One of the most exciting changes in website design has been the introduction of responsive design, a mechanism that allows a website to react to the size of the users screen and to adapt to the best fit.
This is used to allow websites to fit the varied screen sizes that users have on desktop or laptops, but the real benefit has been its use for creating mobile friendly sites.
Using responsive design to build a mobile site takes less time than creating a stand-alone mobile site, it’s easier for the client to manage and maintain, and the user has a seamless experience without need for redirection. Whatever the screen size of the user they’ll be served from the same database and same page, meaning that you have one solution to fit all devices.
It’s the best solution for a client, agency, user and the search engines.
Let’s rewind and look at how search engines work, using Google as an example:
• The search engine (SE) finds out about a new website, most likely because a third party website links to it.
• The SE analyses the site and over a period of time it visits every page and stores information on it.
• If the pages are appropriate the SE puts the pages of the site into its index, the collection of databases that store websites and attributes on them.
• When a visitor to Google caries out a search the SE returns the website in the results pages, based on how valuable the SE believes the site is for that keyword search.
When a company decides to launch a stand-alone mobile website (as an example: m.tesco.com) the process is duplicated because search engines see subdomains as entirely new sites. So Tesco has 140,000 pages on their mobile site (m.tesco.com) that could be indexed by Google, and with potentially the same content as their primary website this could cause duplicate content issues.
The SEO process, when carried out by an agency or in-house, can be boiled down to three areas:
• Content – the information on your site, be it visible to the user or just the search engines.
• Code – the codebase behind the site and the website structure, but also encompassing the web server(s).
• Linking – traditionally the inbound links to your site from external sites, but social linking and authority comes under this banner.
An SEO campaign takes considerable time and effort, drawing on a team of people with different skillsets, and by creating a standalone mobile website you’re also creating another website to optimise. All the effort you put in to your primary website won’t improve the rankings of your mobile website, where you have to start from scratch with your linking and content.
That’s the first key advantage of using responsive web design: the effort you put in to search engine optimisation is pooled on one site, reducing costs and improving the performance of your campaigns.
An approach to dealing with the annexing of a mobile site is to separate it further. