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John Mueller's profile photoNorbert Boros's profile photoBryson Meunier's profile photoMike Hudson's profile photo
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This is not news coming from +John Mueller , as Barry says in the post. I agree that it's the easiest option for making content mobile friendly, but optimization is not always easy. From my perspective when you use the single URL option you miss out on traffic from mobile users that your desktop site might not be optimized for. See my State Farm example in +Search Engine Land for an illustration of why responsive design isn't always the right answer: http://searchengineland.com/consider-mobile-content-carefully-for-users-better-seo-92597. Will expand on this in my next SEL column, but I think the best approach is a hybrid of responsive design and mobile content.
 
Thank you very much for your excellent comment. Your reasoning has convinced me :)
 
+Bryson Meunier, one thing to keep in mind is that we currently treat smartphone (I assume that's what ou mean with "mobile" given your screenshot, right?) content pretty much the same as desktop content (technically, the browsers are more or less equivalent). In other words, if you have pages which are desktop or smartphone specific, they would both show up in both search results. I can see how in some situations it might make sense to create smartphone-specific sites (or web-apps) so that you can use a simplified information architecture, but in the cases where you do not create something completely unique, I wonder if it wouldn't make sense to just have the whole site available for all kinds of devices. In my opinion, the big advantage of having the whole site accessible like that would be that users are able to use what they already know on all devices, instead of having to try to find their way around a different kind of website.
 
+John Mueller thanks for your comments. I've been following your comments on this topic for a while and I appreciate you trying to make this new normal less painful for webmasters. I also agree with you that it makes sense for the whole site to be accessible to feature phone and smartphone and tablet users, rather than just specific content that the webmaster thinks is relevant to that specific platform.

I know Google used to treat smartphone and desktop users the same, but in December 2011 Google introduced smartphone Googlebot (http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/12/introducing-smartphone-googlebot-mobile.html) and Old Possum/Skip Redirect (http://insidesearch.blogspot.com/2012/01/30-search-quality-highlights-with.html) which allows webmasters to serve smartphone URLs to a smartphone Googlebot and then bypass redirects for faster browsing. This allows the smartphone URL to be featured in smartphone search results, which in our testing usually increases click through rates. But unless I'm (and the Google Search Quality blog is) mistaken, Old Possum/Skip Redirect should replace the desktop URL with the smartphone URL, right? And doesn't this qualify as treating desktop searchers and smartphone searchers differently? Not sure what you mean by saying that, when at this point smartphone content and desktop content do have different bots, different search behavior, different content, and often different results.

My point with responsive design versus the mobile URL for smartphones is that in many cases we have noticed that smartphone searchers search for different keywords, or the same keywords with wildly different frequencies than desktop searchers. Research from Google, Bing, and Yahoo! has been pretty consistent in this respect, that smartphone searchers often have different needs than desktop searchers and should be given content that addresses their needs. The example that I used in Search Engine Land clearly shows that smartphone searchers overindex for towing terms (relevant to State Farm roadside assistance) and contact information. As a result, it makes sense for State Farm to include content related to this on their smartphone home page, but not necessarily on their desktop home page, because desktop users are looking for different things.

Beyond the home page, I agree that for content that already exists on the desktop site, formatting it for smartphone, feature phone or tablet searchers is enough. But companies who simply reformat their desktop sites for smartphone, feature phone or tablet searchers without thinking of the platform-specific search behavior and how that changes the site's information architecture and necessitates additional content are always going to provide a lesser user experience and will probably get less search traffic than companies who think of the searchers' needs and give them content that they're looking for. Do you disagree?

Would love to have you or someone from Google address these issues in Search Engine Land, if you're interested. I wrote of Google's comments on this topic a few months ago, and it seems there's some disagreement internally (http://searchengineland.com/do-you-know-google%E2%80%99s-official-stance-on-mobile-search-seo-100350). I'm sure my readers would appreciate whatever clarification you could give.
 
Great conversation (and very timely I expect for a lot of people/businesses). The whole m. / silent redirect / 1 stylesheet argument really needs to have some clear direction given from Google. I remember asking Matt Cutts and Greg Grothaus this at SMX in Sydney in 2009(?) and their answer back then was more or less a shoulder-shrug. The fact that almost 3 years later we have no clear consensus on what the best approach is somewhat worrying.
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