Monday, October 19, 2020

Fix It

Just before I switched my computer to go to bed yesterday, I made the foolish mistake of giving my email one final check. Always a bad idea last thing at night.

The only new item was this little gem from Google:

Naturally, I couldn't let it lie. I spent forty-five minutes looking stuff up and fiddling about. In the end I gave up. Life's too short for this kind of thing.

It seems Google has decided desktop users are the past. The present and the future belongs to mobile. As they explain "Today, most people are searching on Google using a mobile device. However, our ranking systems still typically look at the desktop version of a page’s content to evaluate its relevance to the user. This can cause issues when the mobile page has less content than the desktop page because our algorithms are not evaluating the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher."

Actually, they explained that back in 2016. I must have missed that memo. I also missed the one three years later, when they moved Inventory Full into the brave new world of Mobile First Indexing.

So, it seems the blog's been assessed according to how well it reads on an iphone for the best part of a year, now. Until last night it didn't seem to be a problem but when someone who ought to know tells you something needs fixing you do feel you ought to pay at least a minimal amount of attention. 

It took me a few minutes to work out exactly what the supposed issue was. At first I assumed it was a generic shortcoming of the blog as a whole. I certainly don't make any attempt to customize it to perform well on mobile devices although the new Blogger interface does now include a handy button that shows me, on my desktop display, what the page I'm creating looks like on a tablet and a phone.


The warning I received, however, doesn't relate to the blog per se. Just to one specific page. This one. From September 2011. If you click through the link you might notice it looks a bit odd. That's because I was fiddling with it last night, trying to make it so the text wasn't "too small to read" or the "clickable elements too close together".

It's amazing, isn't it? A blog page from almost a decade ago doesn't display well on a mobile phone today. Who'd have thought?

Apparently Google's "Smartphone Crawler" picked this up yesterday and immediately sent me a report suggesting I do something about it. Why they were interested is anyone's guess. What's the demand for nine-year old blog posts on daily quests in Rift, d'you reckon? Are today's smartphone users particularly into that kind of thing?

I did manage to fix the third issue, "viewport not set". A quick search gave me a line to insert at the top of the HTML code that did the trick. The other two issues proved harder to solve, not least because Google itself seemed conflicted over whether any problems really existed.

There's a useful Mobile-Friendly Test you can run on any url to let you know whether it meets Google's standards. It's provided by Google themselves. I put my failed post into it and it passed.

It passed in both its original and its revised form. I tried my latest page and that passed, too. So does the draft of this one.

Then I re-checked the 2011 page using the link Google sent me in the email, the one you use to see if the fixes you've applied work. It failed.

The re-check was certainly doing its job. It acknowledged the fix for the viewport. The revised error report only mentions the size of the text and the clickable elements. 

I tried to check it again just now so I could get a screenshot but re-running the validation today fails altogether. Instead I Checked the page through yet another option provided by Google, the Google Search Console. It returns this assessment:

Google doesn't seem to be able to make up its mind. I had a think about it and decided I don't care.

I don't care whether my blog is accurately indexed for Google's algorithms. I don't care if a Google search returns any results for my blog at all. Almost everyone who's ever going to read anything I write is going to end up here from a link on another blog. This scene, such as it is, works on a system of networking and personal references. All those random Google searches that pad out the page views just land, bounce and never return, so why court them?

If anyone reading this is having trouble reading any posts from 2011 or so on their mobile phone, please feel free to drop me an email or comment on a current post and I'll be happy to send you a plain-text email copy or something. If I had a printer I'd print one out and post it to you if you wanted. Still waiting for the printer I have on order with Amazon to come back into stock at the moment. I ordered it in June so it might be a while.

Meanwhile, it's going to be business as usual here. Google's had forty-five minutes of my time I'll never get back and I'm blowed if they're going to get any more.


  1. Google's ability to have multiple services that do the same thing, each ran by different teams, and all working wildly different from one another continues to amaze me.

    I also got this email but I ignored it. I use a preset Blogger theme. If Google can't figure out how to render their own website on mobile it's their problem.

  2. Apart from all the confusion, whenever I occasionally check out your blog on my phone, it looks completely fine and very well readable, because it uses a very different theme anyway! I think Everwake is right, just decide that you'll go with the Google that likes your site, and not with the Google that doesn't.


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