Google has recently announced that they are cracking down on the practice of webmasters serving up unwanted and sneaky mobile redirects. Of course, sneaky redirects have been against the Google Quality Guidelines for some time, but this announcement seems to remind everything that they apply in the case of mobile browsing and that their usage may result in a manual action against the website.
A sneaky redirect is when a user is sent to a different URL to the one they initially requested. While there is sometimes an excellent reason for a webmaster to add redirects (such as change of website address, or consolidating multiple pages into one) Google does not like it when redirects are made to content that is different to what the crawler sees, or if the URL is completely unrelated.
have produced a very clear illustration showing two examples of redirects:
Example 1: Correct Usage of Redirects
Here the "non-www" version of the URL is redirected to the "www" version. This is completely acceptable as the loaded webpage is fundamentally the same as the one showing in the Google Search Results.
Example 2: Incorrect Usage of Redirects
In the second example given by Google, the URL redirects to something totally unrelated to what is indicated in the Google Search when viewed on a mobile. However, should you click the same search result on a Desktop then it loads fine. It is this kind of redirect that Google is looking to highlight as wrong, although any such redirect, whether on Desktop or Mobile will be against Google Guidelines.
Sneaky Redirects May Occur Without Webmasters Knowledge
It is easy to understand that a webmaster may intentionally try to add sneaky redirects, however, in many cases you may not even be aware that it is happening. Google has given two examples they frequently see where it occurs:
- Advertising schemes \ adverts that redirect only mobile users — It may be that a script or plugin installed to display adverts is redirecting users to an entirely different website without the webmaster being aware.
- Websites redirect mobile users after being hacked — Quite a common hack is to redirect users to spammy domains. The redirects quite often just target mobile users to keep the hack unnoticed by the webmaster for as long as possible.
How to detect sneaky mobile redirects
If you have the budget for it, then we would highly recommend an all encompassing service such as Sucuri (this is what we use). Not only will they monitor for malicious redirects, but they will monitor for malware and server side changes. Their firewall will protect and speed up your website too.
If your website is the lifeblood of your business, it is a small price to pay to safeguard your revenue.
If you don't need a paid service, then Google provides three ways, including one that can act as an automated alert to the problem:
- Check if you are redirected when you navigate to your website on your smartphone — This is the most simple way to check and simply involves loading up your website from your smartphone.
- Listen to your users — If your users start complaining about your website, then this could reveal an issue. Don't just ignore them, make sure you investigate further.
- Monitor your users in your site’s analytics data — By looking at the average time on time in your Google Analytics data, especially by your mobile users, you may be able to see clearly an issue is present if the time on website suddenly drops. Google suggests that you can set up a Google Analytics Alert for these stats so if the time on suddenly decreases you are alerted to the problem. You can see a screenshot of an example alert below:
What do you do if you detect redirects for your mobile users?
Google gives a few suggestions on what to do if you realize you have redirects affecting your mobile users, but both of them involve how to investigate what may be the cause. Unfortunately, if you have limited knowledge of web development, then the advice is probably not the most helpful. We will quickly go through their information, and then we will provide an easily paid solution that will help you and get you back up and running the same day:
- Make sure that your website is not hacked — Check the Security Issues Tool in Webmaster Tools. Quite often you will get some information on the issue there.
- Audit third-party scripts/elements on your website — Google suggests removing plugins one by one and test using mobile after each removal to see when the problem stops. It may be that reinstalling or just deleting the problem plugin \ script will fix it.
Unfortunately, you may not feel comfortable doing these tasks yourself, and even if you have fixed the symptoms you might not have closed the vulnerability or initial hack.
We recommend using Sucuri to solve any issues like this. While it comes at a small cost, they will fix your website and monitor it for one year. If any other problems occur during that time, it will be fixed free of charge. Also, you can also configure their firewall to protect you from being hacked in the future. We use them on this website (both anti-virus and firewall), and highly recommend them.
There are probably many other services you could use, but many of them are at significant cost and may not be affordable for small to medium business \ blogging websites. Sucuri gives both the Firewall and Antivirus (includes fixing hacks) from just $18 per month (paid yearly) and is cheaper if you just want the anti-virus.
It may be that the redirects are caused by questionable adverts. Google recommends that you choose advertisers who are transparent on how they treat user traffic. Google commented:
If you are interested in trust-building in the online advertising space, you may check out industrywide 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.
What Penalties will Google Hand Out?
Google clearly states that they may hand out manual penalties for hacked websites, so you are recommended to check Webmaster Tools where notice of any penalty will be present. If a manual penalty is found, Google may remove your website from the search results, so it is important that you deal with any issues quickly.