Google has made changes to their mobile search. Although many of the improvements are laudable, it also has created some difficulities for mobile specific sites. Users now see both mobile web and desktop web results when searching using their mobile device, all within the same set of search results. Google identifies sites it thinks are intended for desktop viewing and sends those URLs through the Google Wireless Transcoder (GWT) to transcode them for mobile, rather than linking directly to the website. Examples of transcoded desktop sites can be seen by searching in http://www.google.com/m
. The transcoded sites can be identified by looking at the link URL, as they are prefixed with http://www.google.com/gwt/n? .
This can result in these difficulties for mobile site owners:
- If your site has both a desktop representation and a mobile representation, you would want Google to rank the mobile representation higher than the transcoded desktop representation in mobile search results. This is not always the case. Users may be directed to the transcoded version of your desktop site, which may not provide the user experience you intended.
- Sometimes Google will mistakenly think your mobile site is intended for desktop use, and will send your mobile site through the GWT. Given that your mobile site is already designed for mobile use, this may negatively impact the user experience and potentially break functionality such as targeting or billing using the phone's User-Agent or IP address.
Understandably, many in the mobile web community are concerned about the impact of Google's practice of transcoding desktop sites *
. Fortunately, there is a simple fix to make Google mobile search work for you. I think it is useful to share this with everyone who operates a mobile site. Here is the recipe:
Put this tag in the <head>
section of all the pages in your site, whether intended for desktop use or mobile:<link rel="alternate" type="text/html" media="handheld" href="http://example.mobi/" title="Mobile/PDA">
replace http://example.mobi/ with your page’s URL. When you have both a desktop and mobile version of your site, using this link tag tells the Google Wireless Transcoder to redirect the user to the mobile version.
Let me illustrate this with an example. Our site, TapTap
, has implemented the link tag. When you search for "TapTap" on http://www.google.com/m , you will see several results
. At the time of writing, the first result goes to http://taptap.net/ , the desktop version of our home page, sent through the GWT. By putting the link tag in our desktop
page, we are able to send users on the phone to our mobile version at http://m.taptap.net/ , instead of having Google transcode our desktop page, which are less useful for users on the phone.
Lower in the search results, you can see our mobile site
. Unfortunately, Google misidentifies our mobile site as being for desktop use and sends it through the GWT http://www.google.com/gwt/n?u=http%3A%2F%2Fm.taptap.net%2F . By implementing the link tag in our mobile
page at http://m.taptap.net/ , we are able to tell the GWT not to transcode the page, sending users directly to http://m.taptap.net/ as desired.
Note that this may not alter the ranking of your site in Google's index. This is simply a way to tell the GWT to send the user directly to your mobile content, regardless of your ranking.
What to put in the href is also important. If possible, you should put the URL of the mobile equivalent of the current page, or put the URL of the current page if the page is designed for mobile. If you always put the front page of your mobile site in the link tag, it may prevent users from reaching their desired page directly from the Google search results.
We hope this is useful for you. * Nadir Garouche from SEO Principle has a detailed blog post about Google's decision here . Dennis from WAP Review has also chimed in . There are some reports of difficulties in various mailing lists, such as this one .