Google: Use Single URL Without Redirect For Serving Smart Phone Content

Jun 6, 2011 • 8:30 am | comments (24) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization
 

Google Mobile SEOJohn Mueller, aka JohnMu, ran a Google Buzz Q&A on Friday on Mobile Websites & Google's crawling, indexing and ranking.

He answered a bunch of questions on mobile SEO topics. We covered it extensively in the past with our Google on Mobile SEO and SEO & print URLs.

I wanted to highlight one answer JohnMu gave in this Q&A:

John Mueller - @Paul If you have "smartphone" content (which we see as normal web-content, as it's generally a normal HTML page, just tweaked in layout for smaller displays) you can use the rel=canonical to point to your desktop version. This helps us to focus on the desktop version for web-search. When users visit that desktop version with a smartphone, you can redirect them to the mobile version. This works regardless of the URL structure, so you don't need to use subdomains / subdirectories for smartphone-mobile sites. Even better however is to use the same URLs and to show the appropriate version of the content without a redirect :).

The last line is my favorite, where John said "Even better however is to use the same URLs and to show the appropriate version of the content without a redirect."

I've been preaching this for a long time now and I am glad Google is also encouraging it now.

Anyway, I recommend reading the whole Q&A over here and checking out my previous articles with more references named Google on Mobile SEO and SEO & print URLs.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

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Comments:

Jill Kocher

06/06/2011 02:11 pm

This is different advice from http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/02/making-websites-mobile-friendly.html, which recommends detecting Googlebot-Mobile and redirecting it to the dedicated mobile version of a site when 2 versions exist. Agreed that it's best to serve both desktop & mobile versions from a single URL with appropriate formatting/display changes ased on the browser size and capabilities, but some sites require different URLs/flows for usability or platform support reasons. If you're one of those sites with a dedicated mobile version based on business or usability needs, I don't think that rel=canonical is a good idea. It would tell Googlebot-Mobile that the mobile version is not the canonical version, after you just got done 301 redirecting Googlebot-Mobile TO the mobile version. Very mixed signal to send. ... Unless Googlebot-Mobile ignores rel=canonical? 

John Mueller

06/06/2011 03:54 pm

@jillkocher:disqus You need to differentiate between smartphone and traditional mobile (WAP/WML/iMode) pages (and this is something that confuses quite a lot of people). Traditional mobile pages need to be in a special format for those devices, and they will be crawled and indexed separately (with Googlebot mobile). For traditional mobile pages, you do not need to use the rel=canonical, they can and should be indexed separately.  On the other hand, smartphone-specific pages are normal HTML pages. If these are crawled and indexed separately, they would be included in the web-index with all of your other "desktop" pages. In general, that's not necessary, and confusing to desktop users, should they find them in the search results. Because of that, it makes sense to focus on the desktop version (use rel=canonical), and if smartphone users access those pages, redirect them to the smartphone version (or just show it directly on the same URL).  Because of that difference, it's really important to be as specific as possible when talking about "mobile" sites; traditional mobile (WAP/WML/iMode) are handled differently than smartphone pages. 

Jill Kocher

06/06/2011 04:16 pm

Thanks for the reply, @JohnMu:twitter. I suppose I'm confused because we have 3 sites: 1 for WAP, 1 for touch/mobile and 1 for desktop. Our desktop site's transactions don't function as well on smartphones, so we have a separate site for smartphones that goes beyond CSS formatting to make the transactional experience more user friendly for smartphones. As such we treat our touch/smartphone site (touch.example.com) as our mobile site, and just redirect WAP users to the low-end mobile site (m.example.com). We have quite a low percentage of WAP users, so touch/smartphone really is our focus. If I'm understanding what you say, though, there really isn't a way to distinguish our touch/smartphone site (touch.example.com) from our desktop site (www.example.com) because they're both HTML sites and Googlebot won't differentiate between them or rank the touch/smartphone site (touch.example.com) more highly for mobile searchers, even if I redirect Googlebot-Mobile to the touch/smartphone site (touch.example.com) along with the mobile browsers. Consequently, I should not really bother trying to get the Googlebot brothers to index and rank the correct versions of the site for each audience (www vs touch), I should instead just expect the www to rank (rather than touch) by virtue of its stronger link portfolio etc and just focus on redirecting  the mobile browsers to the appropriate version of the site (www, touch, m) depending on their browser capabilities. Would you say that's accurate? It certainly simplifies things for my development team.

