Did you catch Google's recent post on its webmaster blog regarding mobile website infrastructure and search results? I found it really interesting; Google announced changes to their algorithm which will favor sites with best-in-class mobile infrastructure; for once I don't think you'd find an SEO that begrudges the changes they are making.
Failure to fix annoying mobile experiences will now actively hinder your efforts to rank well within search results. The main emphasis of their post is this: if in doubt, connect the user to the content they want on a non-mobile page, rather than direct them to an incorrect mobile-formatted page.
For instance, having a blanket redirect to your mobile homepage when the site detects a user is on a smartphone, despite the fact they have clicked on a deep link, has now been called out as an explicit no-no (see diagram below for what not to do). To me this is a much more worthwhile innovation than Google's recent efforts to alter results based on link metrics; while quality of site content is subjective; quality of experience is not.
This post marks a change in Google's attitude towards mobile infrastructure. Best practice has always been encouraged but this new approach of developing an algorithm that heroes good mobile website infrastructure makes non-desktop SEO an absolute necessity.
It also represents a major opportunity to engage clients on optimizing their owned mobile assets; this warning from Google makes the case for brands to look again at mobile SEO even more compelling.
I have seen many agencies espousing the benefits of having a mobile SEO strategy based on creating differentiated, purely mobile experiences but it would appear to me that as device fragmentation continues, it would be better to help a brand achieve the simpler goal of making sure mobile users can access all the content desktop users can in a way that doesn't involve them throwing their phones at the wall in frustration.
It would seem Google would prefer SEO teams to focus on simple technical matters that relate to delivering the right content from the desktop website at the right time in the right format, rather than forcing users to navigate an experience specifically designed for mobile. As ever, its a case of Google encouraging brands to walk before they can run.
From a dev point of view this latest announcement seems to push brands further toward using responsive design to cater for mobile and tablet users as opposed to an m. subdomain or dynamic serving of content based on device. Google likes responsive design because the right content is always served to the user, even if it isn't necessarily specifically targeted on them.
With dynamic serving and separate sites there is always the opportunity for either bad redirects to land the user on irrelevant page or for no content to be served at all. Webmasters really should consider whether their user experience needs to be dramatically different for mobile users and, if not, pursue a responsive design solution as the ideal.
This flow chart is useful for making decisions on how to develop your mobile offering:
Image Credit: Aleyda Solis
With mobile traffic now accounting for more than 50 percent of some website's traffic (and rising), it's no wonder search engines are starting to factor the quality of mobile experience into their algorithms.
It would appear that the golden rule of mobile search is to ensure users are delivered to the content they are expecting to see when they enter the page, even if that means repurposing a desktop page or displaying the desktop page itself, rather than a mobile-specific piece of content.
Expect further mobile best practice announcements from Big G soon.