3 Mobile Search Warnings Google Still Needs To Add
No one applauded louder than I did when Google introduced their warning in search results for faulty redirects in June of this year, and then, warnings for Flash earlier this month. It’s definitely a step in the right direction for Google — and for searchers, who have had to endure less than usable mobile search results in Google for years.
In 2011, I took a random sample of popular queries and their Google search results and found that only a small percentage of them were usable on mobile devices according to standards defined by the W3C, and the great majority of them scored the absolute lowest score on the test.
Unfortunately, a lot of this content is still displayed to mobile searchers, three years and many thousands of new mobile searches later.
With Google’s new warnings, the search giant has elected to return such content in search results rather than lower its ranking, even if it’s unusable. Take this Flash page from a local Chinese restaurant I like:
Let’s try clicking the listing anyway…
Why would I ever want to visit this page in search results, and why wouldn’t Google simply give me a site that is both relevant to my query and usable? In his book on Google called In the Plex, author Steven Levy talks about the long click as Google’s measure of quality content. I would imagine that these are some of the shortest clicks Google sees — hence the warning. But why doesn’t Google do more?
I’m not sure of the answer to that question, as it’s more a question for Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst Pierre Far, Head of Webspam Matt Cutts and the others who get paid to focus on searcher satisfaction to answer. But for now, Google is trying to improve the user experience slightly by giving these warnings to mobile searchers, and that is something we should all be happy about.
I’m so happy about it, in fact, that I’d like to give Google some suggestions for new warnings for mobile search. Based on my experience as a mobile searcher and marketer, these three warnings would dramatically improve searcher experience and ensure that the best result is ranked above the result that requires these warnings.
Marketers can take a step in the right direction by fixing these common problems today, so that if Google continues to improve user experience for mobile searchers in smartphone search results, your site will only be positively affected.
1. This Site Takes A While To Load And May Not Work On Your Mobile Device.
It’s funny that, in its explanation of the “Flash in smartphone results” warning, Google reiterated that responsive web design is its preferred development methodology. After all, a responsive site can also frustrate users with Flash, as this best-in-class responsive site still does, more than a year after I originally reported it in Search Engine Land:
Additionally, responsive sites are dangerously slow in the hands of the average web designer. It’s been widely reported by The Search Agency, Akamai, and others that responsive sites are slower on average.
Responsive sites can even be dangerous in the hands of capable developers, as anyone who has visited AllMusic.com’s recent responsive redesign on a smartphone knows:
Google’s free Page Speed Insights Tool shows that it’s not just my connection that’s making this web page load slowly:
Or just ask anyone who has been to NBC News’s responsive site:
Nine seconds! Sorry, not that interested in weird news… at least, not on this site.
Not sure why this content that doesn’t display to mobile searchers doesn’t merit a warning, but Flash does — especially since this is a problem Google pointed out when they announced their smartphone ranking adjustments last year.
2. Some Site Content May Not Work On Your Mobile Device.
In their mobile site improvement checklist, Google’s Maile Ohye recommends facilitating task completion by improving content to meet user needs. When user needs vary from smartphone to desktop is when this is so critical.
For example, earlier this month, I was looking for the screenshot software Snagit to take video screenshots on my smartphone. I was able to get to the site and it worked fine on my device, but the product itself is geared to desktops, and the only thing I could do from my mobile device was send a link to open later on my PC.
I appreciate that the site has some message for mobile searchers and doesn’t just dump them on a download page that they can’t use at all, but it’s time to start thinking of mobile searchers first and developing content and products accordingly.
And if webmasters don’t, I don’t think a warning from Google is too much to ask.
3. This Site Requires You To Pinch And zoom And May Not work On Your Mobile Device.
When I looked at the makeup of the Google search result for [games] a few years ago from a smartphone, it was full of sites that offered Flash games and other things I couldn’t use on my smartphone. Today, all sites on the first page have some type of mobile configuration but one:
Maybe a great result for [games] on desktops, but who can read it on a smartphone?
This result for another query is especially heinous — not only does it give me a site that I have to pinch and zoom to use, but it puts a popup on top of it that I have to use a pinhead to click out of:
Why doesn’t Google tell us this about sites like these before we arrive at the site and discover that it’s going to require extra work to navigate the thing?
They should. It’s 2014 and about time — and they’ve set the precedent already with warnings for Flash and faulty redirects.
If you still haven’t figured out mobile, and your site potentially frustrates mobile searchers with screens like these, don’t wait for Google to make it worse with a warning. You have the power to help mobile searchers today.
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