John Mueller

06/06/2011 09:36 pm

Hi Jill -- In your case, we would treat m.example.com as a traditional mobile site for our traditional mobile (WAP/WML/iMode) index, and keep both touch.example.com and www.example.com in the normal web-search results. Googlebot Mobile would only be interested in the m.example.com site that is for traditional mobile phones.  Without any changes on your side, we would treat both of those sites as separate websites,  potentially showing both of them to users of smartphones, tablets, and desktops. If the touch.example.com site is significantly different that it covers a special niche, then maybe that's ok. If however you prefer not to have your two sites listed separately, and if the sites offer equivalent content, then you can help us to just index one of the two by using the rel=canonical. Whether or not the sites are equivalent enough to merit using the rel=canonical is hard to say without seing the sites (and this is where your experience comes into play :-)).  Even if the traditional mobile site is also equivalent to the touch or desktop version, I'd let it get indexed separately with out a rel=canonical (as far as I understand it, we promote mobile sites in the traditional mobile search results as they provide a better user-experience for those users).  Another alternative, if you want to have both touch.example.com and www.example.com indexed separately, is to add banners for the appropriate users. That way, Googlebot can  crawl and index both versions without being redirected, but users would see a banner pointing them to the optimal site (eg a desktop user might see a banner on the touch-version of the site). 

JIN

06/06/2011 10:48 pm

Awesome its seems to get easier and easier with Google :)

abdulla-al-amin

06/07/2011 06:53 am

smartphone-specific pages are normal HTML pages. If these are crawled and indexed separately, they would be included in the web-index with all of your other "desktop" pages.but  I don't think that rel=canonical is a good idea.

Jon

06/07/2011 10:15 am

I just use a Mobile plugin for my Wordpress site (I currently use WordPress Mobile Edition by Crowd Favorite) so manage to get the same URL regardless. Not sure how it looks on traditional mobiles though or  what googlebot may make of it. Looks OK on my Android phone though.  I was thinking of trying a different mobile plugin, is there one that follows the best practice as far as SEO is concerned that anyone is aware of? 

Duncan

06/07/2011 04:05 pm

@openid-11230:disqus 

Duncan

06/07/2011 04:06 pm

@openid-11230:disqus thank you very much for the Buzz session, very helpful!

Jill Kocher

06/08/2011 05:04 pm

Food for thought, thanks John!

Imnotadoctor

06/21/2011 09:53 pm

John, Would you say the percentage of phones using WAP/WML/iMode would be decreasing with the emergence of smart phones? So the need for a separate mobile index would not be needed in a few years?

Bryson Meunier

06/25/2011 06:28 pm

John, thanks for your input here. I'm one of the growing number of SEOs who are trying to understand how to develop content in a way that is optimized for mobile users and mobile search engines, when it’s often not entirely clear where Google stands on the matter. In the future we’ll know to add rel=canonical to mobile pages that have a desktop equivalent. Very helpful advice. Having watched Amit Singhal talk about your success with mobile search results so far in the Inside Search event, however, I’m curious how this fits in with your overall philosophy toward mobile users. If relevance, simplicity and speed are so important for mobile users, and Singhal et al were defining smartphone users and tablet users as mobile users in the Inside Search event, why does your team not think relevance, simplicity and speed is important for smartphone users as well? Just because modern smartphone browsers can render desktop code doesn’t mean that they prefer it, or that it’s a positive user experience for smartphone owners. Omniture and others have shown what smartphone searchers should know already—that smartphone users prefer mobile user experiences that are created for them. Why would Google spend so much time shaving milliseconds off the time it takes to process a query, return results and even load pages and then make smartphone owners waste minutes of their time pinching and zooming through an experience that wasn’t intended for their use? Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Especially when the Google Mobile team has been aggressively evangelizing the power of mobile sites to us for months. Finally, it seems a little odd to me that Google has systems that understand where a user is every second of the day to the square foot, can translate what I’m saying in real time to someone who has never spoken a word of English in her life, can take a picture I gave it and tell me things about it I wouldn’t know if I showed it to 100 people, and can tell me that Murillo, El Greco and Goya are all Spanish painters, but can’t show a page that’s made for smartphone users to smartphone user agents. Seriously? It really can’t be that hard to solve this relevance problem. Especially not for Google. I do also want to caution website owners who would take this advice and add rel=canonical to all mobile properties. It seems what you’re saying here, John, is not that smartphone sites are always duplicate content, but that webmasters should think about the user experience rather than transcoding their desktop web properties for smartphone users. If smartphone users are looking for mobile sites, and we know from the Google keyword tool that they are, adding rel=canonical to the entire site would effectively make the mobile site invisible to searchers who are looking for it. This isn’t a search experience that you want to endorse, is it John? Finally, what would you say to Jill about the Groupon Now! smartphone site? I would imagine that Groupon now is used by more smartphone users than desktop users, so it’s likely that a Groupon Now! user will be a mobile user. Knowing this, would she still add a canonical tag to pass the link equity to the desktop site, which is a poor user experience for the likely user, or would it be more appropriate to pass the link equity back to the touch.groupon.com site? I’m ranting a bit here, but I do appreciate your input. It’s good to hear someone from Google try to address the issue of mobile searchers, even if the answer seems inconsistent with what Google is currently saying elsewhere and kind of beneath a company that is so innovative in other aspects of their business. I’m close to the issue, given that I specialize in mobile SEO and write a column on it in Search Engine Land, so I may get a little more passionate about it than others. Speaking of Search Engine Land, if you’d prefer to address these issues there, please let me know. I’m sure my audience would be very interested in what you have to say. Best, Bryson

