Google announces changes to mobile search

Google’s recent announcement on upcoming algorithm changes for their mobile web search has website owners and SEOs working hard, making sure that their sites’ smartphone friendly versions comply with these changes. With demotions in mobile search rankings promised for supposedly smartphone friendly sites that are really not that smartphone friendly, you can bet that most are scrambling to check and rectify the major issues raised by Google.

Ideally, all the issues should be fixed for all pages on all websites, but if you are handling quite a good number of sites or have a large website with thousands of pages, it is obvious that you’ll need to prioritize which errors to address first.

So which website pages should you focus on first?

According to Google the problems they want to see addressed are faulty redirects and smartphone-only errors. If you read up on the errors though, faulty redirects are just the top of a list that includes everything  from user dissatisfaction to crawling errors.

Faulty redirects are a very common problem with websites pointing users to incorrect mobile pages (usually the website’s mobile-friendly homepage instead of the intended specific page). This mistake, which may be intentional in situations where there is no mobile version of the specific page requested, can be a big problem since landing on irrelevant pages can be both confusing and frustrating for users. Google’s advice to address this problem is very simple: consistently point to the correct mobile version of the page, and when there’s no such version just point to the correct desktop version of the page.  Apparently, getting to the right page, even if it does not render well on the smartphone, is better than landing on a mobile-friendly but incorrect page.

When it comes to smartphone-only errors, Google lists quite a good number of such misconfigurations including unplayable videos, incorrect handling of Googlebot-Mobile, app download interstitials, and slow mobile page loading time. Topping the list, however, is still the issue of faulty redirects and 404 error pages. Again, landing on irrelevant pages and 404 pages is obviously irritating for users, especially for those with slow connection speeds on their mobile phones. So it is important to fix these errors if you are to keep your mobile users happy and if you want to rank well on Google’s mobile search results.

Fixes for the two issues are already tackled above, but it also bears mentioning that it is important to check redirect issues on all smartphone platforms (e.g. Android, iOS and Windows Phone) since it is not uncommon for faulty redirects to occur only on specific mobile devices.

Another very important thing to note is how the incorrect handling of Googlebot-Mobile can lead to your mobile pages not getting indexed properly. This happens (yet again) when faulty redirects send the bot in an infinite loop as it is bounced back and forth from the desktop and mobile-version of the page. Obviously this will be seen as an error and will stop the bot from crawling your pages, resulting not only in lowered rankings, but in not being indexed at all!

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