Smartphone Website Mistakes Can Hurt Search Visibility

Whip out your smartphone. Navigate to your website or blog. What do you see? Is it easy to read and use? Have you implemented a responsive design or were you redirected to a mobile version of your site?

If you’re making mistakes in the way your sites are configured for mobile, your visibility in search results might suffer.

Recently, Google announced that they will be implementing several ranking changes that will impact sites that have smartphone configuration issues. So now is the perfect time to fix your sites and avoid these upcoming search updates.

Google-Approved Mobile Websites

About one year ago, Google offered its recommendations for building smartphone-optimized websites. In a nutshell, Google recommends using responsive web design, serving the same HTML for all devices and using media queries to determine how websites are rendered on various devices (i.e. desktop, tablets and smartphones).

Since then, Google has built-out additional developer resources for building mobile-optimized websites. If you’re the webmaster for your own site or blog, be sure to check this out. There’s a lot of good information in there. If you outsource “webmastering,” send them the link and make sure they’re following mobile best practices avoiding the most common smartphone optimization mistakes. Let’s walk through a couple of these.

Video Issues

Have you ever navigated to a website to play a video on your smartphone to find that the video won’t play? Annoying, right? Well, Google is acknowledging your frustration. Sites that contain videos that are not playable on smartphones are likely to take a “hit” in search visibility.

If your sites contain video, be sure to use HTML5 video markup and don’t use Flash.

Faulty Redirects

In my experience, mobile redirect problems are the most common smartphone-optimization issue. My advice is to avoid these redirection issues altogether by implementing a responsive web design. If for some reason you can’t, there are two critical mistakes to avoid:

  • Irrelevant Redirects – For example, redirecting an internal page to your mobile homepage (instead of a corresponding, relevant mobile URL).
  • The Vary HTTP Header – If you serve different content for different user-agents, use the Vary HTTP header. If you don’t Google might have trouble understanding how your site is configured, which can hurt visibility within results.

Likewise, you should avoid irrelevant cross-linking (i.e. linking an internal page to your mobile site homepage).

Page Speed

For some time now, Google has been using site speed in their web search ranking algorithms. Smartphones and other mobile devices add additional speed challenges because of the way they access the web through mobile data networks.

According to Bryan McQuade (head of Google’s Page Speed team), you should work to make your mobile pages render in under one second.

For those of you who monitor your site speed, you probably recognize that this is a tall order. However, it’s a good goal for which to strive. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, send this article and these links to your webmaster. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to benchmark your site and get recommendations to make it faster.

In my opinion, page speed, as a search ranking factor, is only going to increase in importance in the coming years. Now is the time to make sure your site’s speed isn’t a liability.

For some of you, this post might feel a bit technical. If you fall into this camp, you’re the webmaster for your sites and you care about your users’ ability to find and use your sites, it’s time to bone up. If you rely on someone else to keep your site fast, usable and search-friendly, make sure they’re paying attention to these mobile issues.

If you ignore your site’s mobile configuration, speed and technical development, don’t be surprised to find less people finding, visiting and returning to your site.

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