It is not often that an algorithm change from Google goes relatively unnoticed, but the latest move from Google has flown under the radar a bit despite the big impact it could have on many websites. In a recent post on the company’s webmaster blog, Google announced that algorithm changes were now in place that could negatively impact those sites that offer a poor user experience to visitors using smartphones or other mobile devices.
Recognizing the obvious shift toward mobile internet usage, Google is encouraging webmasters to offer visitors more than just a mobile version of their site. Google wants all users to get the full internet experience they are looking for, even when they access the web via smartphones. As a result, algorithm changes from Google will now boost the rankings of those pages that offer top notch mobile infrastructure, while punishing sites that do not offer a good mobile experience.
Identifying Two Common Mistakes
The blog post pointed out that Google has yet to roll out the planned algorithm changes to enhance mobile user experience, meaning there is time to for webmasters to fix key areas of concern before the algorithms begin to have a negative impact on page ranking. Google highlighted two common mistakes that webmasters make when developing mobile versions, offering reasons for the problem and helpful tips in solving them.
First, it was pointed out that faulty redirects are common problem that irritate smartphone users and is easily fixed by a capable webmaster. Faulty redirects occur when a mobile user is redirected by a site to the main page of the mobile version rather than to the corresponding mobile version of the desktop version of the page they were on. The following diagram puts this concept into image form:
In simpler terms; when a smartphone user is on a subpage and tries to navigate to the mobile version of that sub-page, they are more often than not redirected to the mobile version homepage. This means they have to start their navigation over again to the sub-page they were on. While it may be a minor inconvenience, it can interrupt a visitors flow and cause them to not return to the site in the future.
The problem is easily fixed by setting up redirects such that users are sent from the desktop version directly to the same content on a mobile version. If the site doesn’t have the content available in a mobile version, it is best to leave them on the desktop version rather than interrupt their workflow on the site.
Secondly, Google pointed out that many mobile sites have smartphone-only errors on them. This means that desktop or tablet visitors using desktop version might not experience any errors on a given page, where mobile-version users will encounter an error page when loading the same content in a mobile version.
Common mistakes in smartphone-only errors, as listed by Google, included the following:
– Incorrect handling of Googlebot-Mobile. When employed incorrectly, Googlebot-Mobile creates an infinite redirect loop where mobile visitors are redirected to feature phone optimized sites, which in turn redirects smartphones back to the desktop site.
– Unplayable videos on smartphones. A lot of video content is embedded on websites and designed for desktop viewing, but fails to load on smartphones.
The issue with Googlebot-Mobile can be avoided by setting up Googlebot-Mobile user agents to identify smartphones as smartphones, not feature phones, and redirecting them to the appropriate mobile version (if it exists, remember no faulty redirects) rather than simply sending them directly to the desktop version.
Additional Misconfiguration Problems
While Google highlighted the issues above as the most common, webmasters will need to address all mobile configuration issues in order to avoid punishment at the hands of the new algorithms. The blog post contained links to specific smartphone misconfiguration issues Google believes webmasters should be aware of. These other misconfiguration included:
– App download ads that hinder usage: Some on-page advertisements for a site’s apps actually hinder a smartphone user’s experience. Google recommends using either a smart app banners or a simple HTML image with a link to the proper app download store.
– Develop content that loads faster on mobile versions. Smartphone users are facing steeper costs for data and restrictions on usage as unlimited plans disappear. Pages should be designed to load faster and offer an optimized experience for mobile users.
Lasting Message for SEOs
In the end, Google’s overall message with this algorithm changes appears to be that SEOs and webmasters need to focus on delivering the right content at the right time and less on delivering the specific mobile experience on a device by device basis. Mobile access is differentiating as more and more tablets and smartphones hit the market.
SEOs and webmasters need to adapt a more responsive design that delivers the right content to the mobile user, even if that content is not necessarily designed for the mobile device they are using to access the site.