Avoid Getting Penalized for Mobile Site Errors

Google recently announced that it is going to implement ranking changes for sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users in the near future. That’s a strong incentive to get your site working correctly for mobile devices. What’s more, it shows the growing importance of mobile search.

As more people acquire smartphones, Google – which strives to provide users the best possible search experience – is making changes to better suit its mobile users.

What this means is that sites designed to cater to the needs of users on mobile devices –who typically have smaller screens and often slower connections than desktop users – may be penalized with lower mobile search engine rankings due to mistakes on their mobile sites. Here’s a quick look at a few common mistakes that may get your site penalized.


Penalties for Irrelevant Redirects

  • Problem: Many sites try to detect when a visitor is using a mobile device, and send them to a special mobile-optimized version of the site. The problem is some of them do it wrong. See example below.
Penalties for Irrelevant Redirects - problem

Penalties for Irrelevant Redirects – problem

  • Fix: Rather than sending users to the same mobile site page (a homepage in the example above) – which could potentially interfere with a user’s experience – websites should send users to the corresponding version of the page on the mobile site. See example below. If a mobile version of a page does not exist, sites should send users to the desktop version so as to not interrupt a user’s workflow.
Penalties for Irrelevant Redirects - Solution

Penalties for Irrelevant Redirects – Solution


Penalties for Smartphone-only Errors

  • Problem: If a site doesn’t have a mobile-optimized version of the page the user is trying to view, it sends them to an “unknown” page, also known as a “404 page.”
  • Fix: If you have a mobile-friendly version of a page, send users to that page. If you do not have a mobile version, redirect them to the regular “desktop” version of the page.


  • Problem: When Google “crawls” a website – the process by which it puts web pages into its massive index – it uses special “bots” to index mobile-optimized pages. However, some sites send Googlebot-Mobile to the incorrect place. The various Googlebot-Mobile bots identify themselves as specific mobile devices – for example a smartphone, or a feature phone. It is incorrect to send Googlebot-Mobile for smartphones to a webpage optimized for feature phones.
  • Fix: Send Googlebot-Mobile bots to the correctly optimized website.


  • Problem: Including videos that do not work on smartphones on a mobile-optimized webpage. For example, if a video requires Adobe Flash, it will not play on most phones.
  • Fix: Ensure the videos on your website are playable on smartphones as well.

 Common mistakes for mobile site errors

What this means for Marketers

One, marketers need to understand these penalties and talk with their webmasters to ensure these problems do not exist on their sites.

Two, if you do not have a mobile version of your site, it may be time to develop one. The number of users who are searching on mobile devices continues to rise, and Google is making adjustments to fit this trend. If you want to get traffic from mobile search, now is the time to get your site ready – and properly ready.

By Amy Leefe – June 20, 2013

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Posted in : SEO and PPC

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