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Google’s Smartphone Ranking Changes

On June 11th, 2013, Google announced that they would start changing their search-ranking algorithm to penalize sites that are “misconfigured for smartphone users.”  Well, what does this mean exactly?

Don’t worry; you’re not the only one asking this question.  I’m sure many major brands out there took a minute to check and see if their sites were mobile-friendly, or if there were any holes in their current mobile approach.  Unfortunately, Google rarely shares specifics on their exact algorithms, for fear of nefarious gaming as a result.  What we do have, is the information Google published in this blog post: 


Instead of algorithm details, they are sharing what they call ‘recommendations’ on how to ensure you deliver a great user experience.  Obviously, if you don’t do these things, you run the risk of having your site’s ranking reduced.  Common mobile errors Google recommends addressing include:

  1. Faulty Redirects – deep linking to the desktop site when you’re viewing on a mobile device.
  2. Smartphone only errors – desktop users see a page while mobile users see an error at the same URL. For example: 
    1. 404s – you are better to serve the desktop site to mobile users than to take mobile users to an error page.
    2. Googlebot-Mobile – incorrectly handling Googlebot-Mobile will redirect the Googlebot to the wrong website. 
    3. Unplayable videos – Google is smart enough to know if you’re serving Flash to a mobile user. To Google, this is not a good thing and will not work. 
    4. It’s important for webmasters to focus on avoiding all of the common smartphone website misconfigurations.  

Make sure your mobile user experience is buttoned up; otherwise, you run the potential risk of having your mobile search site ranking demoted. 

If you’ve gone the Responsive Web Design route, then you’re in a much better position to address these issues, and you are most likely already compliant with all the recommendations.  If you’re not yet responsive, then you may want to review the Merkle Responsive option – allowing you to be responsive within 3 months.

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