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