With the constant increase in mobile devices surfing the web, webmasters want to make their websites as much mobile-friendly as they can. Nevertheless, some configurations need additional attention in order to work properly.
This seems to be a recurring topic that, somehow, just doesn’t want to settle. Since I recently did a presentation on this, I thought it would be nice to put out some advice.
Just before I headed up to ExpOn, in São Paulo, last month. I spent some time trying to put together a simple flowchart to illustrate how you, as a webmaster, should handle desktop versus mobile content. With the help of John Mueller, I managed to come up with something we thought would be clear and simple enough.
One thing to keep in mind, before I start, is that you should always show to Googlebot the same content you show to a user on a desktop browser. Googlebot will not be crawling or indexing all mobile versions.
At the moment, there are mainly 2 types of mobile devices:
- Smartphones: that have full featured browsers (most common are Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, etc);
- Feature Phones: that have limited capabilities, processing power, etc. (and usually can only handle WAP, WML, xHTML, etc) these often need a transcoder too to render normal HTML pages.
There is only one scenario where Google wants to crawl a mobile version of a site and that’s when there is a Feature-phone version. That’s because, due to the limited capabilities of these devices, Google stores these sites in a different index, specially tailored to serve this kind of content. So if you have to think about content delivery according to users and Google, you should think something along these lines:
This has changed, see updated at the bottom.
So, let’s say you want to decide how to handle mobile and desktop users. But you have not decided how to properly set it up. You saw examples where a mobile version was set to use the same URLs, and others who have set a separate mobile version — using different URLs. Everyone you ask, will tell you their way is the best, and… Argh! You can’t decide!
Well, in order to handle desktop and mobile users, you need to start by deciding if you want, or even need, to have a mobile version of your site. A mobile version for feature-phones is not the same as a Smartphone optimised layout! It will depend of how mainstream your business is. Is it a global business that reaches everyone? Or is it a niche business, reaching only a small amount of people? You need to assess your audience! What do they use most?
After deciding what your audience uses most, and what type (or types) of mobile site you want to have, you can start planning how will your desktop and mobile setup be structured. To help you with that, here are the most popular options (Green arrows = YES; Red arrows = NO):
Desktop and mobile setup using the same URLs
Desktop and mobile setup using different URLs
If a visitor goes directly to your mobile version, you should avoid any kind of redirections. But sometimes you might want to distinguish between a smartphone user and a feature-phone user. So, if a user navigates to your mobile version directly, and you want to present the best version for the type of mobile device, here is how you should think about it:
Hope this short post contributes to clarify how and what’s the best option for your site.
UPDATE: Things have changed since I first wrote this post. Google has changed how they handle smartphone optimised websites. Nevertheless, the only thing that changes is how Google handles content for smartphones.
Handling desktop and smartphones mobile users BEFORE
- You wouldn’t serve your SmartPhone optimised site directly to Googlebot/Googlebot-mobile.
- Googlebot-mobile would only index content specifically tailored to FeaturePhones.
- You wouldn’t allow it to be indexed or it would be canonicalised to the desktop version of your site.
Handling desktop and smartphones mobile users NOW
- You can serve your SmartPhone optimised site to Googlebot-mobile.
- Googlebot-mobile will index both FeaturePhone and SmartPhone content.
- You can serve based on the UA, see post I wrote about “how to handle mobile users” but have new stuff in consideration:
Useful things to remember
- Mobile sites are/should be accessible, light and simple by nature.
- You should start to worry about how your mobile version shows up in search results.
How to Handle Mobile Web Performance
This post on handling desktop and mobile users has been updated to reflect the most up-to-date changes.