Mobile SEO and Google Ranking Penalties

Nov 1, 2013 | SEO Insights

Earlier this summer, Google announced that it would begin adjusting search engine rankings appearing on smartphones based on how well the site in question handled the mobile user experience. Following their typical vague ambiguity, Google didn’t announce exactly when those changes would begin taking place, instead simply stating that they planed “to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.” Errors such as faulty redirects, unplayable videos, and smartphone-only 404 pages are among the many factors Google is implementing into its new algorithm designed specifically to mobile SEO.

While still in its beginning stages, this new algorithm implementation seems to already be affecting search engine rankings and SEO for mobile sites. Earlier this month, Bryson Meunier of ran a test on GM’s mobile site and noticed that the pages of the car company’s website had already begun to fall victim to the mobile SEO aspect of Google’s new experiment with smartphone search rankings. GM uses smartphone-only error pages on their mobile site as a substitute for their brand landing pages which require Flash to display, so Meunier decided that they would be perfect for testing mobile SEO on, as their site hits all of the top errors that Google will be looking for in its smartphone SEO algorithm. What Meunier found over the month of October was that using smartphone-only error pages on your mobile site is now a huge no-no in the mobile SEO world, and if a company as huge as GM can be affected negatively by this, then that is more incentive that anything to take these pages off of your site and substitute them with pages more reflective of your desktop site.

Fix all Smartphone Errors now!

Because this algorithm is still in its infant stages, and isn’t even fully conceptualized yet, now is the best time to pay attention to your mobile site and begin fixing all problems associated with mobile.

Theoretically, all of the issues that Google mentioned will be in their next algorithm implementation will reduce your visibility in Google searches, but this should span further than just the problems that Google mentioned. Fixing all issues with your mobile site will greatly enhance your site’s user experience which will in turn boost your search engine rankings.

Google has pointed out that all mobile errors—even the ones that they don’t consider in their algorithm—are bad for users, and eventually Google may enforce their guidelines by downgrading sites in results that maintain constant mobile user errors, much like how they downgraded GM in Bryson Meunier’s study.

For now, it’s not necessary to think too much about any of your mobile configuration options as hindering your SEO. All of them have their own issues and some are more appropriate for certain businesses and sites than others. If you make a site that’s great for users on all platforms across the board, Google will do its best—or at least it’s supposed to—to rank it above sites that are not as user friendly through all platforms. The future of SEO is going to be extremely impacted by mobile devices. The influence and popularity of doing things online on mobile devices has been rapidly increasing over the last five-to-ten years, so it’s no surprise that the SEO algorithms are starting to show this; it is actually much more surprising that this is the first that Google is actually doing anything with it.

Google Hummingbird and Mobile SEO

Google’s most recent algorithm update was the Hummingbird algorithm. Designed to search and crawl faster while utilizing semantics and semantic phrasing so it reads more like a human than a machine, Google Hummingbird also includes an enhancement of SEO practices that will help to weed out all phony websites that include fake language and Black Hat practices.

With the inclusion of the semantic phrasing search queries, it seems that Hummingbird is allowing itself to have very deep ties to the voice search queries that are extremely popular with mobile devices. By allowing semantic phrasing to be a key aspect in the way that Hummingbird crawls sites and subsequently ranks them, it appears that Google has inadvertently—though possibly with strict intention—put a large emphasis of SEO scrutiny on mobile devices, as the people that utilize voice search queries are almost entirely on mobile; by tying these two aspects together, Google has allowed for Hummingbird to essential human speech patters and by doing so allow Hummingbird to read and crawl more like a human being and less like a search engine crawler or machine.

If this works the way we think it is going to—and the way Google is making it seem they want it to—then in the very near future, mobile devices will have massive sway on SEO and SERPs. It is not too late to repeat that now is a better time than ever to begin making your mobile site as easy as it possibly can be for users to navigate in order to maintain your current SEO placement, or continue to boost it higher; not doing so will result in lower search engine rankings, as evident by what Meunier shows us with GM’s mobile website.

A New Age of SEO

As mentioned earlier, Google has just implemented this update for mobile SEO, and as such it is not fully fleshed out. It is easy to say, however, that over the next few years, Google—and every other search engine—will have what works and what doesn’t work fully realized and implemented into the algorithms that crawl our mobile sites. This is the next step in the SEO industry, and it’s quite a large step to make, but once it’s made it will change the world of SEO forever, for better or for worse.

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