Google Will Start Punishing Faulty Redirects
Google has recently announced that it will be taking a stand against poorly implemented redirections for mobile devices -- called faulty redirects. The changes have been in place for US search results since June 4, and the rest of the world's search results pages will be following suit shortly. Canada will be included in this update.
What do faulty redirects mean for site owners?
In order for this to completely make sense, we need to understand the difference between m-dot websites and responsive websites. We've talked about the difference between dedicated mobile sites and responsive web design in the past, but since that time the general consensus/ position has shifted: Google loves responsive web design, and so do we at Custom Fit Online.
Upon arriving to a responsive website, the page you asked for is the page you end up with, regardless of what type of device you choose to access the page. Dedicated mobile websites, however, send users to an entirely different domain (www.example.com/xyz/ > m.example.com/xyz/) or subdomain that contains the same content.
Faulty redirects occur when one tries to access a "desktop" site and is sent to the dedicated mobile website's homepage instead of the page equivalent. If you have not yet encountered one of these redirects, you can imagine them being extremely frustrating. And they are.
Many are now scrambling trying to fix this issue, now that the Big-G has taken an obvious stance. But this is hardly new information: ever since the very first m-dot website came to be, people have misused redirection scripts. And as early back as Spring 2013, Google has noted that it will penalize websites that do so…
"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." -- Google
So misused redirection is a massive pain point for users. But perhaps even more importantly, faulty redirection stands in the way of what makes the web so valuable: openness, accessibility, and availability. We need to do everything we can to get users to the content they want as quickly and easily as possible.
What are the next steps?
Faulty redirects are a problem that we created, and now we need to fix it. Google recommends the following…
- Use the example URLs provided in Google Webmaster Tools as a starting point to debug exactly where the problem is with your server configuration.
- Set up your server so that it redirects smartphone users to the equivalent URL on your smartphone site.
- If a page on your site doesn't have a smartphone equivalent, keep users on the desktop page, rather than redirecting them to the smartphone site's homepage. Doing nothing is better than doing something wrong in this case.
- Try using responsive web design, which serves the same content for desktop and smartphone users.
If you continue to use faulty redirects on your site, when users come across your website in Google search results, they will be greeted with a "May open the site's homepage" warning and a "Try anyway" link. Not exactly ideal for user experience, now is it? And of course, Google will continue to penalize your website in search rankings, just as it has done for the past year.