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Mobile Web Domain Names

Posted by alexander on Feb. 27, 2011, 5 p.m.

I'm going to say something unpopular: the Europeans might have this one right.  On the long-debated issue of whether to use a subdomain like m.yourdomain.com or opting for the .mobi TLD (yourdomain.mobi) Fusionbox is falling on the side that has been widely adopted in Europe, .mobi.

Here are the reasons why I hate this decision:

  •   m. is easier to type (an important consideration on a mobile device)
  •   m. does not require the purchase of an additional domain, and makes managing your domain that much easier
  •   Using m. is just plain cleaner and seems more intuitive to me

Many of the largest (American) sites have opted for the subdomain route (i.e. m.google.com, m.facebook.com, mobile.yahoo.com), which suggests that a lot of people agree that this is the more elegant solution.

Ugh.  So why are we recommending the .mobi route?  Here are the boring but ultimately compelling reasons to follow that sad parade:

Mobi has the backing of the W3C, and with their Mobile Web Initiative (MWI), .mobi has an actual standard that all can follow.  This is not so important to the Facebooks of the world, for whom things like SEO are completely unimportant.  But to our clients, a standard means that we can potentially be rewarded by search engines for implementing mobile sites correctly.  Having standards is also just simply a Good Thing, as anyone who has wasted hours dealing with one browser's implementation of CSS or Javascript can attest.

Some may claim that an SEO benefit for being MWI-compliant is tenuous.  The fact is, it is widely agreed that standards-compliance does provide a bump to search engine rankings in other areas (HTML validation, for example).  I'm not sure why this is different.  Regardless, there is another clear benefit of using a .mobi domain -- search engines know when a search is being performed on a mobile device, and they rank .mobi sites higher.  And why not?  Because of the extension, search engines know that .mobi sites are specifically for mobile devices.  As such, they should receive priority ranking.

The problem with the subdomain route is that without a consensus on which subdomain we're all going to use (m., wap., mobile., phone., whatever.) a search engine has to make unsafe assumptions in order to conclude that this is a mobile-specific site.  m. could just as likely stand for Mable, Moose, or Mechanic.

Alright, there is a compromise though, and one that we happily made when creating the mobile version of our site.  Use both!  Visitors who type in m.fusionbox.com are redirected to fusionbox.mobi.  Nuff said.