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3 Steps Every Mobile Retailer Can Take to Prevent Google Ranking Downgrades

January 7, 2014 By Brian Klais
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Post-holiday statistics indicate mobile sales made larger-than-expected strides during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, commanding 17 percent of total online sales, an increase of 55.4 percent year-over-year. Yet despite this high-stakes season of consumerism, reports show two out of three retailers kicked off the holidays with linking errors that impact whether their mobile site is visible in smartphone search results.

At issue is a troubling new configuration error that's emerged with the explosion of mobile search and commerce. It's called the mobile redirect error. Mobile redirects form a critical bridge between smartphone shoppers and the appropriate mobile-formatted content they're searching for.

Misconfigured mobile redirects can result in errors, irrelevant pages and now, as a result of Google's recent algorithm changes, search ranking downgrades. Many brands may find it difficult to correct mobile redirect issues, but identifying and fixing these issues is important to helping pages stay visible in mobile search results and removing critical obstacles blocking the path to more mobile commerce.

The following is a list of suggested tips to help retailers correct faulty mobile redirects:

1. Conduct a thorough site audit. Begin with a full audit of your most important category, subcategory and product pages to discover mobile redirect issues. Log analysis and analytic tools, including Google Webmaster Tools, can provide a free starting point in identifying mobile page errors recorded in the past. There are free tools on the market that help predict which pages are likely to produce mobile errors or irrelevant redirects in the future. Diagnostic tools can also help confirm suspicions about whether pages have been downgraded in smartphone search results.

2. Optimize for mobile now. Earlier this summer, Google warned marketers that smartphone search was changing and irrelevant mobile redirects would be a target for downgrades. Therefore, it's important to identify and resolve mobile redirect errors as soon as possible. There are already reports that the search giant has downgraded URLs that lead to a poor user experience.

To get out in front of this issue, prioritize faulty redirects based on expected contribution and/or missed opportunity costs. Optimize the device-detection code used by the server to target certain smartphones, and the pattern-matching code that populates the server's response headers with the mobile page location, type of redirect status code and the "vary" header values. Make sure desktop URLs that redirect smartphones are mapped to relevant mobile pages. If one doesn't exist, mobile users should receive your desktop version for now.


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