What You Should Know About Responsive Design and SEO

With Google’s (fairly) recent endorsement of responsive design as a best practice for building smartphone-optimized websites, there has been a lot of talk about what responsive design is and how it affects SEO. Papercut’s president, Jason Hill, has already written a great post about some of the benefits of responsive design, but what do you need to know about how it relates to SEO?

The Google Recommendation

Before I go into more detail about the relationship between responsive design and SEO, let’s look at Google’s recommendation in depth. The official endorsement says the following:

“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.”

So, what are some of the benefits of responsive design according to Google? Responsive websites have a single URL, rather than a desktop URL and a separate mobile URL. Google says this makes linking to and interacting with content easier, and it also helps their algorithms “assign the indexing properties to your content.” In addition, if a site is responsive, Google will only have to crawl it once, saving them the trouble of having another Googlebot crawl your mobile site.

Responsive websites also avoid some of the messy redirect issues that can occur with separate mobile websites. Redirecting visitors to a separate mobile site must be done very carefully, and it’s easy to make mistakes that can increase load time and harm your site’s user experience. Because responsive design detects the device a visitor is using to access your site and automatically displays the appropriate version, no redirects are needed to access mobile content.

SEO Considerations

If you’ve chosen responsive design for your website, you’re ahead of the curve. Responsive design is likely going to become the industry standard for mobile, as smartphone use is increasing and it is becoming more evident that separate mobile sites only make sense under very specific circumstances. To design a responsive website that is also search engine friendly, keep the following in mind:

  • The User – Remember that, above all else, Google wants you to do what is best for your user. How are visitors interacting with your site? What are your mobile visitors looking for? Check your analytics to determine user behavior and make sure that mobile visitors can easily find what they’re looking for on your site.
  • Content – Does your content (including videos, games, and downloads) function correctly on all screen sizes? If a mobile visitor can’t access the content they want due to the screen size of their device, they’re likely to bounce off of your site, and this is bad for SEO.
  • Keywords – What terms are people searching for on mobile devices? If you’re building a responsive site, it’s smart to include these terms in your copy since your desktop site is also your mobile site. Leaving these keywords out could hurt your chances of showing up in mobile search results.
  • Site Speed – Search engines like sites that load quickly, and the faster your site is, the better. Responsive sites are visually appealing, but they can sometimes take longer to load. Avoid this problem by making sure that images and dynamic content are sized and optimized to load efficiently.

The Bottom Line

Responsive design is the future. It’s an effective way to provide your site visitors with an optimal experience in a world of increasing smartphone use and mobile searching. Designing your site and creating content for your users, then giving them a responsive site that has what they’re looking for will keep you at the forefront of mobile SEO.