Google's recent mobile friendly update gave brands a big reason to optimise for mobile, but is it being tough enough? 

There are plenty of sites which are just part-mobile. They may have mobile friendly homepages and other pages, but will often switch users to desktop pages which do not work well on mobile. 

Here are some examples... 

Barclays 

Barclays is a good example of this. If you search for Barclays, it looks like the site satisfies Google, with the 'mobile friendly' label under the URL. 

So, as a user, you enter the site assuming it will work on your device, expecting a good user experience

Sure enough, the homepage is mobile optimised. It's well laid out and easy to navigate to the various sections of the site. So far, so good. 

The problem is that once you navigate away from the homepage, this mobile 'friendliness' ends. 

This applies to all of the sections you can reach via the hamburger menu, including loans, mortgages, banking, insurance, and help and support. The most popular sections of the site. 

Here's how the mortgage pages look. Not much help for mobile users. The savings pages on the right is similar, virtually impossible to use on a mobile: 

 

Google's mobile friendly tool identifies this savings page as not mobile friendly and explains why. Neither are labelled as mobile friendly in search results. 

Barclays also ranks below many of its competitors, including Santander and Nationwide for 'savings' and related, though it does still rank in the top ten for 'mortgages', despite the page. 

We can see that, post mobile algorithm, many of its savings and other non-mobile pages have dropped in the SERPs: 

So, from an SEO perspective, Barclays has a clear incentive to provide more than just a mobile-friendly homepage.  It has dropped in the SERPs already, and competitors with proper mobile sites stand to benefit. 

However, it's clear that there is no such thing as a Barclays mobile site, just a few mobile friendly pages with provide a thin veneer over a desktop site. 

It's also bad for users, as finding out more about mortgages, savings or other products is a very frustrating experience on a mobile device. 

Apple

This is another example. As we can see, Google has marked it as mobile friendly. 

The pages are mobile optimised as well, to a point. Product pages are easy to view on mobile: 

 

However, if you click that buy now button, the mobile friendliness ends. The product selection and checkout pages are desktop versions. 

This sudden switch from mobile to desktop is quite jarring for the mobile user, and won't do anything to help Apple's conversion rates. 

 

In fact, for a company renowned for the usability of its products, and one that is sitting on huge piles of cash, it seems very odd that it create a decent end to end user experience for mobile shoppers. 

In summary

I think these examples highlight a problem with Google's mobile friendly labels. 

Though Google is labelling on a page by page basis, they do give an impression to users that sites are mobile friendly. 

It's perhaps more of an issue with sites like Barclays. Given that all of the main product sections on Barclays are distinctly unfriendly to mobile users, does it deserve any kind of mobile friendly label? 

The label gives users the impression that the site will be easy to use, but in reality it's just a thin veneer of mobile friendliness. 

Apple is slightly different, as much of the site is mobile optimised, it just changes when customers want to buy something. It's still not a great user experience though. 

The main point here is that sites should be fully mobile. If you want to attract customers, show them your products, and acquire customers, the mobile experience should not be neglected. 

With its growing focus on UX as a ranking factor, Google is looking to reward sites that provide excellent mobile experiences for users.

By labelling 'part-mobile' sites as mobile friendly, it is rewarding some that are failing mobile users. 

As Bryson Meunier writes in Search Engine Land, this latest mobile update is just the beginning. Google may look to changes its algorithm and labelling to deal with sites like this in future.  

Graham Charlton

Published 14 May, 2015 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (4)

Rachel Handley

Rachel Handley, Digital Content Executive at Flow

Totally agree that Google is being too lenient. They wanted to improve mobile UX, but have actually made it worse (in some instances) by setting up false expectations.

If the problem persists, it will condition searchers to distrust 'mobile-friendly' SERP tags, and perhaps take their mobile search queries elsewhere — especially if competitors introduce a better solution.

I can't think why they didn't address this problem before launch.

It's not like taking a site's overall mobile-friendliness into account is infeasible. Or users navigating to different pages is rare. Or the prevalence of mobile-friendly veneers is low (judging by your examples). And they could've had separate 'mobile-friendly page' and 'mobile-friendly site' tags if they wanted to reward individual mobile-friendly pages.

Any ideas?

over 3 years ago

Alan Whiteside

Alan Whiteside, Owner at Wild Fig Media

I fully agree with your comments, but also realize that transforming many disparate sets of data sources will take a lot more time than what was given (talking Barclay's here).
One could only assume that they knew the tasks most people use their mobile devices for currently, but lets hope this improves over the next year. I also like how you identified that "Savings" was not a keyword that Barclays where particularly strong on! Makes you think does it not.

over 3 years ago

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Charles Whitworth, Editor at Young Academic

Awesome point, essentially all you need to do then is optimised your homepage and any other landing pages that rank. Kind of defeats the point really, as users are bound to want to delve deeper to pages which are ultimately unfriendly. Yet more contradiction with the mobile issue. Perhaps sites should have to have all their Mobile usability issues dealt with via Webmaster Tools before their site should be labelled as truly "Mobile-Friendly"?

over 3 years ago

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sathya shan, Sr..SEO at Freelance

Yes i completely agree with you Graham. At least Google can revamp their algorithm so that to get Tag line as mobile friendly for a Page(X) - Page(X) should mobile friendly+Link of Internal Pages given in the Page(X) Should also mobile friendly. This can help to increase the mobile search visitors user experience little bit

over 3 years ago

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