One SEO professional was concerned about the fact that they have a site with different navigational links on mobile devices when compared to desktop.
The main difference between the mobile version and the desktop version is that the mobile version is slimmer. The desktop version has more links.
They are looking at exclusively crawling the desktop version, because it’s better for technical reasons.
However, they cannot hide links in the source. Also, the site has been converted to mobile-first indexing already.
Their main concern is whether Google believes they are trying to game the system when they have something this different, in terms of links on both desktop and mobile.
John explained that for a responsive site, this is a very common setup, in that they have both variations visible in the HTML. From that perspective, he does not see this as being very problematic.
However, this is not exactly a very clean implementation. The reasoning behind this assessment is because you have to maintain both variations of the UI within the same HTML, compared to having one variation in the HTML.
This happens at approximately the 39:23 mark in the video.
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John Mueller Hangout Transcript
John (Submitted Question) 39:23
Let’s see, I have a situation with a site where the main navigational links is visually different from the mobile and the desktop versions. The mobile version is slimmer, and the desktop version has more links.
Looking exclusively, crawling the desktop is more helpful for technical reasons. We can’t hide the desktop links in the source. And the site is a mobile first indexing already.
Is there a chance that Google might think I’m trying to game the algorithms by keeping this more link-rich navigation even though it’s invisible to mobile users and bots?
John (Answer) 39:55
So I think overall this is a fairly common setup for responsive design, in that you have kind of both variations visible in the HTML. And from that point of view, I don’t see it as being super problematic. But it’s probably also not super clean.
Because you kind of have to maintain both variations of the UI within the same HTML, rather than having just one variation in the HTML that you adjust depending on the frame, the viewport size of the device. So from that point of view, I don’t think you would be penalized for anything like this—well definitely not penalized, because it’s a very common setup.
It’s probably not optimal, but it’s it’s also not something where I would say you need to jump in and fix that right away. So that’s kind of my assessment there.