Responsive Web Design and SEO: The Pros and Cons

In last week’s blog, we introduced the concept of Responsive Web Design, a design strategy in which developers create one website for all devices that automatically adjusts itself for mobile devices.  Now that you are familiar with what Responsive Web Design is, it is time to take a look at the implications of applying responsive web design to your website.  Any time you make a major change to your website, you have to take into consideration what those changes will do to your search engine ranking.  If you Google SEO and Responsive Web Design you will see that there is controversy over whether or not it is good for your Search Engine Optimization campaigns.  In this blog we will dive into some of the arguments to help you get a good idea of what you can expect to happen to your search engine ranking if you decide to go with a responsive website design.

Pros

There are a lot of really good arguments for implementing Responsive Web Design, and a lot of arguments that say that Responsive Web Design will improve your SEO.  Let’s take a look at those common arguments:

  1. Google and Bing recommend Responsive Web Design- Last year both Google and Bing came out and said that Responsive Web Design is preferable to other formats.  The trick is they also said that if better formats were more suitable for your users, then they were acceptable too.  In fact, Google uses a mix of mobile strategies including mobile only products to meet its user’s needs.
  2. Responsive Web Design means a single URL- While Google can now accommodate multiple URL’s for a single domain, it is a somewhat complicated process and not all search engines have this capability yet.  Having a single URL for your website maximizes your score on link sharing.  In addition, a single URL makes it easier for your visitors to share your website across platforms.
  3. Enhanced Readability- If your website currently has no mobile version you are probably experiencing a dramatic increase in bounce rates (the number of people who go to your page and then leave immediately).  With Responsive Web Design the text automatically adapts to fit the screen of your device making websites easier to view on mobile devices.  When people can read your site easily they stay on longer, improving your stats, which improve your ranking.  If you are already running mobile solutions this advantage is a bit less of a pull.
  4. It’s Less Expensive- If you have a separate mobile site, you have to run a separate SEO campaign just for your mobile strategy.  With Responsive Web Design, one SEO campaign can rule them all.
  5. If you have a large tablet audience, it just works better- Separate mobile sites are built on the idea that you custom design a page for a screen size, but with tablets the screen size is so variable that it would be cost prohibitive to build an optimized site for each device.  Since Responsive Web Design automatically adapts to the device, it tends to be a better option. With the enhanced readability that we discussed earlier it means people spending more time on your site and sharing it with others, thus improving your SEO

Cons

No technology is perfect and Responsive Web Design is no exception.  It does have some draw backs for your SEO to consider.

  1. More code can cause loading delay on mobile devices- One of the things that makes a mobile optimized site so effective is that it has little code, and it is very basic.  With Responsive Web Design, you have a full version website trying to load on your smaller device with less computing power.  This can lead to delays that will end up in higher bounce rates.
  2. Mobile websites need their own keywords- When you take into consideration the context in which many users are looking up information it makes sense that you need to target specific keywords just for the mobile crowd, such as nearby or locations.  It’s worth noting though, that you can include as many keywords on a SEO campaign as you would like and it won’t hurt anything to put mobile keywords in your main website SEO strategy.
  3. Can stifle innovation- There are some concerns that a responsive design approach stifles innovation by providing a simple solution that may not be optimum.  If you can set it and forget it, then who is thinking about how to come up with the next best way to please the fastest growing audience on the internet.
  4. Its overkill if your target audience isn’t mobile­- While the mobile market is growing rapidly, not all populations are equally able to have access to mobile devices.  If your target audience is older or less affluent, then your funds may be better spent on other endeavors.
  5. Certain applications won’t run on mobile even with Responsive Web Design- Games that are designed to play full screen, apps with flash, and ones that require a lot of computing power.  If a person can get to your site but can’t use all the features you are likely to lose their business permanently.  Plus you have a corresponding increase in bounce rates.
  6. Not all content is mobile ready- Creating content for mobile devices is a different animal, requiring a different focus and often different formats.  A solution adjusts the view to the device without addressing the unique content needs of various users is incomplete and begs for a hybrid approach.

As you can see there are a lot of factors to consider before implementing Responsive Web Design, just with SEO.  Responsive Web Design may not be right for you, or you may want to consider a hybrid approach, as many companies including Google have opted for.  Regardless, no change in your design strategy should be undertaken lightly, and you should seek out the advice of a professional before you commit to any major changes. Nourtek Solutions can help you determine the best formats for your content and the best strategies for your audience.  Contact us today for a consultation!

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