Pali Madra

06/27/2011 07:02 am

@jill and @john thank you for the conversation in the public forum. It cleared a lot of myfundamentals of mobile SEO

anushka shetty

07/07/2011 12:34 am

mobile websites are the next big thing, and SEO for mobile SEO is an opportunity to grab!! hot cake..

Adrian J

07/17/2011 11:13 pm

If you got an grade over %50 with the w3 mobile validator than you're good to go. From my experience i haven't seen any differences in the rankings for the moment but maybe you're right for the future.I do still use some mobile device detection scripts on the regular site and i do recommend hosting the mobile website on the same server as the mobile site for obvious reasons!  I build custom mobile websites everyday for my clients and i never had any problems so far

Franking Machine

09/19/2011 03:34 am

This is an amazing.This is a great article. I have no't seen any differences in the rankings for the moment but maybe you are right for the future.This is a good information for every one.I appreciate to this well infoprmative blog.Keep sharing.

Martin Wilson

10/18/2011 03:10 pm

John, I would be interested to understand your views on why you believe that a normal HTML page gives a better experience on a mobile (smartphone). When often the page size is excessively large and takes a while to download, features don't function and the content does not otfen meet the users requirement. Surely the position is one that has been adopted becasue of the lack of focused mobile content, which therefore weakens the search exeperience. As organisations start to deliver to mobile users needs - smartphone and mobile context focused sites - the position will change and you will favour the content that delivers the best experience and prioritise that in the results accordingly?

Pete Campbell

10/19/2011 09:55 am

Barry, I have a question. I also believe that using one single-URL for smartphone & desktop version content is the best method, but are there any resources out there that provide guidance on how to actually do it? I know one solution is using CSS Media Queries, but this still leaves the same HTML source code, and you might not always want a smartphone-user and desktop-user to see the same content. What do you do to implement it? Is it a .htaccess solution, javascript? I know that WP Touch is one wordpress plugin that has nailed this: http://www.bravenewcode.com/store/plugins/wptouch-pro/

Barry Schwartz

10/19/2011 10:00 am

server level, do not use javascript redirection.

Peter Johnson

11/21/2011 03:35 pm

Barry - Excellent guidance. In the case of a single URL for smartphones and desktops how do you recommend best handling in the URL for users that want to access the full (desktop) version of the site from their smartphone. For example, a smartphone user goes to www.example.com and we serve up the smartphone specific style-sheet but for whatever reason the user wants to access the full version of the site. Do you recommend using a parameter in the URL for the full version when accessing on a smartphone or some other approach.

Bryson Meunier

12/31/2011 05:37 pm

It should be noted that this advice is outdated now that Google has released a smartphone Googlebot: http://www.seroundtable.com/googlebot-mobile-smartphone-14465.html Also, as I mentioned in a recent Search Engine Land article, John Mueller is not the only employee at Google, and Google employees have actually expressed eight different views (sometimes mutually exclusive) on this issue: http://searchengineland.com/do-you-know-google%E2%80%99s-official-stance-on-mobile-search-seo-100350 Would love if Google could be more consistent on this in the future, as this is an issue that is not becoming less relevant to the job of an SEO.

Clrmisc

02/09/2012 07:09 am

Can you elaborate on 'server level' pls? Give specifics, methods and an example?

Ken Colborn

05/14/2012 09:58 pm

I've always hated having a totally different version of the site for mobile. One of my coworkers wrote a blog about a solution he found using responsive design that adapts the CSS of the site based on screen size. Take a look if you like: http://www.blastam.com/blog/index.php/2011/11/3-reasons-you-shouldnt-build-mobile-website/ So far we have set it up on a few different sites and our clients have loved it.

Jens Husmann

05/16/2012 01:19 pm

I am just trying to get into mobile SEO and totally agree with you: http://www.seroundtable.com/google-mobile-sitemaps-smartphones-15080.html#comment-530060733

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