Responsive Design for Mobile SEO

With all the buzz about responsive design, we think it's important to take a step back and think about when responsive design is a great choice for a mobile website, and when it doesn't make sense.

Here Adam Audette explores the pros and cons of using responsive design vs. using the vary header or subdomains/subfolders.


Adam Audette: Hi everyone, Adam Audette, back again for another video on the RKG blog. Want to talk today about responsive design and I'm just going to say don't believe the hype, responsive design isn't always the right choice for the business and it isn't a fantastic choice in some cases, but I caution people to not just jump on the band wagon of responsive design without thinking about what's right for the business.

So, there are actually 3 supported methods to handle mobile SEO correctly. There's responsive design, there's dynamically serving it off the same URL with a vary header and there's using a sub domain strategy or [folder] strategy and using rel=alternate and rel=canonical tags to line that stuff up. So, responsive design is certainly the thing that Google is pushing pretty actively, and it is a very elegant approach that you have the same URL, you have all the same content and you just reorder that content based on the screen size. But there are some problems with that, for one problem is that the size of the HTML is the same on the desk top as it's going to be on your tablet or on your smart phone. So you're going to have larger general file sizes on a mobile experience then you would normally and with lower overall band width on mobile, that can also create some latency and poor user experience.

Another problem is that, and this is probably the biggest one of all, is that user behavior changes based on the device; so we know that someone on a smart phone is kind of acting differently than they would say on their desktop. Tablet and desktop resemble each other a little bit more, but in paid search we bid appropriately based on device and SEO should be the same, we should think about what people are doing on their devices and give them the content they want. Let's take an example, say I'm the Four Seasons Hotel chain, and those are awesome hotels, I love the Four Seasons. If there's somebody that's nearby on their smart phone and they're searching for Four Seasons, they're probably looking for some specific things like the address of the hotel, maybe they want to be able to book a room that night, or they want to find out the restaurant that's in the hotel, if that person is on a desk top somewhere, maybe their planning a trip sometime in the future, and those things, those are different user experiences, if responsive design is what Four Seasons is using, and I don't know what their using as their mobile strategy, but just as an example, they’re not going to be able necessarily give the right experience to the mobile searcher, because they've got one set of content. Their HTML content is for desk top just the same as it is for responsive, so we really need to think about that.

The thing that we're finding is that a combination may work best, so you may use responsive design for some of the content or even the majority of your experience, but you may use a specific m dot strategy or dynamically serve mobile specific content for the specific things you know people are searching for when they’re on their mobile devices.  So I think it's really important to consider all of this, what's right for the business is not necessarily responsive design, although it may be, just make sure you're keeping the user experience in mind and you’re delivering what people really want. Somebody that's written a lot about this is Bryson Munier or Minier, I'm not sure how to pronounce your last name but you’re doing an awesome job with the content on mobile, so keep it up, and until then Mobile SEO safe.