There’s no denying that Google loves mobile-friendly websites; just last year the search giant announced it would be placing more weighting on “mobile-friendliness” as a ranking factor when generating search results (this is no surprise really, since over 50% of the population now has some form of mobile-internet subscription).
But what exactly constitutes a “mobile-friendly” website? Before we go any further, let’s quickly establish the difference in the three types:
- Responsive websites: websites that use the same URL to serve the same HTML code regardless of the users’ device (desktop, mobile phone, tablet etc), but can render the display differently to fit the users’ screen size.
- Adaptive (referred to by Google as ‘dynamic serving’) websites: websites that use the same URL to generate different versions of HTML (sometimes removing elements of the web page altogether) to best suit the device in question.
- Mobile websites (referred to by Google as ‘separate URLs’): websites that operate on separate URLs to their full-sized desktop siblings and serve different code to each device.
Since its latest mobile-friendly algorithm update which was rolled out last April and dubbed “mobilegeddon” by many, Google has been calling out sites designed for large screens only, and at the same time rewarding those deemed “mobile-friendly”.
And while the search giant claims not to favour any particular format over the other in terms of ranking (as long as the page and all of its elements are accessible to its web crawlers), Google has stated on numerous occasions that responsive design is the preferred configuration of the three.
So, why does Google love responsive design?
Google is all about improving “user experiences”, and with new devices of varying screen size and resolution being launched into the marketplace each day, websites need to look great and function properly on all devices in order to be considered truly “mobile-friendly”. And when it comes to improving experiences, there are simply some things responsive design can offer that the alternatives can’t. Don’t just take our word for it though, here’s why Google recommends responsive design:
1. Responsive design makes for easier linking and sharing
Unlike mobile websites, responsive websites operate from a single URL which makes it easier for users to create links across the web. As mentioned above, Google wants to provide its users with the best possible searching experience, and an important component of this is the ability for users to easily share great websites with other people.
Equally as important, directing all of your backlinks to a single website (rather than spreading them across 2 or even 3 versions) is much better for your Google PageRank.
2. No redirection for optimised viewing is required
Since responsive websites automatically adapt and adjust to suit the screen size of the device in question, there is no need to redirect users to separate mobile versions of your website. Not only does this require less effort on Google’s part, but it also reduces your website’s load time (and the effort involved in implementing the redirects in the first place).
3. Reduced risk of duplicate content
Google first began penalising poor-quality websites when the Panda algorithm was introduced in 2011; if pages on your website were found to contain content that also existed elsewhere on the internet, then you could pretty much kiss goodbye to your chances of appearing on Google’s first pages.
Since mobile websites are essentially smaller duplicates of their full-sized desktop siblings (usually containing much of the same content), they run the risk of being targeted by Google Panda. Having an all-inclusive responsive website that works on all devices therefore eliminates this, improving the interface for all of Google’s users.
4. All content for all users on all devices
Both mobile websites and adaptive websites lack the ability to showcase the same volume of content that a desktop site can. This means as a webmaster, you must pick and choose which pieces of content you are going to make available. Not only does this prevent users from seeing your brand in all its glory, but it also means you run the risk of not providing them with the content they are looking for.
Responsive designs on the other hand allow you to keep all of your content – this is hugely important for generating frequent traffic to your site, as good quality content is one of the ranking factors Google uses when positioning your website in its results pages.
5. Reduced possibility of common mistakes that affect mobile sites
Common mistakes include unplayable content (videos and other rich media that are not always available on mobiles because they require programs that are not broadly supported), faulty redirects, slow loading mobile pages and poor usability. These components make for terrible user experiences, but they appear much less frequently on responsive websites.
6. Less work for Googlebot
Last but by no means least is the extra time involved in keeping mobile websites fresh. Maintaining multiple websites is not only costly and time consuming for the webmaster, but also for Google.
In order to display your website in its results pages, Google must crawl and index every page and all of its individual elements – this is a continual process that helps to keep the internet up to date. So, when your content is duplicated across two or more versions of the same site, so is Google’s workload. And while Google may forgive sites that use bad HTML, it won’t forgive those that waste its time and resources.
In the end, the reason many businesses make the switch to responsive design is because they want to keep up with the competition and increase their PageRank in Google. Google’s algorithm already dictates so much of what we know of “online marketing”, and this particular update has had a massive impact on the success of many online businesses. Although responsive web design isn’t the be-all and end-all of mobile-friendliness (you can find out how mobile-friendly your website is by taking Google’s very own mobile-friendly test), it’s certainly the most comprehensive way to achieve a fully-functioning mobile-optimised website that Google loves. And since Google is a self-confessed supporter of responsive design, doesn’t it make sense to follow suit?