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Detect and get rid of unwanted sneaky mobile redirects

Sneaky mobile redirects occur when a site redirects users on a mobile device to other content not made available to a search engine crawler. These sneaky redirects are a violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines. To ensure quality search results for our users, the Google Search Quality team can take action on such sites, including removal of URLs from our index.

In many cases, it is okay to show slightly different content on different devices. For example, optimizing for the smaller space of a smartphone screen can mean that some content, like images, need to be modified. Similarly, for mobile-only redirects, redirecting mobile users to improve their mobile experience (like redirecting mobile users from example.com/url1 to m.example.com/url1) is often beneficial to them. However, redirecting mobile users sneakily to different content is bad for the user experience.

Sneaky Mobile Redirect

A frustrating experience: The same URL shows up in search result pages on desktop and on mobile. When a user clicks on this result on their desktop computer, the URL opens normally. However, when clicking on the same result on a smartphone, the user is redirected to an unrelated URL.

Sneaky mobile redirects can be created intentionally by a site owner, but we’ve also seen situations where mobile-only sneaky redirects happen without the site owner knowing. The following are examples of configurations that can cause sneaky mobile redirects:

  • Adding code that creates redirection rules for mobile users
  • Using a script or element to display ads and monetize content that redirect mobile users
  • A script or element added by hackers that redirects your mobile users to malicious sites

Detecting sneaky redirects on your site

To check for sneaky mobile redirects on your site, walk through the following steps:

  1. Check if you are redirected when you navigate to your site on your smartphone

    We recommend you check the mobile user experience of your site by visiting your pages from Google search results with a smartphone. When debugging, mobile emulation in desktop browsers is handy because you can test for many different devices. You can, for example, view pages as a mobile device straight from your browser in Chrome, Firefox or Safari (for the latter, make sure you have enabled the “Show Develop menu in menu bar” feature).

  2. Listen to your users

    Your users can see your site in different ways than you. It’s always important to pay attention to user complaints, so you can hear of any issue related to the mobile user experience.

  3. Monitor your mobile users in your site’s analytics data

    Unusual mobile user activity can be detected by looking at some of the data in your website's analytics data. For example, keep an eye on the average time spent on your site by your mobile users: if all of a sudden, only your mobile users start spending much less time on your site than they used to, there might be an issue related to mobile redirections.

    Monitoring for any large changes in your mobile user activity can help you proactively identify sneaky mobile redirects. You can set up Google Analytics alerts that will warn you of sharp drops in average time spent on your site by mobile users or drops in mobile users. While these alerts do not necessarily mean that you have mobile sneaky redirects, it’s something worth investigating.

Instructions for removing sneaky mobile directs

  1. Make sure that your site is not hacked

    Check the Security Issues tool in Search Console to see if Google has detected any problems on your site. If your site has been hacked, review our guide for hacked sites.

  2. Audit third-party scripts/elements on your site

    If your site is not hacked, then we recommend you take the time to investigate if third-party scripts or elements are causing the redirects. You can follow these steps:

    1. One by one remove any third-party scripts or elements you do not control from the redirecting page(s).
    2. Check your site on a mobile device or through emulation between each script or element removal and see if the redirect stops.
    3. If you think a particular script or element is responsible for the sneaky redirect, consider removing it from your site, and debugging the issue with the script or element provider.

Avoiding sneaky mobile redirects in the future

To diminish the risk of unknowingly redirecting your own users, be sure to choose advertisers who are transparent on how they handle user traffic. If you are interested in building trust in the online advertising space, you should research industry-wide 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.

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