With more people using their smartphones and tablets to browse the internet, it has become increasingly important to create a website that works across multiple platforms. After exploding onto the scene in a blaze of glory in early 2012, responsive web design (or RWD) is now firmly established as the best way to create a website mobile visitors love.
In simple terms, responsive design means a website’s pages reformat themselves depending on which device they are being displayed on, ensuring that whether the content is viewed on a phone, tablet, or desktop computer, the website will remain user-friendly. Why has this made such waves in the web industry? This is remarkably different from previous mobile solutions of creating a separate mobile site or a dynamically served mobile site.
But when it comes to SEO, can a responsive layout increase the chances of a website succeeding in the SERPs? (SPOILER ALERT!) The answer is a resounding yes, and here’s why.
Update: Google recently announced they are moving to a mobile-first index, making mobile even more important than ever.
Google Loves Responsive
And since Google is the divine being you’re trying to impress with your website, it is wise to pay attention to what Google loves. Google not only recommends RWD as the best way to target mobile users, but also favors mobile-optimized sites when presenting results for searches made on a mobile device. This is especially true when mobile users search for local services.
There is still some debate surrounding the issue of whether a separate mobile website or a single, responsive site is the best route to take, but from an SEO perspective, the latter is generally the better option. Separate mobile websites have their own URL and different HTML to their desktop counterparts, whereas responsive sites use one URL and one set of pages and files, making it simpler for Google to crawl and index content.
One Website, One URL
Building a separate mobile website does have a few benefits of its own, and in some cases creating a standalone mobile version works well. If a website features a lot of content (a news site, for example), a responsive version of the website could soon become the “scrolling version”, with users having to give their index fingers a serious work out just to navigate through the content. This is where a mobile site, with content which has been carefully refined for mobile browsing, can come in handy.
From an SEO perspective, one of the main challenges posed by having a separate mobile site is that you will need to build the authority of this site from scratch, and most separate mobile sites do not rank well in search engines, as they are canonicalized to their desktop counterparts. On the other hand, redesigning your website as responsive will enable you to maintain your backlinks, and will mean that you can focus your SEO on one single site. This means all of your links will be directed to one domain (as opposed to one mobile website and one desktop site), giving your responsive website a boost in the SERPs.
Furthermore, if you have a responsive website, you can build social shares for just one URL, and when the site does get shared, wherever the link is viewed – whether on a mobile, tablet, or on desktop – all of the content will be clear and easy to navigate.
Responsive Helps Combat a High Bounce Rate
Even if a website is sitting pretty in search results, if it doesn’t work effectively for mobile and tablet users, bounce rate will be a big problem. Mobile websites can suffer from a high bounce rate if the content they offer is too stripped down, or too dissimilar from the content offered on the desktop site. Google will interpret this high bounce rate as a sign that a website isn’t offering relevant content to users, which is likely to lead to a drop in rankings.
A responsively designed site combats this problem by presenting all of the same content found on the desktop site, but in a functional way. RWD means that there is no need to compromise on the content you choose to display, this ensures visitors always receive the information they are looking for – which keeps them on page!
User Experience is Enhanced
Websites are essentially a tool for sharing content. A user-friendly site makes it easier for visitors to find, absorb, and pass on this content. Above all else, responsive design places an emphasis on designing for the user – and with user experience being a big ranking factor, it makes sense that Google is encouraging developers to embrace RWD.
If visitors are browsing a site via their mobile or tablet, they should be able to view all of its content as easily as desktop users. Say you spot something on a website whilst browsing on your computer, and want to send it to a friend who will view it on their phone. If the website is responsive, and has been designed well, the content will work just as well on their screen as on yours.
Responsive design helps modern websites appeal to modern users; users who are increasingly likely to traverse the internet using a mobile or tablet device, but who still expect their desktop experience to be as smooth as ever. Going responsive is the most effective way to make the most of mobile and tablet traffic, and to offer visitors the best possible user experience.
Image Credit: Stéphanie Walter, via Wikimedia Commons