As of June 6th both major search engines, Google and Bing, officially recommend Responsive Web Design for SEO in their Webmaster Guidelines.
As we teach on our SEO courses, the number one SEO technique is to listen to the search engines! So read through this post and hear what they have to say on the subject of mobile sites.
If you don’t already have a mobile version of your website, it is something you should be seriously considering. You could be losing customers who can’t use your site on mobiles and tablets, especially if you are an e-Commerce site.
You may not think this is a problem but with mobile devices outselling desktop PCs globally, and web use on mobiles to exceed desktops within a few years (already a reality in India) you will soon be targeting more mobile users than desktop users. Your site should be ready for this!
There are 2 options for mobile optimisation – a dedicated mobile site separate to your main site with a .m or /m/ url. Or a responsive site that displays differently on varied screen and browser sizes.
Here are Google & Bing’s recommendations for responsive web design:
Why Search Engines Recommend Responsive Design
Single URL for Single Piece of Content
Google’s official Webmaster Guidelines states that Google prefers single URLS because ‘it makes it easier for your users to interact with, share, and link to your content’ and that is helps ‘Google’s algorithms assign indexing properties for the content.’ Bing agrees that there are SEO benefits for single URL: ‘You have more ranking signals coming to this URL… the vast majority of mobile URLs do not have inbound links from other websites as people do not link to mobile URLs like they link to regular web-situated URLs.’
In essence – it’s unlikely that your mobile URLs will receive any natural ranking benefit and as Google and Bing both frown upon unnatural links and shares, they tend to ignore them. The only way your mobile pages will receive SEO is through the links you build and unnatural shares – these are never going to be as powerful as natural signals.
Of course, as we teach on our social media workshop, social shares themselves give a good boost to authority signals and you don’t want to split these across two pages. I cover this more at the end of the post, but one way to attract social shares to mobile pages is to create mobile content that stands out rather than just mimicking your main site.
Search engine crawlers count responsive sites as mobile sites – so you keep all the great ranking signals you’ve spent years building up across your site.
Having redirects on all your pages will also increase page loading time – which isn’t great for user experience or as a ranking factor.
Search Engine Crawlers
With a mobile site, the search engine crawlers are effectively crawling your site multiple times (for different user agents) – using a lot of bandwidth.
Keeping crawl speeds low will allow Google & Bing to provide a fresher index (and more) of your pages – which is a lot better for you.
Small businesses sometimes only use a developer part time or train one of their staff to handle the site. Large businesses often have whole departments dedicated to the operation and maintenance of their sites.
Double the sites means double the man hours spent creating, maintaining and marketing websites. Web development is often even lengthier for mobile sites as they have to be tested for so many user agents, and the set of skills needed to keep both sites fresh differs.
Building and maintaining one site keeps your costs low and your web team focused on one goal.
Interestingly – neither Bing nor Google actually uses Responsive Web Design!
When to Use a Separate Mobile Site
When recommending Responsive Web Design, we are talking in opposition to have a mobile site with the same content as your main site.
However, considering mobile users often have different requirements it can be useful to have a dedicated mobile site that offers a completely different experience.
In terms of SEO, two URLs is only a problem when you are serving the same content on both pages.
Following mobile specific guidelines you can create a site that responds really well to touch gestures and search functions. You may like to think how you can create mobile specific content that wouldn’t work in a desktop environment and use that to promote your business from a new angle.
- Claim Your Content Using Google+
- Google Analytics NEW Mobile Application Tracking
- Google Panda Update – What to do if your pages have dropped
- Will Bing’s New Social Sidebar Seduce Searchers?
- Page Layout Algorithm – Google Update