What Google's smartphone ranking announcement means for you

One year ago, Google announced its support for responsive site design resulting in the use of a single search results page for all devices. Webmasters have been slow to implement Google’s best practices for the new search results page. At the SMX conference this week, Google’s Matt Cutts announced future releases of ranking changes for smartphone-based pages to encourage webmasters to adopt their recommendations for building smartphone-optimized sites.

What Has Google Flagged as Future Poor Quality Signals?

Faulty Redirects

Google’s Problem: If your site does not use a responsive design and has two URLs for desktop and smartphone sites, then you need to check for poor user experience redirects. If Google notices that a majority of desktop site pages redirect smartphone users to only one page (like the homepage), Google will now view this as a faulty redirect because it frustrates search users by not providing them the specific content they were seeking.

How to Prevent Negative Quality Signals: Make sure to map out redirects or Smartphone Page Load Errors

Google’s Problem: 400 level errors result in a poor user experience, regardless of them leading to a proper trapping page with the site navigation and a message. Google will flag 404s as a negative quality signal in the future.

How to Prevent Negative Quality Signals: Google is stating that it would much rather have you redirect smartphone users to the desktop page if there is no smartphone-optimized equivalent. This used to just be a recommendation, but Google has strongly hinted that this will be a future signal of quality to be used in their ranking algorithm.


Google’s Problem: Matt Cutts specifically called out smart phone load time this week as a new ranking factor. Google recommends that your mobile site load faster than your desktop and are aiming for a rendering time of under 1 second. Outlier sites that have very long load speeds will see a demotion of rank in search results.

How to Prevent Negative Quality Signals: Google recommends that webmasters utilize their page speed insights tool to provide recommendations for making their sites render faster.

Google “Improving the Mobile Web”

Google has used their unique position to dictate web development best practices for the betterment of their engine and their search users’ experience of the web. While a majority of Google’s previously recommended smartphone best practices can be costly to implement, Google is now putting their foot down—either you build your sites for their engine, or they are going to attribute negative ranking signals to your sites.