage further opportunities in this area.
The vast majority of traffic on the iPad will come through Safari, with small amounts through Opera mobile and other niche browsers. However, there are also a few other quasi-browsers that may pop up their heads. The Twitter app for the iPad contains an integrated webkit based browser, which should show up in GA as “Mozilla Compatible Agent”.
Don’t be immediately alarmed if you see higher than normal bounce rates coming through from tablet traffic, it may be that many of these visits are coming in via social references and through apps such as twitter, Facebook, iReddit and Flipboard. The things to be wary of are low times on site, low conversions and any pages which may contain iPad hostile flash or aspx server-side scripts.
TV Companion Devices
One of the major futures for tablets will be as the “Second Screen” for home-based broadcast media. When watching sport, meta-data will be pushed live to the viewers phone and tablet, allowing them to browse through statistics, replays, commentary and static shots. Users are already beginning to make moves in this direction, with the plethora of Sky Apps released for the iPad. The current function of “The Red Button”, will be replaced by content wirelessly pushed to an App on a tablet.
For marketers, there will be opportunities within these integrated broadcasts systems; be it ads, creative content or affiliate recommendations. For example, imagine seeing the outfit a character is wearing in a TV show, then being provided with an image and a link to an E-commerce seller for that outfit on your tablet device.
The tablet will fulfill the main role as the TV companion device, as it’s informal, flexible nature makes it much easier and less cumbersome to use than a laptop while curled up on the sofa with most of your attention focused on your big screen.
The thing currently limiting tablets from becoming realistic content creation devices is not the hardware, but the creative software.
I can foresee voice-activated document creation coming back into the fray with tablets. While this technology has been around for a while, the speed and accuracy of dictation software has held back any wide ranging adoption. Tablets may become mainstream devices for illustration and design, video and music creation once innovations in UI take the next step and cloud syncing systems have been properly established to allow heavy processing tasks to be shared with more powerful computers. However, I do think it’s unlikely that heavy multitasking or database creation will find a mainstream form within the tablet functionality.
Within the next few years, along with phones, tablets will take advantage of the 1Gbps 4G networks, improving the ability to watch HD videos on the fly and edit large documents stored in the cloud.
Operational Remotes – Media Libraries
Apps already exist to allow the iPad to be used as a remote mouse for Mac computers or Apple TV and if you have the money and the tenacity to set it up, it is possible to use a tablet device as a control for a large home-media library stored on a static disk. I expect this functionality will improve and expand going forward, with fully integrated media control across devices, service providers and screens.
The upcoming iCloud service will allow users to edit documents and content originally created on their larger personal computer, while also allowing access to their full iTunes library anywhere they have an internet connection. Full cloud integration will lessen the need for large hard discs and for users to pair any tablets with a desktop/laptop personal computer. We will start to see more individuals having a tablet as their only personal computing device and people in the same household having personal tablets, while sharing the use of a larger desktop/laptop machine.
I hope you enjoyed this introduction to the possibilities the tablet world is bringing to search marketing. If there are any areas I’ve raised that you would like to delve practically into, let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can find some good resources.
Many thanks to John Warnes at http://www.transparency.org who helped me with this post and my girlfriend Kim for making me a brilliant cake while I was typing away.
Follow me on twitter @philnottingham