A while back we introduced you, if you were previously unfamiliar, with the concept of responsive web design. We discussed two very different routes that can be taken when it comes to designing for the ever growing mobile/tablet audience. Option 1 was the responsive/adaptive web design approach, which takes a single website and [aesthetically] pinches and squeezes it into a great view on any device. Option 2 breaks the design and development processes into multiple pieces, catering to specific views and websites for mobile devices, tablets, desktops, and the list goes on and on. All in all, we left the latter as a last resort, as it not only doubles, triples, and sometimes quadruples time, effort, and budget, but requires much more maintenance on your end, as a client and website owner.
Today, though, we’re going to talk about another aspect of Responsive Web Design. It’s a very important factor that influences all websites, and is often overlooked entirely — it’s called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.
Search Engine Optimization is the act and process of configuring, or optimizing, your website so as to make it most receptive to search engines as they crawl and index it.
Think of Google (or any other search engine) as an appraiser. Every so often, Mr. Google himself, of Google’s Appraising Services, is going to come over, look through all the stuff in your house, and determine how valuable it is. He’s going to see if your stuff is unique, compared to everyone else’s stuff, and how well organized it is. When all is said and done, Mr. Google will hopefully be a regular at your place, making reoccurring trips to appraise any new assets you may have acquired since his last visit. As a website owner, that, in essence, is your relationship with a search engine. There’s also going to be a few more technical, evaluative scans search engines are going to do when crawling your site as well. In the end, though, it’s a fairly automated process that each search engine will carry out on their own. There’s not a lot you can do to help them get the job done, but there is quite a bit of work you can do to make sure their job goes swimmingly, and to ensure they like what they find.
In this article, we’re going to be talking about three main hang-ups a dedicated mobile site can cause your SEO efforts, and how Responsive Web Design can not only alleviate those stress points, but also set you up for future success.
Point One: RWD Improves your Index-ability!
One problem in creating websites on a device by device basis is the duplicated content each site will likely host; because you will technically have multiple websites, though they all serve the same purpose and likely describe the same product or service, search engines may see them as independent from one another. Consequently, a dedicated mobile site may cause some confusion for search engines as they’re validating your content.
Indexing a website is the process a search engine takes in scanning through every nook and cranny of your site to find each and every asset you’re serving up, and every target location or redirection you’re directing your users through. If you have a few different mobile experiences for your users, as people hit yoursite.com on devices X, Y, and Z, they might automatically be redirected to a particular mobile design for their specific device. These redirections can cause a few hiccups in your website’s load time, which is another factor search engines note when indexing your site. The solution? Google itself recommends responsive web design as a best practice when detailing the indexing of your website (see below).
- Using a single URL for a piece of content makes it easier for your users to interact with, share, and link to your content, and a single URL for the content helps Google’s algorithms assign the indexing properties for the content.
- No redirection is needed for users to get to the device-optimized view, which reduces loading time. Also, user agent-based redirection is error-prone and can degrade your site’s user experience (see “Pitfalls when detecting user agents” section for details).
- It saves resources for both your site and Google’s crawlers. For responsive web design pages, any Googlebot user agents needs to crawl your pages once, as opposed to crawling multiple times with different user agents, to retrieve your content. This improvement in crawling efficiency can indirectly help Google index more of the site’s contents and keep it appropriately fresh.
Point Two: Links, Links, Links! How Backlinking and Link Building Impact SEO
Link building is the process of going out into the world (wide web) and creating relevant points of reference linking back to your own website. This is not spamming various internet users or webpages with your site, but, rather, is much more in the realm of professional networking. You’re essentially meeting someone via the internet, and introducing who you are and what you’re about via a link to your website. It’s great for SEO, and is helpful in getting some additional page views on your website (another factor search engines consider when ranking your website in search results).
Back linking, on the other hand, is when someone values you or your website so much, they link to your site on their own! It’s an exciting and humbling time when it happens, and Google rewards you for it with improved rankings.
The problem in all of this? Dedicated mobile sites mean multiple websites being forgotten in your networking pitch, enabling only a single website to reap the benefits of all the back links you’re getting. The solution? You can probably guess it: Responsive Web Design.
Point Three: Minimizing Bounce Rate and Retaining Users with Quality Web Design
Responsive Web Design provides a view for all, excluding no one in the search for the quality content only you can provide. However, when web design is the topic of conversation, content can’t be the only discussion; a user’s experience cannot be neglected! You want people to stick around when they see your site, and an attractive and quality design can help. There’s a web term out there called Bounce Rate, which is the percentage of viewers that navigate away from any given website after only visiting one page. A high bounce rate tells search engines your site isn’t valuable, and when your site isn’t valuable, it doesn’t get served well in search results. It’s important to realize that aesthetics alone can be reason enough for a user to leave your website after only a glance. It takes 7 seconds or less for a user to decide to stay or go after landing on your page — make the most of those 7 seconds! Responsive web design allows you the opportunity to impact your website visitors with the full visual experience of your desktop site, while shrinking it down for a mobile view, navigable by touch. It’s a win/win situation, which we’re (obviously) all about.
Keep on keepin’ on.