December 18, 2013

The Impact of Google’s Changes on Mobile Search

James Giese | UWEBC Communications Director

Recent changes to Google’s search algorithm indicate the company is taking steps to streamline the mobile search experience. For mobile search rankings, Google now factors the configuration of smartphone redirects into its algorithm – a critical bridge that connects mobile searchers with the appropriate mobile-formatted content.

Brian Klais, Pure Oxygen Labs, discussed recent changes to Google's search algorithm.
“Google is implementing sweeping changes to the mobile search experience. Removing some of the easily addressable technical barriers is a crucial step brands can take to prevent mobile ranking disruptions,” said Brian Klais, Founder and CEO of Pure Oxygen Labs.

Klais discussed Google’s changes and their impact on mobile search results during a UWEBC’s Web and Multichannel Marketing Web Clinic on December 5, 2013.

Klais detailed findings from a recent Pure Oxygen Labs research report that indicates 22% of 100 top U.S. retailers with dedicated mobile sites run the risk of having pages downgraded in Google for sending mobile searchers to defunct pages. The prevalence of faulty mobile links is even more widespread with 67% of retail sites containing multiple instances of irrelevant redirects -- links that send mobile searchers to pages Google considers unrelated, such as a site’s mobile home page. More than 20% of brands analyzed in the report have desktop URLs that redirect mobile users and bots to error pages – either 404 errors (page-not-found) or 500-series internal server errors.

There is already evidence Google is downgrading pages that deliver a poor mobile experience – typically by way of faulty smartphone redirects that send mobile searchers to non-existent or irrelevant mobile pages.

“Unlike the 404 page errors on a desktop site, mobile redirect errors are more difficult to diagnose because the faulty code usually resides on the web server and only becomes active in response to a mobile user or bot request,” said Klais. 

Klais gave the following tips for marketers to adjust to the recent mobile search changes:

  • Conduct a full audit of your most important category, subcategory and product pages to discover these types of issues. Diagnostic tools, such as Pure Qxygen’s Mobile Redirect Viewer, help predict which pages are likely to produce mobile errors or irrelevant redirects in the future.
  • Optimize the device-detection code used by the server to target certain smartphones, and the pattern-matching code that populates the server's response headers with the mobile page location, the type of redirect status code, and the "vary" tag values.
  • Identify and resolve mobile redirect errors as soon as possible. If a searcher visits a desktop page from a mobile device, redirect to an equivalent smartphone-friendly URL not a 404 page. Make sure the smartphone-friendly page is not an error page. If your content is not available in a smartphone-friendly format, serve the desktop page instead.
  •  Implement technology that can proactively monitor key pages for mobile redirect errors and irrelevant results so you can respond before any downgrades occur in search engines.
  • Tag pages with canonical markup. The Canonical URL tag attribute will most often be useful in the case of multiple URLs pointing at the same page, but might also be used when multiple versions of a page exist. Canonical markup helps make content visible to bots and searchers.
  • Each desktop page should contain a "rel=alternate" link meta tag that points to the mobile URL, and each mobile page should contain a "rel=canonical" meta tag that points to the desktop URL.

"The free ride of mobile SEO is over,” said Klais, “If you want to have visible content in Google’s mobile search, you have to earn it. Audit your pages and understand their levels of search ranking risks.”

During the same session, Lars Larsen, Customer Programs and Channel Integration Manager for We Energies (a UWEBC member company) discussed optimizing the customer experience for mobile, SEO and social media.

We Energies found that mobile SEO and social media are extremely important factors in customer engagement. Their “voice of customer” data showed that a significant number of customers now use voice-based searching on mobile devices. The company’s discovered that managing their brand presence on search lists when customers use mobile SEO requires solid markup and optimized information architecture.

The company’s overall approach to SEO and social media has been successful. We Energies social media efforts were recently recognized with a national award.

Member companies can access Klais' and Larsen's web clinic recordings and other meeting materials here.

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