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When a user does a search from their desktop, do Google search results know if any site is mobile aware? Does that affect their placement?

What if a site is responsive? Many mobile validators don't recognize responsive sites and give them a fail, when they in fact look great across many screens.

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Google have a separate mobile crawler (Googlebot-Mobile) in addition to the regular Googlebot. Googlebot-Mobile will look at content that is intended both for "feature" or "dumb" phones (e.g., WAP, etc.) and smartphones (see announcement here).

If you're serving different content based on user-agent detection, either by redirecting to a separate site (m.example.com, etc.) or on same URLs, Google likes you to use the Vary header to help them discern which content is meant for what device.

Similarly, if you're using responsive design, Google can detect CSS media queries and determine whether they're set to address common phone viewport sizes. From their developer guide:

"Our algorithms look for max-width values that can be reasonably expected to refer to smartphone screen resolutions"

They've retired Instant Preview now, but when it was still around you could actually verify that this works by noticing that the preview of a responsive site in the mobile index would show the layout as it would appear on a smartphone.

Does any of this affect ranking? All things being equal, I'd expect that a mobile optimised page would rank more highly in mobile search than a non-mobile optimised equivalent.

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When searching from a mobile phone, will a non mobile aware site get kicked out of the results in place of mobile aware sites? –  4thSpace Jun 12 '13 at 16:44
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@4thSpace No, not "kicked out". As above, all things being equal, I'd expect that a mobile optimised page would perform better than a non-mobile optimised equivalent in mobile search. But let's say a non-mobile optimised site happens to be the result someone clicks on in mobile search: the page they get will likely be hard to use on a small, touch interface, so there's a good chance they'll "bounce" back to the search results to look for an alternative. So the net effect may well be the same regardless: fewer visitors, or at least lower engagement/conversion. –  GDav Jun 13 '13 at 8:10
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