If you’re a regular reader of my column, you’ll understand the title of this article is tongue-in-cheek. Clearly, I’m not encouraging anyone to recreate what I’m about to show you (as it leads to a very poor user experience). Rather, I am writing about it in hopes that Google will get wise to the issue and fix it.
The issue? Forcing a searcher to download an app in order to access content, and making that page mobile-friendly so it gets a boost in mobile search results.
If you play guitar, you’ve likely encountered this situation in Google; most of the results that rank well on a smartphone do it. Here’s an example:
The other day, I wanted to play “Chain Gang” by Sam Cooke on my guitar. It’s not a common query, but there are more than 200,000 smartphone searches related to “guitar tab” a month, according to Google Keyword Planner. And all of them could be subject to the same mobile (un)friendly experience I’m about to describe.
As shown in this video, if you do a search on [sam cooke chain gang tab], the first and second results come from ultimate-guitar.com and are labeled “mobile-friendly” by Google.
However, when you click on a result from ultimate-guitar.com, you are taken not to a mobile-friendly page containing the guitar tab, but to what looks like an app interstitial, prompting you to download the app in order to see the tab.
And there’s no way to view the tab other than to install the app.
Technically, this is mobile-friendly according to Google’s guidelines, which is why it passes the test and has a “mobile-friendly” label.
But any mobile searcher trying to find what they’re looking for knows it’s not.
If Google now penalizes for app interstitials (or will November 1) that prompt you to download an app but allow you to click through to the site if you want to and penalizes sites for sending searchers to the mobile home page when content does not have a mobile layout, then why aren’t they penalizing sites that combine these two, forcing searchers to download an app instead of going through to the content advertised in search results?
Chances are it’s only a matter of time. If you’re doing this, as this and other guitar tab sites are, it’s probably best to take a tip from Marvin Gaye and give it up.
That goes for you, 911tabs, in position 4, trying to get me to download the same Ultimate Guitar app as the first listing, and then sending me to the Play store on Android when I clicked the x to view the website.
And you, Songsterr, who showed me your own app and only it when I thought I was going to the song I saw in search results.
The best result for this query came in position 3 from Jellynote, and even that forced me to say that “I prefer a bad user experience” before moving on to the mobile website.
Actually, I don’t prefer a bad user experience. I prefer developers who know how to make content accessible and interesting in a way that’s not exclusive to any one platform.
Google likes the mobile Web, too, and has taken steps with this year’s mobile-friendly update to incentivize webmasters to develop for it, so I would be surprised if this type of activity is tolerated for much longer.
Oddly, the reason this happens, it seems, is because of how Google defines “mobile-friendly.”
Currently, if you want Google to say your site is mobile-friendly, all you have to do is follow its guidelines and make the page readable to mobile devices. What the page says has nothing to do with it.
Gary Illyes confirmed in June (and again last week) that Google doesn’t look at the mobile content when ranking your page — just the desktop content. That leads to situations like this, where webmasters provide a poor user experience on mobile and Google ranks the page anyway.
Hopefully, Google builds their much ballyhooed mobile index or improves upon their existing mobile-friendly algorithm soon. In the meantime, if you’re looking, the chords to Chain Gang are G, E minor, C and D.