Beware sneaky mobile redirects

Google confirmed a few weeks back that globally more than half their searches are now coming from people using mobile devices. This will come as no surprise and the massive growth in mobile searches is expected to continue.

It seems that this growth in mobile traffic is fuelling an increase in mobile spam – specifically what Google calls “sneaky mobile redirects”. Today Google announced they’ll be taking action against websites that intentionally or unintentionally have sneaky mobile redirects in place.

If your website doesn’t use responsive or adaptive design the experience for mobile users generally won’t be a good one, which is why Google will not give it a “Mobile friendly” tag & reduce its rankings in their mobile search results. A way around this is to have a separate mobile version of the website. In fact, that’s what we’ve done at SureFire and there’s a mobile version of our website at m.surefiresearch.com.

In these situations Google has no issue with mobile users being automatically redirected to the equivalent mobile version a page. As Google says, “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. But redirecting mobile users sneakily to a different content is bad for user experience and is against Google’s webmaster guidelines.”


Website owners who deliberately implement sneaky mobile redirects like that above are asking for trouble and it will only be a matter of time before they get caught and hit with a manual penalty by Google.

Why should you care?

Of course most website owners don’t deliberately do this. But unfortunately, as Google points out, there are sites unintentionally doing sneaky mobile redirects and therefore Google will be compelled to take action against them too.

The problem is that these unintentional sneaky redirects usually happen without site owners being aware of it. So website owners will only find out AFTER the damage is done and they’ve been hit with a Google penalty. Oops.


Unintentional sneaky mobile redirects generally come from one of two sources according to Google. These are when sites have been hacked by spammers who add redirect code to drive visitors to spammy sites promoting stuff like porn etc. The other way this can happen is if a website owner is monitising their website by running third party ads. In this case a script/element installed to display ads and monetize content might be redirecting mobile users to a completely different site without the webmaster being aware of it.

Hopefully nobody reading this is deliberately doing sneaky mobile re-directs, but if it’s happening without you knowing then you’ll get the same treatment from Google as if it was deliberate.

Therefore you need to be certain it’s not happening. The way you can do this is to:

  1. Regularly access your website using your mobile phone to check that inappropriate redirects aren’t happening.
  2. In addition, you should set up alerts in Google Analytics so you’re warned of any sudden weird changes in mobile users accessing your site, such as dramatic drops in average time spent on your site by mobile users.
  3. And finally, ensure you have a free Google Search Console account account set up so that should the worse happen and you do get a manual penalty from Google then at least you’ll know about it and can take remedial action.

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About the Author Mark Sceats

Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).

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