Earlier this month, Google announced that it would begin penalizing websites that did not offer a good mobile experience for smartphone users.
Things like redirects, page load, video playback, and Flash support were specifically mentioned but how will travel websites fair when it comes to overall mobile support?
Maybe it's time to take a look at your travel website and determine if it really does meet Google's standards.
The issues that Google is specifically trying to raise are fairly common and will make a positive difference for end consumers. The first common configuration issue is faulty redirects.
Many websites redirect mobile users to a mobile website when they visit the main URL, but many, according to Google, are not doing it correctly.
For example, Google is expecting link parity when a user is redirected from a desktop site to a mobile site. What does this mean exactly?
It means that when a visitor clicks on a link in a Google search, they are taken to that page regardless of the device. In many cases, the visitor clicks on a link in a Google mobile search and is redirected to a mobile optimized home page, forcing them to have to search the mobile site for the information for which they were originally searching.
But not all mobile sites have the same content as their desktop sites, so Google is recommending that if the page doesn't exist on the mobile site, that the visitor be taken to the desktop version of the page.
In this example from Orbitz, we can see that when a visitor goes to the same page on the website on both desktop and mobile, they are presented with similar content but optimized for the mobile viewer.
This is a proper redirect or, in the case of Orbitz, full link parity (same URL but different layout based on device). Large OTAs are not the only companies that can accomplish link parity, however.
Even small activity operators such as Zip Cypress Hills can accomplish link parity by using an online booking engine that supports this functionality.
When link parity is not supported or when redirects are improperly configured, they can result in visitors being redirected to the mobile home page.
This example shows the experience for a visitor going to the same URL from a desktop and mobile device.
In this case, the URL doesn't change but the visitor is redirected to the mobile home page and must search for the relevant content again.
This type of redirect, known as a soft-404 error is problematic because it tells Google that the page exists but the content is not relevant to the search and therefore it will get penalized in mobile searches in the future.
Given that, according to Google's own research, bad mobile websites are the #1 deterrent to making an online booking, it is easy to see why a bad redirect would cause a visitor to leave a website in search of a more device friendly experience.
The next big issue for Google is unplayable content, for example video or music content that is not mobile compatible. Embedding video or music files using Flash, for example, means that the content will be unplayable on an iPhone or Android 4.01 (or newer) device.
The last, and certainly not the least, important issue that Google wants to address with these mobile penalties is site speed. Google recognizes that bandwidth and download speed are critical issues with mobile devices. It wants all pages to load in under a second by optimizing mobile websites.
In the case of sites that use a totally different display template for the desktop web and mobile web, this may not be an issue since the mobile template used to display content for a mobile device may be a completely different design and lighter code base.
For responsive websites, however, this may prove a bit more of a challenge since the page content, stylesheets, and code may be identical for both mobile and desktop.
The size of the page, therefore, may remain high (by mobile standards) even though the format of the page is being adjusted for a smaller screen.
Not surprisingly, responsive design is Google's preferred method for delivering web content since it simplifies the crawling and indexing of content.
So, will your travel company evaluate your mobile website and make the appropriate changes? If you are already aware of these requirements and taking steps to be mobile optimized, let us know in the comments.
We'd love to know how you are addressing these issues in order to avoid being penalized by Google.
NB:Mobile-laptop image via Shutterstock.