When Responsive Web Design Is Bad For SEO

In my January column I resolved not to discuss the responsive Web design issue anymore, as the One URL versus multiple URL issue is moot now that Google has announced a way to consolidate link equity for equivalent mobile URLs. Unfortunately, the rest of the SEO community isn’t following suit, as responsive Web design still seems to have the undeserved reputation for being the best option for SEO.

In reality, mobile URLs could be the best option for SEO, depending on your circumstances.

The Madness Of Crowds

For example, though I praised her in my last column for sharing her mobile SEO process, and in general, I think she provides good information on mobile SEO, Aleyda Solis also provides this flowchart in her process as a way of helping businesses understand their options for developing mobile sites based on what is preferable for SEO:

mobile-seo-site-architecture-flowchart[1]

Flowchart represents the myth of responsive web design’s superiority for SEO.

There’s a simple stoplight color coding here that implies that responsive Web design is the best method for mobile SEO, and separate URLs are the least preferable option.

In fact, Google never introduced such a hierarchy when they announced their preference for responsive Web design last June. All they said was they prefer responsive Web design, and if it’s not best for your user, then they support dynamic serving and mobile URLs. The one URL argument for dynamic serving and responsive design’s superiority is moot with the introduction of switchboard tags, as Google can now understand which site should appear when, regardless of URL structure.

Let me say that again, as those who write about these issues don’t seem to be getting it otherwise:

The one URL argument for dynamic serving and responsive design’s superiority is moot with the introduction of switchboard tags, as Google can now understand which site should appear when, regardless of URL structure.

Not just doing that for Aleyda’s benefit, as Aleyda presents mostly good information, and many others are making the same honest mistake.

In a recent poll of SEO firms and MBAs, 100% of respondents said that responsive Web design is preferable for SEO than separate mobile sites. Really? Always?

Really, it seems these days everywhere you turn there’s someone somewhere claiming that responsive Web design is preferable to separate mobile sites for SEO because all of the links go to one URL. To this I say…

responsive biden meme

For example, in the otherwise excellent new book Mobile Marketing an Hour a Day by industry veterans Noah Elkin and Rachel Pasqua, Covario’s Nick Roshon states his preference for responsive Web design for SEO, citing consolidated link equity as evidence of responsive Web design’s superiority for SEO. He even gives this curious statement: “While Responsive Web Design may be harder to implement, and there may be user experience reasons to go with alternative mobile web design standards, the benefits of going responsive are undeniable.”

Actually, they could be deniable, depending on the site that’s going responsive. In fact, the benefits of responsive Web design are often negated by the cons. If mobile URLs or dynamic serving provides a better user experience, then Google does not suggest that you make your site responsive, but instead provides options to give you the same benefits of consolidated link equity on mobile URLs.

Unfortunately, Google did not mention any of the instances when responsive Web design provides an inferior user experience, leaving it up to individual webmasters. They’re very concerned with confusing webmasters, it seems, and didn’t want to confuse the issue, I assume, by getting into those scenarios where responsive Web design would not be preferred.

When I reached out to them for this article, Google has officially declined to comment. However, based on the limited information they have provided, empirical evidence of what’s working in SERPs, and my twelve years optimizing content professionally, this is a list of five things that will make mobile URLs or dynamic serving a more attractive option for you for mobile SEO.

1.  When Desktop Website Does Not Contain Categories Mobile Searchers Are Looking For

In the example I used on the Stone Temple blog in January, Mercedes has serious information architecture issues that are preventing it from connecting to searchers in general. Their content for car types is not accessible, let alone optimized, and making that site accessible to smartphones and tablets is not going to solve these serious information architecture issues. Mercedes could redesign their site, and then make it responsive, and that would solve some of their problems, but if they make their current site responsive, they will have the same issues that they do now.

Similarly, the desktop website doesn’t have information on mobile content like mobile wallpaper or apps. Why should it, in fact, when desktop searchers by and large aren’t looking for those things? Yet, mobile searchers are in droves, and if Mercedes simply makes their current site responsive, they will miss out on all that traffic.

pivot table mobile percent categories

Mercedes would miss out on traffic from the categories in green if they made their current site responsive.

Responsive Web design advocates: missing out on relevant traffic is not optimization.

2.  When Desktop Website Does Not Contain Keywords Mobile Searchers Are Using

As I explained in last month’s mobile keyword research guide, context can change the keywords searchers use and the frequency with which they use them.

For example [nearby] and [download apps] are two keywords that are likely used a lot more on mobile devices than they are on desktops and laptops (if they’re used on desktops and laptops at all).

Desktops and laptops lack GPS, so if a searcher asks Google for restaurants nearby on their laptop, they’re likely to get results based on IP address if they’re not logged in (which in the case of my laptop, the server in New York city, 800 miles away), and if they are logged in, results based on the city they’ve specified in their registration.

If a searcher asks her smartphone for restaurants nearby on the other hand, the results are much more accurate as they’re based on the position of her phone at the time of the query.

It’s likely because of this that many more people use the keyword nearby in mobile searches than they do in desktop searches. As you can see from this mobile % of total volume chart, most of these searches are coming from mobile phones. The two that don’t come from mobile phones specify a location, which Google desktop search needs if it’s going to provide accurate search results.

nearby restaurants mobile percent of total

Certain keywords, like “nearby” are primarily used by mobile phone searchers, and can’t be used in a responsive design.

You can take this information into account and use these keywords in adaptive content on a responsive site, but it’s going to be more effective from an SEO standpoint to optimize both sites with different keywords depending on the platform.

Look, Google may have announced their preference for responsive Web design, but they also tell webmasters in their Webmaster Guidelines, “Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.”

In cases where mobile searchers and desktop searchers are using different keywords, the best option for SEO is the option that brings more qualified traffic: separate sites with targeted keywords.

3.  When Responsive Layout Increases Load Time Significantly

We already know that speed is a ranking factor for SEO, but we also know that Google wants to send searchers to the best possible experience. Sites using responsive Web design, which by nature include more code than mobile websites, generally take longer to load.

Apart from the ranking factor of page speed, this could increase your bounce rate and/or decrease your conversions. According to Google research, mobile searchers are a fickle group, and won’t stick around if you make them wait.

SearchEngine639x338[1]

Recent research presented on http://www.howtogomo.com/en/d/why-go-mo/#reasons-mobile-matters shows the dangers of making mobile searchers wait.

So why make them wait with more code?

Now of course, if you were just providing a desktop site that makes a user pinch and zoom to perform simple actions, providing a responsive site is a step up from that. But it’s not the ideal in this situation, which would be serving fast clean code with dynamic serving or separate mobile URLs.

Of course, there are ways, as covered by Sherwood Stranieri last year, that webmasters can speed up responsive sites, but they’re still unlikely to load as quickly as separate mobile sites.

4.  When Target Audience Primarily Uses Feature Phones

 

Don't go responsive if you want to be visible to the red countries on this map, as they primarily use feature phones to access the Web.

