/webmasters/community?hl=en
/webmasters/community?hl=en
12/23/10
Original Poster
Aunty

How does Google treat mobile sitemaps that are almost identical to standard desktop ones?

I have read the FAQs and checked for similar issues: YES
My site's URL (web address) is: www.bbc.co.uk
 
If our site is moving in the general direction of content negotiation / device detection and serving the appropriate representation from the same url - we're wondering how Google treats a mobile sitemap that's almost identical to its desktop equivalent.
 
Also, is there a simple way to tell Google to use the desktop sitemap for mobile?
 
Do google bots presently accept headers to build appropriate content negotiation / device detection crawling?
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All Replies (16)
JohnMu
12/24/10
JohnMu
Hi Aunty (well, this feels awkward :-))

If you have created mobile versions of your whole website, it's fine to submit those URLs with mobile Sitemaps as well (listing them once for the normal web Sitemap and once for mobile). We're able to crawl and index mobile content separately, even if it uses the same URLs as the normal web-based content. We crawl mobile content using various mobile user-agents (roughly listed at http://code.google.com/web/controlcrawlindex/docs/crawlers.html ). 

We have some more information about how we handle mobile sites at:

Hope it helps! Feel free to post back should you have any questions!

Cheers & happy holidays,
John
rustybrick
12/24/10
rustybrick
John,

Question.  For smart phone mobile sites, like iPhone versions, those are technically not "mobile sites" like this.  When you say mobile sites, you are saying for older phones that have web access but need special mobile formats.

If BBC would be doing a special CSS/HTML template for iPhone, Android, etc users, they would not need to use a mobile sitemap right?
JohnMu
12/24/10
JohnMu
Hi Barry

Yes, with "mobile" we mean the traditional mobile phone browsers, not smart-phones (which we generally treat the same as desktop browsers given their advanced capabilities). Using special CSS/HTML templates for smart-phones would be fine and would not require submitting them via mobile Sitemap. It keeps things a bit easier if you want to focus on smart-phones, but there are still a gigantic number of more traditional phones with limited internet browsing capabilities out there :-). 

Cheers & happy holidays,

John
rustybrick
12/24/10
rustybrick
Thanks for clarifying John.
Ndugu
12/30/10
Ndugu
John, thanks for this info. We're launching a new version of our mobile site and hoping you can clarify two things:
 
1) How can we ensure that Google doesn't see our mobile site as duplicate content? A few years ago we put up a mobile site with a proper sitemap and headers, but Google still saw it as duplicate content (both results showed in the SERPs), so we had to deindex it. Our main site page rank was cut in half and has never come back.
 
2) What are best practices for directing mobile/smart phone users to our mobile site. I'm wondering if we should use user-agent detection.
JohnMu
12/30/10
JohnMu
Hi Ndugu

We keep track of mobile (again, in the sense of traditional mobile content, not for smartphones) and web content separately, so having the same content accessible on URLs for both mobile and "desktop" web users would be fine and should not cause problems. It's a bit hard to check what might have been a few years ago -- are you aware of a current example where you feel that the mobile content is causing problems with regards to "desktop" content? I'd love to take a look and see if there's something that needs to be changed on our end (or if there's something that the webmaster could easily change on their end to make it work better). 

Regarding redirecting, we have covered that in our blog post at http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/11/running-desktop-and-mobile-versions-of.html 

Hope it helps & feel free to ask if anything is unclear!

Cheers
John
amarsys
1/23/11
amarsys
I think this is very much the issue of the moment.
 
Some principles:
 
1. Users with mobile devices (whether old ones with limited capabilities or smartphones) should be free to choose whether they access the mobile or desktop versions of your site.
 
2. I do not think it is right to consider smartphones as desktop browsers. Panning and zooming around a sophisticated desktop site is hard work no matter how good your smartphone browser is – a 4" screen cannot compete with a 22" one. Even though smartphone browsers do a pretty good job of closing the gap, in my opinion the mobile-specific site wins every time.
 
3. I think we should also recognise that mobile users are often accessing sites in a different context to a desktop user. They might be in a shop and wanting to quickly compare your online product with the competing product in the shop they are standing in – so they are in a hurry. Alternatively they might be stuck in an airport with time on their hands, but probably doing several other things at the same time. As a website designer that means you don’t just want to re-format your pages with CSS to make a mobile version, you really need to think about the whole mobile experience and the different way the mobile user is likely to be using your site.
 
4. I think it follows from the above that it is usually (but not always) better to have separate M and WWW URLs, rather than serving mobile or desktop specific content from the same URL. Separate URLs make it clearer for the user … and for Google.
 
5. Webmasters then have the choice – either use browser detection to take the first-time mobile visitor immediately to the mobile site, or leave them on the site they arrived at, but clearly display mobile and desktop links in the navigation.
 
 
Given the above, how can Google help webmasters do a better job for their users?
 
Firstly, from JohnMu’s comments and other Google webmaster articles, it is clear that provided your mobile site has the correct mobile HTML headers and so on, there is no issue of duplicate content, even if the pages are not 1:1 replacements of your desktop site – which is good.
 
I think the same logic of mobile vs desktop which applies when you are designing your own sites should apply to Google. If I access Google with a mobile device (regardless of whether it is a smartphone or not) I want to be either taken to the Google mobile search site automatically, or told how to get there.
 
And crucially, if I do a search from the Google mobile site, I want to be told very clearly in the search results which sites are mobile-specific or have mobile-specific versions. After all, if I am searching on Google.fr or Google.de it is because I want to see sites in French or German. The same should apply to Google /m – if I am on the Google mobile site I want to see mobile results.
 
Cheers,
Richard
Ndugu
1/27/11
Ndugu
Excellent points Richard, and I fully agree with #2: smartphones are mobile devices and should be directed to mobile sites. Webmasters will develop better mobile content if they are encouraged to do so, and building for the little phones isn't sexy.
 
We're being very careful to see how Google respond to our new mobile site, since we had the duplicate content issue a few years ago. John, it is good to hear that the mobile content should not interfere with our main site, and I appreciate your response.
loupiote
3/2/11
loupiote
i just posted some related questions here:

the issue i have is that we also do dynamic "content negotiation / device detection" not just based on the user-agent, but also on other environment data gathered by client-side scripts, such as the screen resolution. the layout of our pages is changed dynamically by scripting and the use of dynamically-generated style-sheets (css). so it would seem very difficult for a crawler to get a good idea of how the page works on a mobile device, since most crawlers don't run javascript.  but clearly information can be gathered by other means, e.g. some browsers are able to detect load-time (i know chrome can do that and it sends the feedback anonymously to google, and this is used by google to determine the site's average load time performances, as i understand. so i figure maybe the same is possible with mobile devices, i.e. maybe google has some way to tell if a site loads fast on certain mobiles, and if users on those mobiles interact with the site and visit several pages (i guess google analytics can provide some infos to google).

also our pages contain some of the meta html markup typical to mobile, and i assume that google looks at that to get some hints that the pages are mobile-aware and mobile-friendly.

so should we just do nothing and hope that google will figure out that our pages are optimized for hi-end mobiles?

all our pages are already indexed and they are crawled regularly by Googlebot.  would it help to put the pages in a Mobile Sitemap? (our pages use the URL for the mobile / desktop version, and they are only optimized for hi-end devices with browsers supporting CSS, Javascript etc, and they have not been tested on old-style WAP devices (we don't really care about those at that point).
MarcjeBC
3/2/11
MarcjeBC
Just a quick addition to the good points made above:
 
Say you have a m.domain.com and a www.domain.com, but you cannot establish a 1-1 relationship between the Mobile and the Desktop sites simply because they are too different.
 
We have established a User-agent detection, so that any www.domain.com URL get redirected to the m.domain.com homepage when accessed by a Mobile.
 
We still want to get the m.domain.com to rank for the same terms as the www.domain.com.
 
In your comment above John, you mention that Mobile XML sitemaps should only be used for non-smartphones devices. But in our case, we still want to submit all of our mobile URLs to Google, which can only be done through a Mobile XML sitemaps, even for smartphones users.
 
Wouldn't be better then to just allow some flexibility for the webmasters to decide whether to provide a Mobile version of the XML sitemap?
 
Thanks,
 
Martin.
5 MORE
MarcjeBC
3/4/11
MarcjeBC
@SKB9 - You will have to verify your sub-domain in Google Webmaster Tools before being able to submit a Sitemap for that new profile.
 
@Loupiote - site: is very unreliable, we only monitor indexation using Google and Bing Webmaster Tools, more accurate. Hence the need for Sitemaps. Obviously, it also submits the preferred URLs to Google and Bing as well. Our understanding is that Google-bot will not crawl Mobile sitemaps.
 
@JohnMu: Does this mean that for Mobile sites designed for Smartphones, we should be submitting a standard XML sitemap?
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