Google search to punish mobile Web bad practice, including those irritating download-our-app interstitial ads

“To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users” – Google Webmaster Central Blog.

That sounds a lot like: if your site doesn’t obey the rules on mobile best practice then Google will punish you with a lower search ranking. This is certainly how it is being interpreted, as Search Engine Watch points out “Bad mobile SEO will cost you.”

What isn’t so clear is whether this applies to all Websites – which would be excellent – or just the sites where companies have made some effort to detect mobile devices and provide a mobile-optimized or mobile site – which would be unfair.

Google’s blog post outlines a couple of common mistakes and how to fix them:
1) Faulty redirects – i.e. PC sites that redirect automatically to a mobile-optimized site that doesn’t have the same content that visitors were trying to view on the PC site or redirects only some types of mobile device and not others.
2) Smartphone-only errors – including:
a) Greeting smartphone visitors with a 404 error.
b) Using videos that won’t work on smartphone devices e.g. if content requires Adobe Flash, it won’t be playable on iPhones or on Android devices with version 4.1 or above;
c) Failing to identify and treat Googlebot-Mobile (Google’s Web crawler) correctly.

The blog then links to a further resource entitled: Common mistakes in smartphone sites that covers the same points and adds the following:
3) App download interstitials – often mobile visitors to Websites are greeted with a page that begs them to download their mobile app, before they are shown the mobile site. These are all annoying, but the ones that show an ad for app for the wrong sort of handset and/or show the same ad on repeat visits are the biggest turn-off. It seems Google – and more importantly Google search – doesn’t like them either:
“Many webmasters promote their site’s apps to their Website visitors. There are many implementations to do this, some of which may cause indexing issues of smartphone-optimized content and others that may be too disruptive to the visitor’s usage of the site. Based on these various considerations, we recommend using a simple banner to promote your app inline with the page’s content. This banner can be implemented using: The native browser and operating system support such as Smart App Banners for Safari on iOS6; and an HTML image, similar to a typical small advert, that links to the correct app store for download.”
4) Irrelevant cross-linking – i.e. when the mobile site links to further information, but sends visitors to the PC site, when the same content is available mobile-friendly on the mobile site.
5) Page speed – all sorts of things can make PC Webpages load slowly on mobile devices. Google provides links to tips for correcting this.

Recommended reading:

Any company with a Website, mobile-optimized or not, that cares about search engine rankings and/or mobile visitors should read Google’s blog post and Common mistakes in smartphone sites and then make your webmaster read them.
And take Google’s advice:
Try to test your site on as many different mobile devices and operating systems, or their emulators, as possible, including testing the videos included on your site. Doing so will improve the mobile Web, make your users happy, and allow searchers to experience and experience your content fully.

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