Don’t go responsive if you want to be visible to the red countries on this map, as they primarily use feature phones to access the Web.

This one, I didn’t have to speculate on, as Google has guidelines for developing for feature phones and smartphones that do not include responsive Web design. So, if you’re developing for an audience that uses feature phones (i.e., non-white, non-US-based, not affluent, and/or older), responsive Web design is not the best option for SEO.

5.  When It Prevents Product Innovation That Improves The User Experience

Google Now wins the Popular Science Innovation of the Year Award in 2012, as a direct result of not following Google's own advice about responsive web design.

Google Now wins the Popular Science Innovation of the Year Award in 2012, as a direct result of not following Google’s own advice about responsive web design.

Yes, Google may have stated a preference for responsive Web design, but they also say this in their Quality Guidelines: “Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.”

Some businesses have taken this to heart with mobile, and have created products that can only be used on mobile devices that help their user do what they need to do faster.

Take banking, for example. JP Morgan Chase could have reformatted their desktop website for mobile visitors and called it a day. Instead they thought about the specific properties of mobile devices that they could use to make their customers’ lives easier. And for them it meant creating a separate mobile website, allowing for SMS banking, and creating a mobile app.

The mobile app has a feature called Quick Deposit which uses the device’s camera to allow users to take pictures of checks for deposit. It’s mobile-specific content, as it’s only available on tablet and smartphone, and it has been a huge success for Chase.

According to a recent press release, since launching Quick Deposit in 2010, consumers have used it to deposit more than $4 billion, and the number of active Chase mobile customers increased 42% between 2011 and 2012. The app now has 15 million registered users, and several awards including a 2011 Webby Award. And those 15 million registered users have expressed their gratitude with 4.2 out of five stars in Google Play with over 70k reviews as of this writing.

Had Chase not considered the unique characteristics of mobile devices and the utility that they could bring to consumers, but instead only reformatted adaptive content to appear in a mobile context, they wouldn’t have been able to have the success they’ve had, and wouldn’t have been able to serve their users as they did.

Or, take Google, for example. Their stated preference in responsive Web design hasn’t stopped them from making mobile-only content. One of these features is called Google Now. Released just seven months ago, it’s now a big differentiator for Android over iOS, with reviewers saying things like “But the jewel of Android 4.2 is absolutely Google Now, and its brilliance overshadows the still lacking aspects of the OS as a whole;” and “This latest Google Now ad has me hating Siri.”

Google Now has been such a big innovation for Google that it won them Popular Science’s Innovation of the Year, putting it in the company of such innovations as former award winners like the iPhone, the fluorescent lamp and the Mosaic Web browser.

Google could have made their content adaptive and responsive and not considered the mobile context. But they didn’t, and their business is better for it.

In fact, Google itself is an interesting organization; although they have stated a preference for responsive Web design, and the CEO has made disparaging remarks about mobile content, they also develop for mobile, tablet and desktop search separately, and on the mobile ads side, they have advocated strongly for experiences in which mobile context increases the relevance of the ad. Regardless of which side you’re on here, it’s possible to use Google viewpoints to justify your own. Think, instead, of your user, as that’s ultimately what will serve your business (and Google) best.

You may be making a responsive site because it’s easier to maintain, but is it preventing you from creating mobile-only content that your users will love, and that will differentiate your site from your competitors’ in the marketplace? If so, think twice about responsive Web design or adaptive content, as it’s not going to help your business — or your SEO — as much as mobile-specific content.

Granted, the two aren’t mutually exclusive, and the preferred method for mobile SEO that I detailed last year is still a hybrid of responsive pages and mobile-specific content.

A Revised Decision Tree

The message: if you’re thinking about mobile SEO, throw away the decision tree I mentioned earlier. Apart from the one URL fallacy, one of the decision points isn’t even SEO-specific, as it is more about the businesses’ resources than optimizing their content for search results.

Replace it with this. It’s not perfect, as deciding the proper configuration for your mobile content is a nuanced process; but it should get you closer to optimal than what’s been provided in the past.

SEL-Chart

Don’t Be A Responsive Bandwagoneer

Not everyone thinks responsive Web design is best for SEO, though it can sometimes seem that way to those of us who know better. Adam Audette and George Michie of Rimm-Kauffman Group said in their classic post on marketing as applied science, “Mobile websites: Responsive design helps, but smartphone users have fundamentally different needs and only a site designed to meet those unique needs will produce the best outcome for the user and for the business.”

This is a similar message offered by GigaOM Pro recently, which cites unique mobile use cases and speed as reasons why they advocate separate mobile sites. Likewise, when I interviewed veteran mobile SEO expert Cindy Krum for .Net Magazine, she said that she also advocates a hybrid approach: “I have been recommending a mixed solution for most of my clients – leveraging Responsive Design when it makes sense, and special mobile-only landing pages when keywords or use-cases cannot be appropriately addressed with a Responsive Design approach.”

Finally, Forrester Research, in their 2013 Mobile Trends for Marketers report, said that “Responsive design will be hyped once again in 2013.” Responsive design is not a “magic elixir” they say, because “1) The consistency of experiences across devices is only one small element of the overall picture; 2) companies will need divergent app and Web strategies as well as mobile content and service curation; 3) not every portable/mobile device will have a browser; and 4) supporting different use cases across devices requires a process to implement responsive design principles.”

If you’ve read this post and you still think responsive is best for SEO, that’s your prerogative; but your competitor who provides a better user experience with mobile landing pages might be getting more traffic from search.

TL;DR Recap

  • It’s a popular myth that responsive Web design is always the best choice for SEO
  • The one URL argument for dynamic serving and responsive design’s superiority is moot with the introduction of switchboard tags, as Google can now understand which site should appear when, regardless of URL structure.
  • If any of these questions apply affirmatively to your business, dynamic serving or mobile URLs may be the best option for you for SEO:
    • Is desktop website missing categories mobile searchers are looking for?
    • Is desktop website missing keywords mobile searchers are looking for?
    • Is site speed important for conversions on your site?
    • Can the user experience be improved using mobile features not available on desktop (e.g. camera, scanner, GPS, etc.)?
    • Are you targeting any users with feature phones (i.e., non-U.S., non-affluent, non-white, older)?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Mobile | Google: SEO | Mobile Search | Search Engines: Mobile Search Engines | Search Marketing: Mobile | SEO: Mobile Search

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About The Author: is the SEO Director at Vivid Seats, is an SEO veteran with more than 14 years experience both agency and in-house, and is a thought leader in permission marketing as a columnist and a frequent speaker on SEO and mobile marketing.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://twitter.com/mike_angstadt Mike Angstadt

    There are two acceptable formats that give you mobile points from Google – using media types in css to control frontend styling AND redirecting to a mobile specific URL – and they prefer you show tablet devices the full Monty. Besides that no responsive web design concepts you incorporate will “help” with SEO so your points are valid on how it could potentially hurt. Often people blend SEO and UX which – besides UX indirectly affecting rank signals – don’t have a terrible lot to do with each other. https://developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/

  • http://www.mobilemartin.com/ Michael Martin

    Bryson,

    For the record, Nick Roshon was with iCrossing, when he was misled with that statement ;)

    Since joining us here at Covario he has seen the light toward Dynamic Serving which allows actual Mobile SEO under the One URL :)

  • http://twitter.com/LeftyDesigner Shannon Mølhave

    I’d just like to comment that reason #3 is only an issue with bad coding practices. If a responsive site is built “mobile-first,” meaning the default layout and styles are for mobile with larger format styles layered on top, then mobile devices will actually download less code than desktop users.

