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Google's Webmaster Central blog today announced changes in the way it ranks smartphone search results, with a focus on eliminating flaws which affect the user experience.
One of the usability issues highlghted is those pesky interstitials which prompt visitors to download mobile apps, while other issues include faulty redirects and unplayable videos.
This seems to be a positive move from Google, and one which should help to eliminate the usability problems which detract from mobile browsing.
Here are some of the issues to avoid...
A faulty redirect is when a desktop URL sends users to the incorrect or irrelevant page on the mobile site, often the homepage when users are actually looking for a product or some other page.
Here's an example from NBC (via WTFmobile web):
Google's diagram shows the red arrows as faulty redirects:
This is an interruption to the user journey, it's irritating to the user and may cause them to abandon the site. Therefore, it benefits site owner and user to avoid this error.
There's also mobile search rankings to consider, as Google points out:
These faulty redirects frustrate users whether they're looking for a webpage, video, or something else, and our ranking changes will affect many types of searches.
To avoid these redirects, Google says sites should:
...redirect smartphone users from a desktop page to its equivalent smartphone-optimized page. If the content doesn't exist in a smartphone-friendly format, showing the desktop content is better than redirecting to an irrelevant page.
According to Google, some sites serve content to desktop users accessing a URL, but show an error to smartphone users accessing the same page.
This is a no-no, and Google recommends serving the desktop page to mobile users instead.
Let's face it, interstitials are rubbish. I even hate typing the word.
It's annoying enough when sites like Forbes.com serve these before you can read an article, but it's ten times worse on a small screen, as hunting for and clicking on the 'x' or skip ad' link is a real pain.
A recent unwelcome trend is for mobile sites to promote their apps vis pop-ups and interstitials as soon as you arrive. Fair enough, sites want to promote their apps, but there are better ways to do this than annoying your visitors.
Here are two such heinous examples from Expedia and Gumtree:
You could at least argue that the 'no, thanks' link is clear on these sites, despite their user experience crimes, but Rightmove is even worse. That 'no, thanks' link is way too small:
Many webmasters promote their site's apps to their web visitors. There are many implementations to do this, some of which may cause indexing issues of smartphone-optimized content and others that may be too disruptive to the visitor's usage of the site.
Based on these various considerations, we recommend using a simple banner to promote your app inline with the page's content or an HTML image, similar to a typical small advert, that links to the correct app store for download.
Hear, hear. People hate these ads and, as the Twitter reaction shows, this will be a popular move from Google:
Several sites embed video, using Flash for instance, in a way that makes them unplayable on mobile. Here's an example from the BBC:
This is frustrating for the user, so Google recommends using HTML5 standard tags to include videos and to avoid content in formats, such as Flash, that are not supported by all mobile devices.
Slow mobile sites
As on desktop, speed matters for mobile sites, especially given the variable nature of some 3G connections. As on desktop, Google will use page speed as a ranking factor.
Though sites can't help the quality of mobile internet connections, they can do as much as possible to improve page load times.
After all, users hate seeing that spinning wheel:
I welcome any move that promises to improve the user experience on mobile and, as mobile search becomes ever more popular, the best way for Google to do this is to use the threat of lowering rankings.
The threat to the rankings of sites using interstitials is particularly welcome, but all are welcome.
In fact, our own David Moth wrote just last week about usability flaws that threaten to spoil the mobile web. Three of those have been highlighted by Google, but there are others...