Google Gives Webmasters A New Warning

Chris CrumSearch

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Google is warning webmasters that they will take action if they catch a site engaging in "sneak mobile redirects". This refers to a URL that loads one thing from the desktop, but redirects users to different content from mobile search results.

Do you see this often while using Google Search? Do you think it's a major problem? Share your thoughts in the comments.

That's the nutshell version, but as with most of these things, it's not always that simple. Thankfully, Google is aware of that.

For one, there are legitimate reasons to show mobile users different content than desktop users, though typically this will come in the form of an altered, mobile-optimized version of the same content. Google is fine with that and claims it understands such modifications "very well".

There are also times when sneak mobile redirects are actually happening without the webmaster's knowledge or explicit consent. This can come from what Google refers to as advertising schemes that redirect mobile suers specifically as well as from a site being a target of hacking. In these cases, sites still face action from Google, but as long as they're set up with Search Console, webmasters should be able to stay on top of any such issues that arise.

"It's a violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines to redirect a user to a page with the intent of displaying content other than what was made available to the search engine crawler (more information on sneaky redirects)," Google's Vincent Courson and Badr Salmi El Idrissi write in a blog post. "To ensure quality search results for our users, the Google Search Quality team can take action on such sites, including removal of URLs from our index. When we take manual action, we send a message to the site owner via Search Console. Therefore, make sure you’ve set up a Search Console account."

"Be sure to choose advertisers who are transparent on how they handle user traffic, to avoid unknowingly redirecting your own users," they add. "If you are interested in trust-building in the online advertising space, you may check out industry-wide best practices when participating in ad networks. For example, the Trustworthy Accountability Group’s (Interactive Advertising Bureau) Inventory Quality Guidelines are a good place to start. There are many ways to monetize your content with mobile solutions that provide a high quality user experience, be sure to use them."

To detect if your site is doing any sneaky mobile redirects, Google says to check if you are redirected when you navigate your site on your smartphone, listen to users, and monitor users in your analytics data. You can look at the average time on site by mobile users. As Google notes, if you notice that a significant drop in this metric from mobile users only, you might have a problem.

"To be aware of wide changes in mobile user activity as soon as they happen, you can for example set up Google Analytics alerts," the Googlers write. "For example, you can set an alert to be warned in case of a sharp drop in average time spent on your site by mobile users, or a drop in mobile users (always take into account that big changes in those metrics are not a clear, direct signal that your site is doing mobile sneaky redirects)."

If you've already detected sneaky redirects on your site, Google advises you to make sure your site isn't hacked and conduct an audit of third-party scripts/elements on your site.

You can look at Google's Security Issues tool in Search Console. Google will give you information there if it has found your site to be hacked. The company also suggests looking at its resources on typical symptoms of hacked sites and its case studies on the subject.

In terms of conducting an audit of third-party scripts/elements, they suggest the following three steps: remove the ones you don't control one by one from the redirecting pages; check your site on a mobile device or through emulation between each removal and see when the redirect stops; if you find one that you think is responsible for the sneaky redirect, remove it from your site and "debug" the issue with the provider.

More information about how to go about doing these things is available here.

Have you ever found a third-party to responsible for unintentional "sneaky" redirects on your site? How did you solve the problem? Discuss.
Image via Google

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.