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Google’s New Web Design Rules for Mobile Devices

Google, as normal, updated their ranking algorithm recently, and this update was intended, among other things, to benefit ‘good’ mobile websites and penalize ‘bad’ ones (i.e. ones that make mobile browsing harder.) If you want your mobile website to benefit the most from the algorithm changes, here’s how.

Keep a single URL and create a responsive website.
“Google recommends webmasters follow the industry best practice of using responsive web design, namely in serving the same HTML to all devices.” Pretty straightforward. Why? There’s a few reasons.

  • A one-URL system makes your website, brand, and social signals easier for Google to keep straight.
  • Social media has more of an SEO impact for single-URL sites.
  • Two-URL systems require redirects that eat away mobile browsers’ time and (often-limited) bandwidth.

Don’t use a mobile proxy — or do it right!
Google officially announced that while it’s not removing support for mobile proxies, it will penalize any website that doesn’t use their (complex) annotation provisions completely and accurately. Only 23 of the top 500 Internet retailers had correctly implemented all of Google’s required annotations, so that’s a bar set high enough that it might be better to just avoid mobile proxies altogether.

If you have to have redirects, make sure they work right.
One of the most common complaints about mobile search is that sites are set up to redirect mobile users to their home page regardless of what page they were trying to get to — frustrating a huge amount of search intent. A one-URL site neatly sidesteps this problem, but if you’re not going to go this route, make sure your redirects are set up right.

Don’t serve 404s
It’s a lot less common these days, but there are still a startling number of websites that serve up 404s to mobile browsers if there’s no mobile-language webpage available to serve up. This is utter folly; most mobile devices will at least give a good run at rendering your desktop page — letting them try is better than giving them nothing at all.

Stop the interstitials
If you’ve got an app you want mobile users to download, do not ever create an interstitial that requests that they go look for the app. Not only to end users hate it, but Google has begun explicitly downranking webpages that use this stunt.

Make sure you can opt-out of the mobile version — correctly
Many sites simply force the mobile version on people from certain devices (or worse yet, on certain browsers — newsflash, people, Opera has a desktop version used by millions of end users!) That’s bad enough, but it’s actually worse (according to Google) if you offer a redirect to your desktop site and then fail to redirect people to the desktop version of the page they were already on. It sucks to hit the redirect option and end up on the homepage, six clicks away from where you just were. Don’t do it to your mobile browsers.

As mobile traffic becomes more and more normal, a failure of the web developer to follow these rules is going to make your SEO people tear their hair out. Get them together and make sure everyone understands what needs to happen, and avoid the pain.

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