Mobile redirect issues

> > How to reduce mobile redirects

Updated: January 3rd 2016

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What are mobile redirects?

There are four common types of redirects that affect how your users and Google see your mobile pages. Each of them are bad for performance (speed). Redirects are very costly on mobile networks. Every redirect you remove will drastically improve how fast your content is seen by users. Let's look at the redirect types typically found...

  • Initial redirect - canonical (www.example.com vs example.com)
  • SSL - secure pages redirect
  • Redirect to mobile version
  • Content driven redirects

We will discuss at length the several redirect issues and solutions that fall under these four categories.

To see the mobile redirect chain for a page use the mobile seo tool.




What is a redirect?

A redirect is a method of forwarding a user from one web address to another web address.

How do redirects work?

When a mobile device requests a certain document at a certain address, the server will normally just provide that document.

no redirect

When there is a redirect the web server does not provide the document, instead it provides a new address for the document. The mobile device receives the address and makes a new request for the document to the new address. Then and only then does it receive the document.

one redirect

This process is very slow on mobile networks because each time any communication happens between the device and the webserver, many things have to happen to facilitate that communication.

Redirects are very slow on mobile devices and should be avoided. If they have to happen, the amount of redirects should be as few as possible.

How to get rid of redirects

The first step of getting rid of or reducing redirects is to know what redirects are happening and why they are happening. This brings us to the four types of redirects I introduced at the beginning of this article.

  • Initial redirect - canonical (www.example.com vs example.com)
  • SSL - secure pages redirect
  • Redirect to mobile version
  • Content driven redirects

Let's look at each quickly one by one.

Initial redirect - Canonical

The url "www.example.com" and the url "example.com" are actually two different urls even though they typically will have the same content.

canonical redirect

One has the "www" and one does not. Often webmasters choose one version of the urls throughout their site (www or no www).

To make sure pages are always using the same version of the url, a site wide redirect is typically used. This is why when you put "google.com" into your browser, you will actually end up at "www.google.com".

SSL - secure pages redirect

Pages that use SSL will often be redirected from the url "http://www.example.com" to the secure version of that page at "https://www.example.com".

ssl redirect

This redirect often happens when a webmaster uses a site wide 301 redirect as a simple step to forward all pages to the secure versions of the page.

Redirect to mobile version of the page

When you have a different web address (url) for your mobile pages than you do for your desktop pages, the mobile device must somehow get to the mobile version. The way it does so is through a redirect.

mobile redirect

We will talk more of this redirect below, but this redirect is just the method in which your mobile page gets displayed in the first place.

This redirect only occurs when there are different urls for mobile and desktop content. This redirect does not happen when you use responsive web design or most dynamic solutions. It occurs only with separate urls.

Content driven redirects

These redirects are not technical requirements to display a page. These are redirects that webmaster have added because mobile and desktop versions of their pages may not cover the exact same things and some mobile pages are redirected to other locations because the webmaster has deemed that a better place to send the user.

content redirect

In other words content driven redirects are just redirects added by a webmaster based on content needs rather than technical ones.

The consequences of redirects

In the past redirects were added quite often and each of the types of redirects have good reasons to be there, but what has occured as an outcome of this is that there often exists some horribly long redirect chains.

Each individual redirect sounded like a good idea, but together they are a nightmare. Here is a typical conversation that occurs often on the mobile web. Keep in mind that this conversation has to take place before any of your webpage even begins to be displayed at all.

  1. Mobile device: "Give me http://example.com"
  2. Web server: "http://example.com has been moved to "http://www.example.com"
  3. Mobile device: "Okay, give me "http://www.example.com"
  4. Web server: "http://www.example.com has been moved to "https://www.example.com"
  5. Mobile device: "Okay, give me "https://www.example.com"
  6. Web server: "https://www.example.com has a mobile version at "https://m.example.com"
  7. Mobile device: "Okay, give me "https://m.example.com"
  8. Web server: "https://m.example.com has a better version at "https://m.example.com/better/"
  9. Mobile device: "Okay, give me "https://m.example.com/better/"
  10. Web server: "Okay here is that page"
  11. Mobile device: "I will now start loading the page."

In this scenario several seconds have gone by before the mobile device even starts loading the page. In other words even if that page loads in less than a second, it would still take several seconds for a user to see that page because of the redirects.

It gets worse

 redirects

The entire conversation above is actually a best case scenario for those redirects. Often redirects along the way will point to a wrong version of a url and the whole process will start again.

It gets even worse than that

The above process is just for the html of your page. In some scenarios, this process will occur for every request too. Each image, each css file, each javascript file, etc. on your page may end up with the same issues if you are not careful about how you are doing things.

The solution

The best scanario is to have no redirects, but in reality that is not always possible.

Redirects are the most costly things that occur when a mobile page loads on a mobile page as far as time and performance go.

They are bad.

We will go through each type of redirect we discussed and see what we can remove or improve to optimize the way our mobile pages load.

Removing the initial / canonical redirect

This type of redirect was typically implemented for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes.

The logic of the canonical redirect is basically to get credit for each link given to a page because some people link to the "www" version and some people link to the non "www" version of a page.

The bottom line is you need to decide if this value even still exists and if it does, is it worth the redirect?

Google understands pages and sites much better now than it did when this redirect became a common practice and Google even offers you a way via Webmaster Tools to choose which version you prefer (without the redirect).

My general opinion on this redirect is as follows:

  • If this is your only redirect in your redirect chain, keep it
  • If performance (speed) is monetarily important to your bottom line, get rid of it
  • If your pages do not load in less than a second, and the majority of your users are mobile, consider removing it

What you do is up to you, but those are my thoughts on it.

In any case, make sure your sitewide redirects are smartly working with other redirects like ssl.

Do not redirect users to one version of page just to be redirected again to the secure (ssl) version.

The way to actually review / update / remove it for most webmasters is to go to their .htaccess file and find it.

It looks like this..

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^domain.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.domain.com/$1 [R=301,NC]

I created the redirect mapper tool to make things a little easier. It examines the redirects of a domain by checking all the versions of it (www / non-www / http / https).

Removing the SSL - secure pages redirect

The reason a redirect exists for SSL sites is normally because the webmaster used an "easy fix" of doing a site wide 301 redirect to make all traffic forwarded to the secure version of their pages.

In actuality there is a better way to do it, and there is not a need for this redirect to happen.

The solution is to use HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) which forces all traffic to use secure pages. This means your pages will be more secure and load faster by not using that 301 redirect.

To get even faster get on the list maintained by Google (and used by other browsers) found here.

The SSL redirect does not need to happen for most users.

Removing the redirect to mobile version

As noted above this redirect has to happen if you have seperate urls for mobile content than you do for desktop content.

If you want to get rid of this redirect consider using responsive web design or dynamic serving.

If you use responsive web design or dynamic serving you will not have this redirect because the url for your mobile pages are the same as the url for your desktop pages.

If you must use different urls, make sure to follow the best practices provided by Google here.

Removing content driven redirects

Content driven redirects often should not be used at all, but the reality is that sometimes they are required.

The best solution is to have parity between your mobile and desktop content. If you have a desktop page, there should also be a mobile page for that subject/page too.

Again, if you are using responsive web design, this will not affect you.

How to check your redirects

Consider doing a full redirect examination to optimize / minimize redirects.






Patrick Sexton by