  • Krishna Chaitanya

    that’s a good idea to create a separate mobile site, as the search terms may vary from desktops to smart mobiles and other..

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Mike, I love ya, but sooner or later you’re going to have to give up on this one URL thing. As I said (twice) in the post, the one URL argument for dynamic serving and responsive design’s superiority is moot with the introduction of switchboard tags, as Google can now understand which site should appear when, regardless of URL structure. I agree dynamic serving can be an attractive solution for mobile SEO, but it’s not a sure thing any more than responsive web design is, and it has its own issues that separate URLs don’t: http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2249533/How-Googles-Mobile-Best-Practices-Can-Slow-Your-Site-Down

    At any rate, I’m sure we’ll talk more about it at SMX West next week. Looking forward to speaking with you again on the mobile search panel!

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Hi Shannon. I agree that responsive web design can be made faster, but most of them by nature are not. As Akamai evangelist Guy Podjarny says, “A responsive website tuned to perform the best it can would not be as fast as a dedicated mdot site tuned equally well. Or more realistically, an average responsive website would always be slower than an average mdot site.” (source: http://www.guypo.com/technical/responsive-web-design-is-bad-for-performance-there-i-said-it/) Plus, mobile first is not for everyone. In fact, The Weather Channel doesn’t even consider themselves a mobile first business, and they get more mobile traffic than most: http://www.digiday.com/platforms/the-mobile-first-fallacy/ More often businesses will be serving a lot of content to people who don’t need it, and this will inevitably cause performance issues.

    That being said, if you disagree with point #3, there are four other good reasons to consider alternatives to responsive web design if you’re thinking about SEO.

  • RyanMJones

    I’d like to briefly rebut points 1, 2, and 3.

    1.) This seems like an indicated of bad information architecture on both sites, and if done right should not be an issue. I advise people to start with a mobile design and scale that up to a desktop design. It forces you to concentrate on and prioritize what’s most important. When mobile want something different, it’s likely that both mobile AND desktop visitors would benefit from some IA work.

    2.) is anybody actually putting the word “nearby” on their page and optimizing for it? Doing a quick search on mobile and desktop search, none of the results that are restaurants actually use that word – so I’d argue that this keyword example isn’t a good one. It just says they should optimize for “restauarants.” Perhaps there’s a better example? I still haven’t seen a good example where mobile and desktop search are vastly different.

    3. Responsive design doesn’t have to increase load times. I’m not sure where this myth started. If done right, responsive designs can be lean and efficient. The keyword there is: if done right. responsive is a concept, not one method like everybody seems to think it is.

  • Takeshi Young

    I completely agree. Using responsive design for mobile sites is missing out on the opportunity to craft a unique mobile experience. Mobile and desktop users have different needs, and the mobile site design should reflect that.

    Also, since mobile bandwidth is still slower than on the desktop, designing a site specifically for mobile can greatly improve page load speed and user experience on mobile.

  • http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    responsive web design for SEO.. optimize for keyword used in particular touch points in the buying cycle the customer already has a funnel process for.

  • Henry Zeitler

    Good post, Bryson, thank you! ;-)

    But what’s up with sustainability? I mean, when the stats don’t lie, how many people will ever visit your desktop site and read all the information you want to provide and not just the reduced stack for the mobile users? Maintaining a single site is much easier for the customer, too. And how to maintain the growing list of user agents for your redirect?
    Yes, I think one reason why Google has stated the preference for RWD is a very economic. It’s easier to crawl a single site with one content than to crawl two sites on different domains/subdomains or subfolders and to check the contents for whatever. But for the fact that Google will prefer it and for the things I mentioned above, I’d always think first about a RWD solution and if absolutly not feasible a mobile-site. Btw, my favorite example for RWD and what’s possible is http://bostonglobe.com/.
    One more thing. What do you exactly mean with “non-white”?

  • http://www.mobilemartin.com/ Michael Martin

    You can also accomplish this under One URL using dynamic serving

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Ryan, thanks for the response. Not that I’m surprised by it. :) At least we agree on a lack of brand bias in the SERPs, eh?

    1) Yes, it is and this is exactly the point. A responsive site will have exactly the same IA problems that a desktop site has. If you don’t have the resources to completely redesign your site then you shouldn’t make it responsive. In my experience most businesses don’t redesign their site before they make it responsive.

    2) Just because businesses aren’t optimizing doesn’t mean they’re not missing an opportunity to make their site better. Nearby and near me is one example of variance in mobile and desktop search behavior. Download apps is another. ATM locations is another (http://www.slideshare.net/brysonmeunier/iseo-doing-mobile-search-optimization-right). Roadside assistance is another (http://searchengineland.com/consider-mobile-content-carefully-for-users-better-seo-92597). There are many keywords that are relevant to businesses that desktop searchers don’t often use, and if people listen to you and ignore them they could be missing out on an opportunity to connect with the searcher. Agree that many businesses are.

    3) As I said to Shannon in the comments below, I agree that responsive sites don’t have to be slow, but agree with Akamai evangelist Guy Podjarny that most of them are.

    Does this mean we agree that responsive web design is not appropriate for feature phone users or for instances when mobile-specific features could improve the user experience?

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Hi Henry. Thanks for your comments! You’re entitled to your opinion, but as I said, Google only recommends responsive web design if you’re developing for smartphones, and if responsive web design makes sense for the user. As I explain here, it doesn’t always make sense for the user.

    Agree that mobile usage is growing, but I think that’s yet another reason to get mobile configuration right. Not to go with responsive web design because that’s the latest trend.

    BostonGlobe.com is frequently cited as a nice example of responsive web design, and I agree that it is. Sometimes responsive web design is appropriate, and news sites are usually in that category. You wonder if it’s the best thing for their business, however, as the NYTimes recently put the Globe up for sale. :)

    BTW, you don’t have to have a responsive site to maintain a single web site. As content strategy expert Karen McGrane explains in her book Content Strategy for Mobile, the content management system should do most of the heavy lifting, so that adaptive content can exist on separate URLs without additional maintenance headaches. Besides, maintenance isn’t really an SEO issue, per se, as there are some solutions that are more expensive to maintain but will help you become better optimized in search. If any of these five conditions are met, I’m suggesting that separate URLs or dynamic serving is one of these solutions.

    Finally, non-white: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nonwhite If you’re using demographic targeting, as some marketers do, responsive web design doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re targeting anyone other than rich white guys in the United States.

  • RyanMJones

    I agree with you on point one. I think that’s where a lot of the fail we’re seeing comes from. People are trying to make their existing sites responsive instead of starting a new design with responsive practices. You can’t make something responsive, you need to start responsive.

    My personal strategy is an eye toward the future. I’m perfectly fine with not supporting feature phones just as I’m fine no longer supporting IE6. I’ve always held the opinion that mobile is a “fast growing dying area.” What I mean by that is it’s evolving at a huge pace right now but in the end as mobile devices become more powerful we’ll see the mobile experience and the desktop experience merge into one solitary experience.

  • http://twitter.com/inflatemouse Carlos del Rio

    It is unclear from any of the things that you have referenced that that switchboard tags make 1-URL moot. I also think that you are misusing Responsive Design (responding to display) with conditionalized delivery. Responsive Design is a good idea even if you are in fact separating desktop from mobile and tablet traffic.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Glad to see we’re finding some common ground. I agree that mobile searchers and desktop searchers will have similar information needs in many cases, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the mobile experience and the desktop experience will merge into one solitary experience. As I said in this column a few months ago (http://searchengineland.com/does-mobile-search-matter-in-a-multiscreen-world-138778), I don’t think the fact that the user experience is similar in some cases on mobile devices negates the fact that people search differently on mobile devices. Instead of ignoring these new types of searches based on what only mobile devices can do, I’m suggesting marketers optimize for both ubiquity and mobile-specific searches. This is how you get the most traffic from mobile search.

    As for IE6 support, IE6 has a market share of 6.33% (http://thenextweb.com/insider/2013/03/01/internet-explorer-continues-growth-past-55-market-share-thanks-to-ie9-and-ie10-as-chrome-hits-17-month-low/), while feature phones make up almost 50% of global usage (http://www.comscore.com/Insights/Presentations_and_Whitepapers/2013/2013_Mobile_Future_in_Focus). No doubt smartphones have more search activity than feature phones, but I generally wouldn’t advise that marketers ignore nearly 50% of the user base if they want to grow traffic. Regardless of what the future would look like, people have been predicting what you’re describing at least since I’ve been in mobile SEO (2005) and it has yet to materialize. I’m not sure if and when it will, but in the meantime I intend to help my clients and readers get value from mobile search today.

    I don’t expect us to agree on everything here, as we clearly are approaching this from opposite sides, but I do appreciate your input.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Carlos, I saw you speak at SMX Advanced last year, and as I recall you weren’t a fan of responsive design due to point #3 above. Why the change of heart?

    The one URL approach for consolidating link equity is moot with the introduction of switchboard tags, as Google supports all three configurations. Webmasters don’t need to worry about loss of link equity as a result of using separate URLs. There may be other reasons for using one URL instead of subdomains, but from an SEO standpoint it’s a non-starter.

    I confess I had never heard of conditionalized delivery, but then, neither has Google: https://www.google.com/search?q=%22conditionalized+delivery%22&aq=f&oq=%22conditionalized+delivery%22&aqs=chrome.0.57j62.8587&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8. Perhaps you mean conditional loading?

    At any rate, by responsive web design I mean changing the display of the site without altering the content or the URLs, as Google described it in their original smartphone recommendations: https://developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/details If I’m misusing it it’s likely Google is as well.

    Thanks for your comments. If you’d care to explain how responsive web design is a good idea in spite of the five things I mentioned above I’d love to hear it.

  • purpleblaze

    I like ur blog very much.It is very useful to all seo members.Thanks for this contribution in seo world.Thanks once again.

    http://www.purpleblaze.com.au/web-design/

  • Paul

    Not sure why you are saying all this, as Google is still publicly stating that they prefer responsive designs and the least favorable one is to have 2 separate URL’s.

    See https://developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/details

    Your co-writer here http://searchengineland.com/switchboard-tags-like-canonical-tags-but-for-mobile-seo-127676 also gives an excellent point of view saying that the 2 separate URL’s are very bad for referral traffic.

    Also, Bing is not using it, yet anyway.

    So only traffic from Google can be used with the 2 URL’s strategy and Google themselves still say that this implementation is the least preferred.

    So in short: Responsive is still the best way to go, although not perfect of course.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Paul, thanks for your comments. As I said, if you read the smartphone guidelines closely, Google never introduced a hierarchy that presents 2 separate URLs as the least favorable option. They stated their preference for responsive design if it’s best for the user (and the things that you failed to address in your comments are all instances when responsive web design is not best for the user), and if it’s not best for the user they said that they support dynamic serving and separate URLs. They did not say that dynamic serving was better because of the one URL. In fact, they only stated a preference for responsive design, and said that they support other configurations if they’re better for the user. They did not say that separate URLs are the least preferred. Sometimes responsive design is good for the user and Google and webmasters and users are all happy. Sometimes, as in these instances, it’s not.

    Regarding referral URLs, this traffic can be and has been recovered for separate URLs with redirects for years. If the redirects are set up correctly, the best user experience could be provided by separate URLs if any of the five conditions above are met.

    Regarding Bing, I love them, but along with Yahoo! they comprise a little over 3% of the total mobile search traffic worldwide (http://gs.statcounter.com/#mobile_search_engine-ww-monthly-201202-201302-bar). So I do hope that they see the light and support switchboard tags eventually, but if they don’t most sites with separate URLs won’t see any decrease in mobile search traffic.

    However, if you use responsive design you’re essentially ignoring the 50% of the global population who owns feature phones. No doubt these people on average use the Internet less than smartphone owners, but the percentage is still probably larger than 3%. As a business owner or a webmaster you’re going to lose traffic either way.

    No doubt responsive has many advantages if your business model and your user base fits. What I’m saying above is that it’s not a silver bullet for SEO, and there are instances when separate URLs or dynamic serving are better for the user, and for the business. If you read the smartphone guidelines again you’ll see that this is what Google suggested as well.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Mike, thanks for your comments. I’m glad you agree on those specific points. I don’t really agree that SEO and UX don’t have a lot to do with each other. Ultimately Google is trying to provide a better user experience, which is the goal of SEO and UX alike. No doubt that SEO and UX are separate disciplines, and there are things (as Rand Fishkin described recently in SEOMoz) that are held true in UX that are not best practices in SEO, but I think they’re definitely related. Look at Panda or Penguin, for example. When SEOs started to do things that were effective in search results but not good for the searcher user experience, they quickly found that loophole closed. Certainly this is a broader issue than what I discuss above, but I just wanted to thank you for your comments and briefly disagree with the one point.

  • Paul

    I am sure you have some valid points in some cases, but when Google states the following, in BOLD letters nonetheless when talking about responsive web design (actually the following words are the ONLY bold letters on the page, just to make sure nobody can ever miss it)

    responsive web design…. This is Google’s recommended configuration.

    Then that is it, period. This is the setting recommended and thereby all other settings are less favorable, in general. Of course there are exceptions, but the rule is: Google recommends responsive design.

    So when you start this story by stating:

    ..the One URL versus multiple URL issue is moot now that Google has
    announced a way to consolidate link equity for equivalent mobile URLs

    is just not correct and I think that this is the reason why people disagree with you, as your opening just cannot and is not correct and because of that many people will not believe anymore what follows, even if those points are correct.

    At least that is how I feel…

    Probably you just intended to get people to think and get a discussion going, but IMHO it is never a good idea to do that by stating a reason that just isn’t correct.

    Anyway, thanks for the time you have taken to write everything up.

  • http://twitter.com/Niaccurshi Lee Griffin

    So mobile users never use their phone while at home with plenty of time to browse? They never want to get exactly the same information from a website they know they can get on the desktop version? They never use wifi (I think China have something to say about that).

    This kind of analysis of “what mobile is” is inherently lazy. For some the mobile device is purely on the go, for others it is a Samsung note that they only use in the office. You’re going to presume you know what the end user wants just because of a user-agent string? Incredible.

  • Brian

    I can’t even read your article. Who designed your site? It’s god awful. No hierarchy, no structure. I’m sure your writing is nice and all, but it literally feels like a gigantic jumble of text and content. You’d drive your point(s) home more if your own site was better designed.

  • http://twitter.com/dylanbaumann Dylan Baumann

    There’s a major difference between responsive design and one-page websites. If you have a ‘High Quality SEO website’ and simply apply a responsive framework to it, the flow of the website won’t change, the linking does not have to change.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Paul, you’re entitled to your opinion and I appreciate your explanation, but on the page you’re quoting Google says they support all three configurations for smartphone sites. So while Google does recommend responsive web design for smartphone sites, sites built with dynamic serving or separate URLs can rank as well if they follow Google’s guidelines. On the page you’re not quoting (https://developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/), Google says “If responsive design is not the best option to serve your users, Google supports having your content being served using different HTML.” So Google is allowing for the possibility that responsive web design is not always the best option to serve users, and that’s why they’re supporting dynamic serving and separate URLs.

    Plus, as I said, Google as an organization makes mobile-specific content when it makes sense for the user, so they recognize that responsive design isn’t always the right solution.

    One example of that is #4, where they left responsive web design off their list of their recommendations for feature phones and smartphones. If you’re developing for an audience other than the primarily white, affluent, US-based users who have smartphones, Google does not recommend responsive web design.

    You’re really reading into the boldface on that one page a bit too much, when there’s a huge body of evidence, with words bolded and non-bolded, that supports this line from the article: “Regardless of which side you’re on here, it’s possible to use Google viewpoints to justify your own. Think, instead, of your user, as that’s ultimately what will serve your business (and Google) best.”

    If Google supports separate URLs and dynamic serving, and they recognize that responsive web design is not always right for the user, then the statement that I opened the article with is absolutely true. I’m sorry if you or others feel differently, but that won’t change the reality of the situation.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    No, mobile users do use their phone at home with plenty of time to browse. No one is suggesting otherwise. My point is that there are mobile behaviors and features like scanners, GPS and camera that marketers can take advantage of for the benefit of users and businesses but responsive web design and adaptive content don’t allow for it. As I said a few months ago (http://searchengineland.com/does-mobile-search-matter-in-a-multiscreen-world-138778), yes allow users to access relevant content, wherever they are, but also take advantage of mobile-specific search behavior and mobile features that you just can’t do with responsive web design. You might also be interested in my review of Content Strategy for Mobile, in which I point out some shortcomings of the adaptive content strategy you’re evangelizing: http://marketingland.com/book-review-content-strategy-for-mobile-by-karen-mcgrane-34269 Too often discussions like this are about either/or, but there’s no reason we can’t make content adaptive when it’s appropriate and mobile-specific when it’s not.

  • http://twitter.com/jtbartoli janet bartoli

    Good thoughtful post Bryson! I appreciate your thinking and could not agree more. This is precisely how we, as SEO professionals, should be thinking – that is to challenge what Google says, learn what’s best for your client’s visitors, and test, then analyze the results. Then and only then, will you know which configuration is best.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Thanks, Janet! Yes, and in this case Google is recommending something only for smartphone usage, and recognizing that even then there can be times when the user experience is not well-served by a responsive web site. I give Google a lot of credit for recognizing that webmasters are struggling with these issues and providing guidelines, but to your point as SEOs we have to consider our users first, and if Google’s preferred configuration is not right for our users, they do give us other credible options.

  • http://twitter.com/tubes Sean Tubridy

    Mobile and desktop users do not always have different needs. Very often, they have the same needs. I NEED to respond to a blog post whether I’m at my desk or on my couch. I NEED to get an address from a restaurant site whether I’m in my car or my house. I NEED to buy crap off eBay whether I’m in the car or in the bathroom.

    
How can you always assume you know what a user needs depending on their device? You can’t. And to change content because a user is on a phone or a laptop or an iPad or any one of thousands of different devices that may or may not be “mobile” is ridiculous in most cases.

    And if you aren’t changing the content, only the keywords within the content and the meta tags, you’re really going to have two separate sites for that? Really? Sounds like a content strategy nightmare.

    And no, the CMS will not do all the “heavy lifting” for you. Karen McGrane was talking about an ideal to strive for, not a reality right now.



    Now, if you have a separate site or app that is designed to serve a totally different purpose when viewed on a touchscreen device or some other criteria, that’s different. By all means, build a completely different application for the user. Like the bank app that you mentioned.

    The point about responsive sites being slow; those are mostly issues of bad markup, too many scripts, images that aren’t optimized and a slew of other mistakes that are mostly the result of people not knowing what they are doing when they build a responsive site (or thinking that people want lots of animation and flashy “features”) That’s not an issue with responsive design, that’s an issue with not understanding or respecting the user and making bad decisions.

    Your point about there being more “code”. Do you mean longer style sheets? Because ideally, those, and sometimes a few small javascript files are all that’s needed to make a site responsive from a technical standpoint. I’m looking at a style sheet for a responsive site right now. It’s 33k. If I remove the media queries, it’s 24k. That’s not a huge difference and hardly worth dismissing responsive design over. And most of the issues in the article you link to (from August of 2011) are not an issue anymore. Especially if you take a mobile first approach to building a responsive site.

    Lastly, I can’t leave this alone: “…responsive web design doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re targeting anyone other than rich white guys in the United States.”

    Come on.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Thanks, Jerry! And thanks for your comments.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend device-specific sites, but I do think there are a lot of advantages to developing for mobile (smartphone/feature phone) and desktop (tablet/desktop/laptop) platforms separately for many businesses. And if you have a content management system that places content where it should be, you can even do this on separate URLs with no additional maintenance.

