Google Recommends Responsive Design for Mobile SEO

At a recent search marketing conference, SMX Advanced, a Google Trends Analyst presented their recommendations regarding mobile SEO. The short of it is, building sites using responsive design is the way to go.

Not that we’ve been waiting with baited breath for Google’s approval, but it’s nice to know that what we’ve doing for over a year is now officially the industry best practice. We’re also encouraged by the fact that Google’s official recommendations are based not only on what works well from a search engine point-of-view, but takes into account user experience as well.

Why Responsive Design?

According to Google, there are three ways to build mobile websites:

  • Having two distinct sites – a mobile and a desktop site
  • Having one site, but building in the capability of detecting what type of device is being used and delivering the “right” layout accordingly (device-specific HTML)
  • True responsive design, one site where CSS3 media queries adjust how the page is displayed on different mobile devices

The disadvantages of the first two? Two distinct sites can often provide a disconnected user experience, if continuity – or even content – is lacking between the desktop and mobile version, not to mention the cost and logistics of maintaining two separate sites.

Future-proofing for the second type of system can also become a nightmare, as constant updating and testing is needed in order to keep up with the newest user agents and device capabilities. Plus, detection methods themselves aren’t 100% accurate.

Responsive design is much more universal in this sense, as it doesn’t cater to specific devices/user agents. With this advanced technology, the layout of one site simply adjusts to different screen sizes and resolutions. While it’s quite common sense that this offers the best experience for users, Google’s endorsement of responsive design stems from efficiencies gained in assigning indexing properties from smartphone-optimized content built in this way.

That’s not to say that Google won’t support device-specific HTML

On the flip side, Google does recognize that responsive design isn’t always possible. In response, it will continue to support websites build using device-speciffc HTML. However, if Google recommends responsive design, one can wager that Google may “reward” responsive websites in terms of search rankings.

What do you think?