Google: Make websites smartphone-friendly or lose search rankings

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) plans to implement new search ranking changes designed to punish websites that are not optimized for smartphone screens.

"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 software engineer Yoshikiyo Kato and Webmaster Trends Analyst Pierre Far write on Google's Webmaster Central Blog. Kato and Far did not delve into specifics on the ranking changes.

In tandem with the changes, Google published recommendations and common configuration mistakes to help webmasters properly configure their sites for mobile browsers. Typical mistakes include faulty redirects--i.e., a desktop page redirecting smartphone users to an irrelevant page on a mobile-optimized website. "This kind of redirect disrupts a user's workflow and may lead them to stop using the site and go elsewhere. Even if the user doesn't abandon the site, irrelevant redirects add more work for them to handle, which is particularly troublesome when they're on slow mobile networks. These faulty redirects frustrate users whether they're looking for a webpage, video, or something else, and our ranking changes will affect many types of searches," Kato and Far said.

Google recommends avoiding irrelevant redirects by redirecting smartphone users from a desktop page to its equivalent smartphone-optimized page. "If the content doesn't exist in a smartphone-friendly format, showing the desktop content is better than redirecting to an irrelevant page," Kato and Far note.

Google also urges webmasters to solve smartphone-only errors like serving 404 pages, incorrectly handling the Googlebot-Mobile content crawler or embedding Adobe Flash-based videos, which are not supported on devices running Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS or Google Android versions 4.1 and higher. "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," Kato and Far recommend. "Doing so will improve the mobile web, make your users happy, and allow searchers to experience and experience your content fully."

Mobile browser page load speeds have accelerated around 30 percent since spring 2012, Google said earlier this year. Roughly 35 percent of mobile Web pages now load within a period of 1 to 3 seconds, up from about 27 percent a year ago--another 28 percent of mobile browsers load Web pages between 3 and 7 seconds, down 1 percentage point year-over-year. In addition, about 17 percent of mobile browsers load pages in 1 second or less, up from 14 percent. The United States leads all international markets on median mobile page load time at 2.7 seconds.

For more:
- read this Google Webmaster Central Blog post

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