Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is trying to make searching on mobile devices a smoother experience, but could end up hurting some retailers' mobile traffic in the process.
The Internet giant has been warning marketers for the past year that they will be punished with lower search rankings or page de-indexation for bad mobile search experiences, such as having too many error pages in a site. Now, Google will slap a warning label on search results that link back to the site's homepage rather than the advertised location, known as a faulty redirect.
"We'd like to spare users the frustration of landing on irrelevant pages and help webmasters fix the faulty redirects," explained Mariya Moeva, Google's webmaster trends analyst, in a blog post. "Starting today in our English search results in the U.S., whenever we detect that smartphone users are redirected to a homepage instead of the page they asked for, we may note it below the result. If you still wish to proceed to the page, you can click 'Try anyway.'"
That's hardly the equivalent of being blackballed, but mobile users are widely known to abandon sites at the slightest provocation, whether it's taking more than six seconds to load or simply being too inconvenient to use. Getting stuck with this new label will likely cost brands significant mobile traffic.
Retailers are particularly vulnerable on this front since shopers are increasingly relying on mobile. Two thirds (67 percent) of top retailers have mobile sites with faulty redirects, according to research from Pure Oxygen Labs last year. For many, the biggest problem will be figuring out how many pages on their site have that issue.
Google does have tools available to help brands identify the problem in their sites. A section within the Smartphone Crawl Errors section of Webmaster Tools will identify faulty redirects that Google has found, and they will also send a message when they find a page that isn't redirecting properly.
Retailers should try to be as proactive as possible, though. According to a Google spokesperson, notifications will go out to webmasters and users at the same time, because the company wants to "encourage webmasters to improve their users' experience." That means by the time businesses know they have a problem they may have already lost significant traffic.
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