Skip Redirect/Old Possum in Google Smartphone Search Results

In December 2011, Google announced a solution to display appropriate mobile content in search results, even if the mobile URL is a duplicate of a desktop page and has less link equity. They called this update Skip Redirect/Old Possum.

Faster mobile browsing. [launch codename “old possum”, project codename “Skip Redirect”] Many websites redirect smartphone users to another page that is optimized for smartphone browsers. This change uses the final smartphone destination url in our mobile search results, so you can bypass all the redirects and load the target page faster.

Apparently this is something that the majority of SEO consultants are unaware of, as there have been a large number of posts in the past month or so singing the praises of responsive web design as a solution to an inherent link equity problem mobile URLs face. There have been so many that I have grown tired of repeating myself in responding to them.

What none of them seem to be aware of is that for mobile URLs in Google, which has 99% of the mobile market share by some estimates, mobile URLs that are properly redirected can rank ahead of traditional desktop URLs.

Unfortunately it doesn’t happen in every case yet, but the change that they announced is in the search results. For example, a number of restaurant queries display mobile URLs for smartphone search results. A search that I did for a restaurant in the Wicker Park area of Chicago, [mac's american pub], shows the www for the desktop…

And the tablet…

…but when you do the same search on a smartphone (smartphone pics from Galaxy S running Android 2.2 and Nexus One running Android 2.3) you get the same page in the first position, with its mobile URL:

If a mobile URL displays in the smartphone search results regardless of link equity, it means that link equity is not an issue when ranking these duplicate URLs.

As I explained in Search Engine Land, and more recently in this Mediapost interview, a hybrid of responsive web design and mobile first is best for SEO, as it accounts for mobile search behaviors that transcoding desktop content can’t offer, and brings more search traffic from mobile devices in the process. However, if you must duplicate desktop URLs on mobile URLs, Skip Redirect/Old Possum will allow you to rank those mobile URLs, regardless of link equity.

A few more shots of this phenomenon in action leave more questions than answers, but it’s clear that for some domains and queries, Skip Redirect/Old Possum isn’t something that will happen in the distant future, but something that’s happening today.

Results for Chicago restaurant [publican], for example, show a mobile URL from the Citysearch mobile site:

And two mobile URLs appeared for the query [street festivals chicago] for Metromix’s mobile site:

Results don’t just happen for local queries, as Old Possum appeared for the query [obamacare] as well:

For the most part, however, Old Possum was evident mostly for Yelp.com, Metromix.com and Citysearch.com, even if other sites had set up mobile redirects properly.

A few mobile URLs also appeared next to results that normally display mobile URLs in smartphone search, like this query for [tacos]:

This lack of uniformity indicates that this is probably a test before Google rolls these changes out to many more sites, but the big takeaway is: mobile URLs in smartphone search results are here.

Have you seen Old Possum in the wild? Please post queries and platforms you’ve seen it for in the comments.

For more on how this affects your SEO strategy, see my columns this week in Search Engine Land and Marketing Land.

Related Posts: