(April 28, 2015) – Let’s get one thing straight: “responsive mobile site” does NOT necessarily equal “mobile-friendly site.” And in light of Google’s algorithm changes last week, it’s a misconception that organizations can’t afford to shrug off. Why? Because Google has finally made the declaration that mobile is king, and sites that don’t respond with ease of use and compliance will suffer in mobile search results because of it.

So how can you know if your website is in the clear?

Start here with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. If Google deems your site compatible for mobile users, you’re good to go—and you wont have to worry about losing search traffic from mobile devices.

But if not, we’ve compiled a list of common mistakes to avoid when assessing your website that will keep you mobile friendly in the eyes of Google:

Blocked JavaScript, CSS, and Image Files

The problem:

Some website builders block the crawling of CSS and Javascripts by Googlebot and other spiders through the robots.txt file, hindering your website’s rendering and indexing. Google wants to determine what the site will look like on mobile devices. Blocked JavaScript, CSS, and image files can directly harm how well Google’s algorithms render and index your content, resulting in suboptimal rankings.

How to fix it:

Check your robot.txt file by visiting “(yoursite)/robots.txt.” If you see anything being disallowed that is .css or .js, you’ll want to remove these line items from the robots.txt file if you have direct access to edit. If not, you may be able to change settings depending on your CMS.

Unplayable Content

The problem:

Your videos and other content may not play on mobile devices, prompting an error message that leaves the user frustrated.

How to fix it:

Refrain from using flash-based content or proprietary video players. Instead, use HTML5 and video-embedding (like YouTube or Vimeo) so the content is playable on all devices.

Faulty Redirects

The problem:

Some desktop site servers are configured to redirect mobile users to the homepage, regardless of what URL they request. This creates a frustrating experience for the user, who is trying to access a specific page.

In addition, certain users may experience redirects based on their device type (iPhones, Android, and Windows phones may respond differently).


How to fix it:

First, easily catch and correct faulty redirects using Google’s Webmaster Tools.

If you have mobile-specific URLs, test your links by ensuring your site’s pages (when viewed on a desktop) correctly redirect users to the corresponding URL on a mobile phone. Have a page without a smartphone equivalent? Just keep users on the desktop page instead of redirecting them to the mobile site homepage. That way, you may not be on a mobile site, but you’ll still be providing the user with the content they’ve requested.

Lastly, invest in responsive web design, which uses the same URL and content for desktop and mobile users, but automatically adjusts text size, buttons, and other page features based on the screen size. Google prefers this style of set up versus a separate mobile site.

Mobile-Only 404s

The problem:

Some pages (which render perfectly on a desktop) give mobile users who access the same page on their phones a 404 error message.

How to fix it:

First, use the Crawl Errors Report in Google’s Webmaster Tools to find and fix mobile-only 404s.

In addition, redirect mobile users to an equivalent mobile page URL. No equivalent mobile page? Just keep users on the desktop page. (Remember: this option is better than giving them an error or faulty redirect.)

Lastly, use responsive web design to avoid redirects in general and serve all visitors the same content.

App Download Interstitials

The problem:

If you have a mobile app, you’re on the right track—giving users more ways to access your content (especially without the need for browsers of wifi) is always good. But forcing it on them through interstitials can disrupt their experience with your brand and keep them from using your mobile site.


How to fix it:

Instead of blocking users’ access to your mobile site in order to promote your app, use a simple banner at the top to promote it in-line without hindering usage. You can implement through your native browser and operating system support (such as Smart App Banners for Safari), or add the HTML banner or image the same way you’d add a small advertisement that links to the app store to download.

Slow Mobile Pages

The problem:

Your pages load fine on a desktop, but slow on a mobile device.

How to fix it:

Use Google PageSpeed Insights to discover if your page has any issues that can slow your pages down, focusing on the “Speed” sub-section. Try to address the issues marked as “Should Fix.”

Want to go above and beyond? Check out the following links to really optimize your website:

Why are Google’s changes such a big deal? Because they’re causing organizations to air their dirty laundry and finally fix the problems underneath the hood. The customer (or in this case, the user) is always right, and Google’s changes are coming about in an attempt to provide the best user experience as possible, no matter what device they’re using. While these changes may not result in an immediate impact to your site traffic, they’ll force you to stop putting off the importance of mobile-friendly content. This is only the beginning, as Google is starting to respond and get ahead of its users’ behavior. Google is saying wake up and prepare for the future, because they know it to, billions will have smartphones and billions will be using them in new ways to discover content.

Making websites more mobile-friendly is only half of the news causing a stir. The “world of mobile” consists of of both mobile sites and mobile apps, so content that “lives” in apps is becoming more important as well. Check out the second post in our “Google Updates” blog series, featuring explanations and advice on how to ensure the content in your apps is being indexed and served in Google search results.

For reference and more help, check out the Google mobile guide as well – https://developers.google.com/webmasters/mobile-sites/mobile-seo/common-mistakes/index 

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Author: Matt Rush

Wonderful World of Mobile

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