Mobile SEO Managing Googlebot and Your Mobile Sites

Peter Roesler, President - Web Marketing Pros

By Peter Roesler

President, Web Marketing Pros

The race is on for rankings and results more than ever with the addition of mobile and smartphone devices which are searching the Internet along with other, larger computers.

Googlebot, the webcrawler/spider which aggregates web materials for additions to the index, now has a feature specifically for smartphones and mobile devices. The new feature provides SEO managers a new opportunity to manage how information is presented for optimization results, including on smartphones, mobile devices, and feature phones.

Creating an added mobile site is becoming more and more important for many of your clients, as smartphones and mobile devices are proliferating at lightening speed. Mobile sites offer an easier to use application for mobile device users. This means more results and happier clients. Google maintains a separate index for feature phones, while the index for smartphones is the same as it is for desktops.

But, because change is the only thing which never changes, Google has indicated they have a “Skip Redirect” function where users on a smartphone device will see a mobile version of the desired URL in search results instead of the desktop version of the URL. Google said:

“When we discover a URL in our search results that redirects smartphone users to another URL serving smartphone-optimized content, we change the link target shown in the search results to point directly to the final destination URL. This removes the extra latency the redirect introduces leading to a saving of 0.5-1 seconds on average when visiting landing page for such search results.”

So, there is a big recognition of the need for mobile device sites tailored to those devices. Googlebot was created for this.

As you put together your search engine optimization plans, take a moment and decide what type of devices you’re targeting. The days of just desktops are long gone; now, it’s desktops, smartphones, mobile devices, and feature phones. Feature phones appear to be the lesser of all of the devices, and some are deciding to skip over them completely.

Presuming you skip feature phones, use a same URL strategy; one where the mobile content renders the exact same URL as the desktop content, and smartphone users are served the mobile version of the site using user agent detection.

One of the reasons this is important is your mobile site will inherit all the SEO benefits of your desktop site, such as the link profile and other measures of content value and importance.

If you do consider it important to support the vast variety of feature phones and their too-wide array of form factors and screen sizes, it may be simpler from a technology standpoint to build your mobile site using a m.yourdomain.com approach. The SEO goodness of the desktop sites doesn’t come into the m.yourdomain.com site, but you can still send users to it using user agent detection.

After you’ve made your decision on which approach to take, it’s time to set up your user agent detection. This is a process by which incoming user agents are recognized, and, when an incoming user agent is mobile device specific, then sends them to the mobile version of your site.

Make sure your user agent detection includes Googlebot-Mobile; Google just introduced a new version specific to mobile sites designed for smartphones.

Google provides a clarification on how they recommend the user agent detection for their crawler should be implemented:

“There are two parts to this: The user agents of Googlebot-Mobile contain device names which represent certain classes of mobiles. Google has two for feature phones and one for smartphones. They’re all listed in a blog post.

“Conceptually, Google’s recommendation is to take the user agent Googlebot-Mobile has specified, remove or ignore the Googlebot identifying part. This leaves a device name representing a class of devices and websites which serve the best content they have for that class of device. For example, when you do this using the user agent of Googlebot-Mobile for smartphones, this kind of check will reveal an iPhone user agent and you should serve the content you have optimized for iPhones.

“The corollary consideration is when the site does not have optimized content. In this case, a website should serve what they would serve anyone by default. Usually, that turns out to be the desktop content.

“Googlebot crawlers can all be verified/authenticated, including the three Googlebot-Mobile crawlers. This is described in the Google Help Center.”

Here’s a summary of three ways to make smartphone and mobile devices more friendly for your clients:

1. For smartphones and feature phones, use the m.yourdomain.com implementation approach. Send all three Googlebot-Mobile user agents to the mobile pages for user agent processing.

2. For smartphones and features, you can also use the same URL implementation approach. For user agent processing, serve both smartphone and feature phone users the mobile pages, and don’t allow Google transcode the content for feature phones.

3. For smartphones only, use the same URL implementation approach, and for user agent processing don’t serve feature phone user agents (Including the Googlebot feature phone user agents) the mobile pages. Let Google transcode the content for feature phones.

The critical difference between the second and third choices above is where or not you consider the smartphone version of the site provides a better experience for feature phone users than Google’s transcoded pages. Transcoding is what Google does with feature phones which are trying to access web pages principally designed for desktop browsers; it transcodes that content into something Google hopes will offer the feature phone user a better and easier to use experience.

And, lastly, when you create your mobile device site, go ahead and tag the pages to let Googlebot (the normal desktop version) know it’s there. Here’s a sample tag:

< link rel=”alternate” media=”handheld” href=”alternate_page.htm”/>

Many publishers have both desktop and mobile versions of site which don’t use the tag, so Google had this to say why you may consider using it:

“This tag is relevant only for feature phone optimized websites. We recommend using it even when you do user agent detection and HTTP redirects, because the tag can be seen by normal Googlebot (and other search engines’ crawlers) and can be used to improve the search experience even before our Googlebot-Mobile for feature phones reaches your site.”


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