Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year it’s likely you have come across the term responsive design at some point. There are many advantages to building your site on a responsive design platform (that we will touch on later) but some have wondered whether there are any disadvantages as well, particularly in terms of SEO. Also, would these disadvantages be mitigated if you were to go for a more traditional .m site? After all, you would be crazy if you didn’t give some form of platform for your mobile searchers to land on, especially considering the boom in mobile/local searches. Failing to provide for this traffic could see you pouring conversions, and therefore money, down the proverbial drain.
Thankfully Matt Cutts answered the question ‘Does a site leveraging responsive design “lose” any SEO benefit compared to a more traditional m. site?’ in his most recent Webmaster Tools video. View it below and then scroll down for our analysis.
So, let’s begin with the most important point.
Define Responsive Design
Responsive design is defined as the process of designing a site that alters its layout and the way it presents its information based on the size of the screen it is being viewed on. Our own site is responsive design, just click on the bottom right corner of your browser and resize the window. You’ll see that the page changes its layout as the screen reduces or increases in size. This comes into its own when visitors are coming to your site via their phone, their tablet, their laptop and TV. People can be accessing your site from these four different platforms (and more) simultaneously and all be presented with the perfect size webpage.
A popular alternative to responsive design is dedicated mobile sites. With a mobile site you have a separate website set up on a different URL that is perfectly equipped for receiving mobile traffic. However, this site stays at the single designated size no matter where it is visited from, whether that’s a tablet or mobile phone for example.
So, There Aren’t Any SEO Disadvantages To Responsive Design?
Matt’s short answer? No, there aren’t. In fact, Matt touches more on the possible SEO drawbacks of using mobile only sites. The main issue is the risk your run of dividing your sites authority between two URLs if you don’t set up rel=”canonical” tags correctly, or at all. Without canonical markup you could divide your sites authority and link portfolio down the middle, weakening both in terms of SEO. When it comes to this, responsive design has a huge advantage in the fact that you are only using a single URL to present the information. This way you run no risk of splitting your sites authority.
From our perspective (not being Google engineers) we can only really see advantages to building your site on a responsive design platform. Not only are you providing an intuitive and enjoyable experience for all possible visitors to your site (something Google is massive on) but you are also future proofing your site for any new screen sizes that may come out in the future. Away from the mobile or responsive design argument there really is no reason why you wouldn’t allow your site to be accessible to all possible visitors, not doing so can be like sticking a giant stop sign on your homepage.
Think about the negative effect having a non optimised site could have on your mobile traffic. As soon as people arrive they are presented with a site that is hard to navigate, with difficult to read text and poorly sized images. More often than not people are likely to drop straight off your site when presented with something like this, or at least not stay long.
Our takeaways from Matt’s video would be this:
1. If you currently have a site that is not optimised for mobile traffic do so now! Although both methods are applicable and do work, in our opinion responsive design is better for the reasons listed above.
2. If your site is currently optimised for mobile traffic with a .m domain ensure you have rel=”canonical” tags set up correctly in order to prevent dividing authority between the two URLs.
3. If your site is currently set up on a responsive design platform then continue what you’re doing!
We hope you found this article useful, we’re always trying to improve people’s understanding of SEO to help them improve their sites and the quality of internet as a whole. If you need further assistance with improving your site don’t forget that we are an SEO and web design agency that specialise in helping businesses improve their online visibility and the quality of the online experience they provide for their users. Contact us on 01753 878 435 or drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Featured image attribution: Yutaka Tsutano
Stop sign image attribution: thecrazyfilmgirl