Google’s mobile update: Desktop results appearing in mobile search


UPDATE!!! (10/02/17) – See end of blog…


We’ve been noticing separate mobile sites being ditched in favour of desktop in the mobile search results around January 31st. Could it be something to do with Google’s (November 4th) announcement that it’s going to start prioritizing mobile-first indexing?

Turbulent Google activity: Mozcast weather report

Google mobile update - Moz cast weather report - turbulence

We looked to the Mozcast weather report to check whether there had been any recent algorithm activity. Sure enough, we are seeing a lot of turbulence.

Twitter’s abuzz: Interstitial ads?

Google mobile update - Glynn Davies - Twitter - Mobile sites dropping out of Google in favour of desktop

Yesterday I posted an example of a desktop page appearing in place of the mobile-ready page, using the Pi Datametrics Platform (Position Explorer Chart).

Many SEOs commented, one speculating that Google’s crackdown on intrusive mobile intersitial ads (January 10th, 2017) might be the culprit. Personally, I’m not convinced. Certainly, at the time of analysis, none of the affected sites employed interstitial ads.

Twitter’s abuzz: Configuration error?

One commenter had contacted John Mueller on Twitter to pick his brains on an apparently identical issue. Mueller said he didn’t know, but suggested it might be a configuration error.

Google mobile update - John Mueller - Twitter - Mobile sites drop out of Google in favour of desktop

Again, I’m not convinced, judging from the sites I’ve looked at.

Google’s focus on mobile-first indexing

Google released a statement back in November stating that their algorithms would soon “primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site”, rather than desktop content, as has previously been the case. Google’s reason for this is that “most people are searching on Google using a mobile device”. This extends to extracting structured data, forming snippets, etc.

Separate mobile site dropped in favour of desktop, for term ‘Designer bags’ in Google UK mobile search

Mobile indexing update - mobile drops out of search and desktop takes over - designer handbags

In this example, a major British retailer sees two of its conflicting mobile-optimized pages being replaced by a desktop result in Google UK mobile search, for the term ‘Designer bags’. The desktop result moved from a sub-100th position into the conversion zone, ranking in 2nd position at the time of analysis.

Separate mobile site drops out of mobile search for term ‘Fashion Jewellery’

Mobile indexing update - mobile drops out of search and desktop takes over - fashion jewellery

This global ecommerce company has also experienced a desktop page usurping a mobile-ready page in Google mobile search; this time for the term ‘Fashion jewellery’. The desktop version climbed 90 positions to rank just shy of the first page.

Desktop site returns for term ‘Suits’ in Google UK mobile search

Mobile indexing update - mobile drops out of search and desktop takes over - suits

Another major British department store has been affected. Their separate mobile site dropped by 95 positions for the term ‘Suits’, only to be perfectly replaced at 6th position by the desktop site.

So, what’s happening with Google and mobile indexing?

To be clear, we have tested and verified these results on our own individual mobile devices, and reports in response to the initial Tweet yesterday suggest others have seen apparently similar phenomena.

As you’d expect, all of these desktop pages are conditionally redirected back to the mobile page when accessed with a mobile device user-agent.

And that’s part of what makes this situation interesting. Google will see the ‘conditional’ redirect (that is, if the site sees a mobile user-agent accessing a desktop URL, it will redirect to the mobile site), suggesting either a glitch in Google, perhaps as a result of the ‘Mobile-first’ change, or a deliberate change in policy that hasn’t yet been explained.

We’re currently searching for more evidence and possible explanations, and will update this post with our findings.

Have you spotted any desktop results in Google mobile?

Drop us a comment below if you’ve seen any desktop results comandeering mobile search recently. We love to hear your thoughts and findings.

What’s more, for more insights or strategic advice on how to optimize for mobile-first indexing:

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UPDATE!!! (8/02/17):

8th Feb: Google’s Jon Mueller has confirmed this is a glitch on Google’s end, but stay tuned for more info on how this is impacting sites.

desktop appearing on mobile - glitch confirmation

UPDATE!!! (10/02/17):

It seems that Google has revised its mobile algorithm and fixed the glitch that saw desktop sites returning in mobile search.

In the live data below, drawn from the Pi Datametrics Position Explorer table, we can see that ASOS has taken back control in Google Mobile UK with its m. site for the term ‘Leather leggings’

Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 10.48.05

Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 10.49.56

These algorithmic glitches or experiments could well be a precursor to the official rollout of mobile-first indexing.


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