Anyone in the digital world will know that mobile internet usage has been rapidly growing in the past few years and 2013 has been no exception to this trend. A staggering 60% of online devices are now smartphones or tablets.
Google has been putting more effort and emphasis for better overall mobile user experience. In June of this year, Google announced that it is now using configuration mistakes as a ranking factor for smart phone search results. The objective for this is to make sure that mobile websites are showing the most relevant search for their visitors. This may sound obvious, but many mobile websites are limiting the information on their mobile site compared to their desktop site.
This principle has always been at the heart of Google’s search motto, they simply want the users to have the best results possible.
Some websites use separate URLs to serve desktop and smartphone users and a common mistake is the faulty redirects. Instead of redirecting a mobile search result to its most relevant mobile page, pages are being directed to non-relevant pages, the figure below shows examples of what is considered to be a faulty redirect.
In many cases, some mobile sites just don’t have the relevant pages to redirect to. In this case Google’s own recommendation is to serve the users with the desktop version.
“Make sure that the smartphone-friendly page itself is not an error page. If your content is not available in a smartphone-friendly format, serve the desktop page instead. Showing the content the user was looking for is a much better experience than showing an error page.”
Desktop Vs Mobile Rankings
There are plenty of examples of mobile sites that are not following the faulty redirect guidelines properly which mean they are potentially harming their mobile search results. There is no better way to put theory into practice.
I have chosen a website (without disclosing who they are for obvious reasons) which has a separate desktop and mobile site. The site currently uses a user agent to display the mobile site depending on the device the user is using. I then filtered search results comparing URLs that have faulty redirects against URLs that do not have faulty redirects.
In this brief test, it shows that from 10 keywords and seven different landing pages that they have dropped an average ranking of 7.6 ranking positions from a total of 25,740 monthly search volumes. This site currently has 244 faulty redirects. Without delving any deeper, these drops in ranking from page one to page two can have a sizeable impact for mobile search results.
The results are quite apparent; Google is already penalising mobile search results which are not following this particular guideline of faulty redirects. The result distinctly shows the webpages that have faulty redirects are being penalised for lower search rankings, whereas the webpages with correct redirects are maintaining the same search results.
GWMT’s new crawl error functions
With Google’s increasing emphasis for better mobile search experience, it has recently pushed out a new feature within Google Webmaster Tools for smartphone crawl error stats. This feature uniquely identifies crawl errors for mobile sites.
There is a tab that lists the number of faulty redirects. This data can help identify pages that are potentially penalised for its misconfiguration.
The continued increase of mobile usage means that more and more people are turning away from desktop search results to mobile search results. The importance of having a mobile site is obvious, but having a good mobile site that serves engagement for visitors is the key for a successful mobile site.
If you have a bad mobile site that is not properly optimised for organic search, it is potentially already harming your search traffic. With the provided tool, we can know further optimise search for mobile websites.