    I understand that responsive sites are good for many small businesses without the budget to get the right CMS, but that doesn’t mean they’re ideal in terms of SEO for businesses who have sites that meet the 5 criteria I outlined in my article.

    Definitely agree that it’s an exciting time to be creating and marketing websites. :)

  • http://twitter.com/LeftyDesigner Shannon Mølhave

    Hi Bryson,
    Just to clarify when I say “mobile first” I’m not talking about putting your mobile users at a higher priority than desktop users, I’m talking about a construction strategy that is used when building the website. Mobile-first building takes into account that mobile users generally have less bandwidth and processing speed, so you build your website to serve up the mobile layout and styling as the default, then you use media queries to build on top of that styling to expand to the desktop layout, which in turn requires more code to download. If this concept is unfamiliar to you I don’t think you can make the assumption that “by nature” responsive sites are slower, as the logistics of this coding method say otherwise. Also fyi the link you posted to the source of mdot sites being faster is broken.

    Regarding the other reasons you state, it sounds like they are for very specific cases where the existing website content indeed does not lend itself to a responsive site. That doesn’t mean if they redesigned it it couldn’t be successful as a responsive site, but that would require a content makeover, much less considerations for SEO.

  • http://twitter.com/inflatemouse Carlos del Rio

    Last year I said that people are thinking about Responsive Design in the wrong way. Responsive is the opposite of static, not the oposite of dedicated. Even if you are making a separate mobile and desktop version when ever posible you should design so it intelligently responds to a variety of conditions, like orientation and aspect ratio.

    I did says that the technical limitations of image delivery and browser heavy rendering of mobile devices leave anyone with a transactional conversion better served by a dedicated url for mobile, I have never said that Responsive Design is a bad concept.

    Your argument in this post is largely based on holding two different definitions of RWD simultaneously. 1.) Responding to display changes 2.) Responding to device. I think that the second definition is better described as conditionalizing your delivery for device. The concept of RWD can be applied to making one version of a site that deals with say desktops and game consoles, or mobile and tablet, or whatever. There is no inherent requirement that a site or page be one-size fits all to be responsive. When I say responsive design I seek to limit only to the first definition–which is useful for talking with actual designers and use other caveats or phrasing that illustrates my intent for the purpose of development or business owners.

    Switchboard tags show no promise to be anymore functional for SEO than canonical tags are. So, it is really just a shiny object that leads people down a path of reinventing the wheel instead of focusing on the business and site goals. In almost every case over the last 5 years Google as shown that their approach to honoring site-curated tags is “if we feel like it”– Google is going to use switchboard like canonical, as a suggestion.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Sean, thanks for your comments. I feel like I responded to a lot of these points in other comments but I’ll respond as appropriate.

    Actually you have a great point about the rich white guys line. I was reversing it accidentally. My mistake. As I said in the article I linked to, you actually have a better chance than not of reaching non-white smartphone users in the U.S. according to Nielsen data. My mistake there shouldn’t negate the other points I’ve made, however. And the point should actually stand with regard to demographic targeting, as you don’t have a great chance of reaching older, white people in the US if you only make a site responsive.

    Clearly, mobile and desktop users do not always have different needs. I’m not suggesting that they do. But we know from their search behavior that in some cases mobile searchers are interested in things that desktop users are not and vice versa. All I’m saying is that we make the content adaptive when it’s appropriate and mobile-specific when it’s not. As I said in my book review of Content Strategy for Mobile (http://marketingland.com/book-review-content-strategy-for-mobile-by-karen-mcgrane-34269), we have great data for making user-focused mobile sites, and we don’t need to make content available to mobile users that they won’t be able to use (e.g. Flash games, printable coupons, etc). As I’ve said in this column before (http://searchengineland.com/does-mobile-search-matter-in-a-multiscreen-world-138778), I don’t think we have to stop at adaptive content. We can optimize for the multiscreen user while optimizing for mobile specific behavior and with mobile specific features that we’re not able to on desktops. Not sure why this is an either/or scenario.

    The article I linked to in my comments on responsive web design speed is from late October 2012 (http://www.guypo.com/technical/responsive-web-design-is-bad-for-performance-there-i-said-it/), and it quotes a chief product architect and evangelist from Akamai who said “A responsive website tuned to perform the best it can would not be as fast as a dedicated mdot site tuned equally well” So apparently not everyone agrees with you that speed really isn’t an issue with responsive sites anymore. But, yes, as I said in the article responsive sites can be made to load quickly. However, given that it’s harder to make a responsive site fast than a mobile site, this is something marketers need to consider if they’re thinking that responsive web design is going to be an ideal solution for SEO. If they make their sites responsive and don’t make them fast, this could adversely affect site traffic and conversions. And there are plenty of responsive sites out there that aren’t fast.

    Obviously Karen McGrane can speak for herself, and I don’t want to misrepresent her positions, but she did provide an example of a content management system (NPR’s home grown C.O.P.E.) that is doing this today. Not some future reality for some brands, but something that exists now.

    The way I’m suggesting we handle this will not make for a content strategy nightmare, as it’s using adaptive content when it makes sense, and optimizing for mobile specific content when it makes sense. But as I said in my review of McGrane’s book, yes, content forking for its own sake can cause maintenance headaches for the organization. But, if there are legitimate opportunities that mobile devices create that engage consumers and help us meet business goals, why wouldn’t we as marketers use them? And how does not doing them because of content maintenance headaches good for the user? It’s not enough for us to say we don’t want to do the work. If there are legitimate opportunities that forking creates we shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.

    I’m glad you recognize that building different content can make sense for the user and the business, but I don’t agree that it has to go in an app rather than a mobile site. Apps have limited reach, and if we’re going to build something that really uses the features of a mobile device, why hide it in a native app? Better to make it accessible to all platforms on the web, and to search engines.

    I appreciate your comments. I know people have strong opinions about this subject but there’s a time and place for responsive web design, and that’s not every time and every place. Even Ethan Marcotte recognized that in his book (http://marketingland.com/responsive-web-design-isnt-meant-to-replace-mobile-web-sites-7949), so I’m not sure why his disciples often have a problem with that.

  • Guest

    You stated that responsive websites generally take longer to load. I disagree, actually the mobile site could take longer depending on the underlying code or platform used to design that site. I use responsive design with media queries to serve the same content to all users, which is also Googles recommendation as stated here: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2012/06/recommendations-for-building-smartphone.html. Its also Microsofts recommendation for Bing. In fact Bing has stated that sites should now be in the process of transitioning away from mobile URL’s entirely. I disagree with getting rid of mobile sites, I think people should have options.

    With my implementation of responsive design,
    My sites load faster than 86% of all sites world wide on average as measured by Googles page speed insights. The problem isnt with responsive design, its with the way people code their sites, and in some cases use code heavy WordPress templates. All that added PHP will bog your site down hard! Most web designers these days dont understand the underlying code of a page itself anymore. They dont have too, they just use WordPress. If you know how to code you can make a webpage do anything, include load lightening fast, because you understand how everything works.

    You stated that responsive websites generally contain more code than mobile sites, this is wrong too. Not true at all. My websites are probably much lighter in code than searchengineland for instance. Again the problem is with the way people code! Take for instance this web page we are on now. It has 3 general style sheets that it uses in order to render one page! I never use more than one stylesheet for any page, why? Because there is never any valid reason too. Some people implementing responsive design (virtually everyone) don’t know what the heck they are doing, because they use WordPress to do it all for them! Ignorance is the real issue, not responsive design.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Hi Shannon. Thanks for the clarification. I am very familiar with mobile first responsive web design. I recommend it often to people who are set on responsive web design and want to do it in a way that will be less detrimental to SEO, as you can see in slide 22 of my mobile SEO deck from SMX Advanced last June: http://www.slideshare.net/brysonmeunier/iseo-doing-mobile-search-optimization-right Today I recommend a hybrid solution that is responsive when appropriate and mobile-only when not (http://searchengineland.com/how-to-best-optimize-your-mobile-site-for-seo-112940). While I agree that this type of implementation is preferred, it doesn’t mean it’s common. My contention is that there are many slow responsive web sites out there (as the link said, which is now fixed), and if you don’t take the time or don’t have the resources to speed them up, they could be bad for the searcher user experience and result in less traffic, conversions, and potentially ranking decreases as Google replaces the site with one with a lower bounce rate. Doesn’t mean that dedicated mobile sites can’t have the same issue, but it is more common among responsive websites, as developers often make them responsive without making them fast. I’m glad that you and others who have spoken up on this issue are not making the same mistakes, but I would contend (as would the Akamai evangelist in the link I posted) that good responsive developers like you are in the minority. Businesses that are considering going responsive should understand this fact before taking the plunge.

    Actually, of the five things I mentioned only two of them (1 and 3, as I admitted in the piece) have to do with a responsive site that could be made better with a redesign. #2 is an opportunity that a responsive site wouldn’t be able to take advantage of, to my understanding, as what makes it responsive is that it doesn’t serve different content to mobile and desktop users. #4 has to do with responsive web design’s incompatibility with feature phones, as Google said in their recommendation, and #5 has to do with device specific features that enhance the user experience that aren’t available to (or don’t make much sense for) desktop websites.

    Also, even if two of the five things can be improved, it doesn’t make the statement false that it’s bad for SEO when your responsive site is slow, or when your information architecture is not suited to a mobile searcher. It sounds like you and others in the comments are accusing me of something I didn’t say. All I’m saying is that these are common problems with responsive sites– more so than dedicated mobile sites. If you’re honest with yourself I don’t think you can argue this point.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate that responsive web sites can be made faster, but even you contend that the majority of developers implementing responsive web design are doing it in a way that makes for a poor user experience. As I said to Shannon Mølhave above, I agree that responsive sites can be made to load quickly. Even said it in the article. But if the great majority of responsive web sites are slowing down the site, potentially increasing bounce rate and decreasing traffic and conversions from search, this is, as I said, an instance when responsive web design is bad for SEO. Never said that it always is, but when responsive sites are slow (and they are more often than dedicated mobile sites: http://www.guypo.com/technical/responsive-web-design-is-bad-for-performance-there-i-said-it/ ), it could be a problem for SEO.

    As I said elsewhere in the comments about Bing, Bing doesn’t have the market share in mobile that they have in desktop (3% with Yahoo! http://gs.statcounter.com/#mobile_search_engine-ww-monthly-201202-201302-bar), and while I hope they see the light and support switchboard tags, if they don’t most site owners won’t notice a drop in search traffic.

    Appreciate your comments!

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Carlos, thanks for clarifying your definition of responsive web design. As I said before, my definition of responsive web design for the purposes of this post is based on Google’s definition of “sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device.” So you may be right, and I may be thinking about responsive design in the wrong way, but so is Google. I agree wholeheartedly that dedicated mobile sites should be made responsive so they respond intelligently to a variety of conditions. What I’m addressing here is the definition that Google has given, which relates to dedicated URLs.

    I don’t agree at all about canonical tags, however, as we and other webmasters have had quite a bit of success with them since they were introduced in 2009. There’s one public case study where 1-800-Flowers grew organic revenue 20% YoY as a result of implementing them (http://seogadget.com/duplicate-content-solutions-the-canonical-tag-smx-advanced-coverage-2009/ ). It may be true that some people treat it as a shiny object that sends them down the wrong path, but it doesn’t follow that canonical tags don’t work for a lot of businesses with no other options. But this is about switchboard tags, which to your point haven’t been uniformly implemented in terms of skip redirect, but I have yet to see a site not rank because it uses mobile URLs. As I explained in the update of my study on Distilled, the great majority of the sites that get the most natural search traffic use mobile URLs (http://searchengineland.com/stats-on-mobile-content-impact-on-google-rankings-144405 ), while only 4% are responsive. If lost link equity was an actual issue many more of these sites would be responsive. If you have evidence of the presence or lack of switchboard tags preventing a site from appearing in search results, let’s talk. I haven’t seen it, though, so for me it’s a non-issue.

    Thanks for your comments! Looking forward to seeing your session at SMX West next week.

  • http://twitter.com/inflatemouse Carlos del Rio

    Sorry that I wasn’t clearer the first time. I absolutely feel that Google is propagating a flawed thinking and language around responsiveness, and that web-workers need to take back control to make sure that our concepts don’t get corrupted into being meaningless for communication.

    I don’t have any evidence one way or the other for switchboard tags–that is part of why I don’t see an upside. If you already have a canonical strategy in place switchboard is most likely redundant. Rel-canonic works just fine, but it is a suggestion, not a directive (http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=139394) Google openly states that ultimately they decide.

    I look forward to talking, you will need to catch me with Sunday or Monday, as I can’t stay for the whole conference.

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    One thing is for sure that whatever it is responsive design still works though mobile visits are not that much in competition to desktop.

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  • J.P. Berry

    “My point is that there are mobile behaviors and features like scanners, GPS and camera that marketers can take advantage of for the benefit of users and businesses but responsive web design and adaptive content don’t allow for it”

    That is a very, very misinformed assumption. What makes you think a responsive site can’t do everything a mobile site can? It’s all just html, css, and javascript, right? You even included the word “adaptive”, but failed to make the connection that adaptive design would actually.. you know.. adapt to the abilities of the device.

    A responsive site, by definition, should take advantage of those technologies. By using conditional loading a responsive site can perform feature detection and adapt to a user’s device.

    For example.. Your device is touch enabled? Great, then let’s load in some javascript that will allow you to swipe that header carousel instead of having to tap on tiny arrows. Then let’s use media queries to hide those bullets that only a desktop mouse could effectively take advantage of. You’re on a device that can is touch enabled and can make calls? Then let’s make the phone link in your header a nice fat, finger-firendly button with a phone icon for quick access. On desktop, we can leave it as a normal link since a fat button doesn’t offer anything extra (you can’t make calls, but maybe copy pasting the text or readability is more important). THAT is responsive web design.

