Everyone knows someone who has made the switch from iPhone to Android. This latest convert will surprise you though. It’s GoogleBot – the all-important web crawler used by Google.
GoogleBot is a vital cog in the Google search engine. In its most simplified form, it works by going from website to website and sucking up as much information as it possibly can. The data is then passed to other Google algorithms, where it is processed, ranked, and transformed into search results.
In order for GoogleBot to get all perspectives of a website, it masquerades as different types of devices – a desktop browser, a feature-phone browser, and a smartphone browser. This is done by changing its user-agent string.
Right now, when it visits a website as a smartphone, GoogleBot changes its user-agent string to resemble that of an iPhone:
Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 8_3 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/600.1.4 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/8.0 Mobile/12F70 Safari/600.1.4 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html
Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 6.0.1; Nexus 5X Build/MMB29P) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2272.96 Mobile Safari/537.36 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)
Google says the decision to switch user-agent strings will ultimately make it easier for GoogleBot to cope with new web technologies. This makes a lot of sense. HTML5 web technologies are an increasingly important part of the modern web, and support for them in Safari lags far behind Chrome.
The move is also partly because the tool used by GoogleBot to render web pages has evolved to more closely function like Chrome than Safari.
This change shouldn’t impact the vast majority of websites, but Google recommends that anyone concerned should test their site with the Google Fetch and Render tool, available as part of Google Webmaster Tools.
Perhaps the lure of pristine, stock Android and the latest LG Nexus handset is impossible to resist, even for search engine algorithms.