(This post has been updated for 2017)
Mary Meeker's bold prediction in 2008 caught the attention of marketers worldwide, claiming that by 2014 mobile search would overtake fixed internet search. Now 5 years later, we still see companies not taking heed of what this trend means for online business.
What does mobile traffic have to do with your marketing plans?
Simply put - you need a website that is mobile friendly. While a mobi site is an ,option for this purpose, this requires additional resources in terms of maintenance and if not set up correctly from a technical perspective, can actually land up damaging your search engine optimisation efforts. On the other hand, implementing a fully responsive website not only reduces the reliance on resources for upkeep, but offers some valuable SEO benefits too.
What is Responsive Website Design, Though?
Google’s Matt Cutts provides a great, non-technical explanation: "Responsive design just means that the page works totally fine whether you access the site URL with a desktop browser or whether you access that URL with mobile browser," Cutts said. "Things will rescale, the page size will be taken into account."
The rescaling element is the important part of this. From a technical standpoint you develop only one master site and use CSS to arrange your page elements in the best layout for the size of screen calling the page.
Is my Website Already Responsive?
A nifty little tool to view how your site looks on various desktop and mobile devices is Screenfly. You simply input your URL and then select desktop, tablet and smartphone views to check for responsiveness.
SEO Benefits For Responsive Web Design
Google's View on responsive design
Do you remember playing ‘Simon says’ as a child? Where you had to follow the instructions that Simon wanted you to act out? Well, consider Google as the adult version of Simon. If Google says ‘this is the way to do (something)’ you would do well to listen to the “friendly” advice.
We rely heavily on search engine results and traffic to drive our lead generation efforts, so why go against what the Big G says? They quite clearly state that responsive design is their recommended configuration for mobile site development. Just listen. You can be sure that there’s some SEO value in there.
Eliminates Duplicate Content
One of the primary issues with building a separate mobile site is the fact it is a ‘standalone’ site. Each m. version of your page is considered a separate entity in Google, meaning that you may unknowingly be creating duplicate content. Although Google claims that a mobile version with the same content as a master site won’t be hit with the Panda stick, it still means you have duplicate content on the web and you run the risk of serving the wrong version at some point. Ever clicked on a m. result on a desktop? That stuff ain’t pretty.
Stronger Link Building
Unlike a mobi and desktop version of a site, a responsive site has a single URL for each page. This means that any link to your master site is in essence a link to your mobile site as well. There’s no diluting of PageRank and you’re building a stronger backlink profile on both desktop and mobile search at the same time. SEO win!
Reduces Bounce Rate
I think we’ve all experienced it at one point or another? Opened a website on our mobile device and faced with a lot of horizontal scrolling and teeny tiny copy. The endless battle with your mouse tracker or swipe screen coupled with the necessary squinting is enough to cause you to close the site and try the next one. Hello, bounce rate!
Google uses bounce rate as a signal of user satisfaction with results. If a person is closing your site after a few seconds or not clicking through to any other pages, your bounce rate is going to rise and Google will drop your rankings for those key search terms, which naturally results in less traffic. A responsive design can help reduce your bounce rate as people are able to see that the site is designed for best user experience, irrespective of device. Navigation is optimised for mobile and all page elements scale according to the screen size.
Reduces Page Load Speed
According to Google, the average mobile page load speed today is over 7 seconds. Google prefers mobile pages to load in one second or less. A responsive website design does not require queries to redirect users to a different URL (the mobi version of the page) and thus it significantly reduces the load time of the page.
While it isn't expressly known how much of a direct impact mobile page load speed has on rankings, Google is stressing its importance because of the impact on user experience - and what is good for user experience is good for rankings. Again, who are we to question?
Improves Mobile Search Rankings
This is another example of the ‘Google Says’ type suggestion. In addition to recommending responsive design for mobile, it has also claimed that it ranks sites optimised for mobile higher in mobile searches.
Considering that mobile search is set to overtake desktop search queries in 2015. (Another bold predication, this time made by analyst firm BIA/Kelsey) it is probably a good idea to get a head start on your competition-to-be in mobile search by implementing a responsive website now.
Switching to responsive design will help you rank better in mobile (and possibly desktop) search as you continue to build backlinks to a master site and provide your visitor with the best user experience for their preferred device. With all statistics and trends pointing to this becoming the leading source of website traffic, we highly recommend considering responsive design if you are looking to continued success with search marketing.
Also consider Growth Driven Design, which is focussed on continually improving the UX of your website.