    Responsive Design responds to a users device. It is not inherently slower or faster than fixed width design, and there are no limitations imposed regarding mobile functionality, whatsoever. If you can do it on a mobile site, you can do it on a responsive site – period.

    “[...] but also take advantage of mobile-specific search behavior and mobile features that you just can’t do with responsive web design”

    This sentence tells me that you do not have a fundamental understanding of how responsive design works.

    Please keep in mind that RWD is intended to actually enhance (emphasis here on enhance) a website by detecting features, and adapting to the context at hand.

    There is a time and a place for RWD, and RWD isn’t a one size fits all solution. I get that. You do make some valid points, but your inherent lack of understanding of RWD undermines the ultimate goal of your post.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Thanks, J.J. This is a similar point made by Carlos in the comments, I think. What you’re describing is RESS, or what Google called dynamic serving. Google’s definition of responsive web design is same html, same URLs (“Google recommends webmasters follow the industry best practice of using responsive web design, namely serving the same HTML for all devices and using only CSS media queries to decide the rendering on each device” from https://developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/.). Period. As a result this is how most of the SEO community understands it. If you change the HTML, according to Google, it’s not responsive web design and they don’t recommend it. I think what you’re describing is preferable to what Google has defined as responsive web design from a user perspective, but what I’m objecting to is not your definition, but Google’s. It’s not that I misunderstand what responsive web design is, but according to your definition Google seems to. And this article was really about the notion that since Google prefers responsive web design that it’s always best for SEO.

    I do want to point out that many advocates for responsive web design didn’t really point out this distinction when Google announced their preference, so I have to say I find it a bit suspect that they’re pointing it out now. But ultimately I agree with you that the best experience for the user will come from RESS or dedicated mobile sites.

    I don’t appreciate your assumption that I misunderstand the issue, as I’m really just objecting to another definition of responsive web design that doesn’t match yours. However, I do appreciate the comment. When we discuss things like this we can see that what we’re both advocating is really not that different.

    With regard to speed, as I said in the article a responsive web site doesn’t have to be slow, but as I said in the comments, many of them are. This is supported by most commenters in this post who argue that these are cases of incorrect implementation, and by Akamai product architect Guy Podjarny, whose claim that an average responsive site is slower than an average m dot site I’ve posted elsewhere in the comments.

    I’m glad you’re open minded and recognize that there’s a time and place for responsive web design, as that’s really all I was saying in the piece. Sometimes, responsive web design as Google defined it may be better for Google in terms of the work they have to do, but it’s not best for the user experience. No one else was pointing it out (including responsive web design advocates), so somebody had to.

  • J.P. Berry

    Hi Bryson,

    I appreciate the reply. Oddly enough we are in agreement with the best user experience and seo value, but there is definitely some confusion over responsive design.

    Responsive Design advocates want a “one web” where html (that is Content) is the same for every device. You can access and view the content no matter the platform and give every device an equal ability to share and view the web. If you can view it on a desktop, you should be able to share it with someone on any other device and expect a similar experience.

    I believe the misunderstanding around RWD and the concepts I mentioned is thinking that the html changes, in which it does not. What changes is the presentation layer (CSS, media queries as you cited) and the interaction layer – Javascript.

    Javascript allows developers to progressively enhance a website without having to alter the HTML. The term is “Unobtrusive Javascript”, which is pretty self explanatory, but the general idea is that we can detect a devices capabilities through simple queries and enhance a site without breaking anything in between.

    My example with the touch slider doesn’t alter the html, it merely alters the interaction behavior. There are still images and text (content / html), but JavaScript determines how a user interacts with that content, and which features to enhance or leave alone. To a screen reader or search engine, the content is always consistent – and that’s what we want – one web for every device.

    So if a device supports hardware accelerated animations and touch, we can swipe image left to right and even simulate inertia. If it does not support those features, we won’t even load the javascript at all and allow the user to simply scroll through the images or present arrows. If the device doesn’t support a feature, we don’t even have to download the JavaScript to their machine, saving precious bandwidth. That’s the idea behind progressive enhancement and lazy loading. If used properly, it can be a very efficient and powerful mechanism to make websites engaging, fast, and seo friendly.

  • http://www.dweb3d.com/ www.dweb3d.com

    Very important recommendations to have clear when we are designing responsive web design, the time of load is important in every wesite, but for mobile users, we must be faster, thanks for the article and greetings

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Hi J.P.,

    Thanks for the clarification. Google does have a section in their guidelines addressing the use of Javascript in responsive design (https://developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/javascript), but it’s still not what they define as responsive design that they recommend. Webmasters still have to use the vary header as they would for dynamic serving, which is not their preferred method (i.e. “Sites that use responsive web design, i.e. sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device. This is Google’s recommended configuration.”Their recommendation is to change only the styling using media queries, which it seems like we both agree has the potential to provide an inferior user experience to mobile users given that it doesn’t allow for features like click to call.

    I’m aware of one web and not philosophically opposed to it. As I explained in my review of Content Strategy for Mobile (http://marketingland.com/book-review-content-strategy-for-mobile-by-karen-mcgrane-34269), I think adaptive content is a good start, but if the user would receive a better user experience or convert at a higher rate if we tailor the content to their experience, we shouldn’t ignore this fact just because adaptive content is easier for us to maintain. SEO is not just about making our sites good enough for search engines and users, but about making them as good as they can be to drive as much qualified traffic from search engines as possible. It seems as though you’re not opposed to altering calls to action to improve the experience, provided it doesn’t change the HTML. I just don’t know why you and other advocates for the user would stop there, especially when there are solutions that allow us to make the sites relevant to multiscreen users while allowing for customization of content for pages for which adaptive content is not enough.

    You’re obviously a very technical person and I appreciate your taking me through the details of responsive web design as you see it. It seems in the end like we have much more in common than you originally thought, and I hope you feel the same.

  • epearson001

    Its weird that this article was pretty much saying, “Hey, responsive is bad because people don’t do it in a way that would make it good for SEO.” That’s a really weak basis for an article. What happened to the quality around here?

  • http://www.longislandmarketingcompany.com/ Long Island Marketing Company

    Not sure if we agree with the keyword example, although it does show some keywords are more popular on mobile. In the era of smartphones apps like yelp and urban spoon help drive local traffic. Google maps also helps with local search.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Thanks for the summary, but that’s not exactly what it said. Three of the five points aren’t possible in responsive web design or adaptive content, because the content is the same regardless of platform. The other two points are things that can be improved when it comes to responsive sites, but so many sites do them incorrectly and when this happens it can be bad for SEO. Not that this comment deserves even three lines, but you should know that you’re reading an SEO column, and my job here is to help people create content in a way that is good for SEO, whether that’s responsive or not.

 

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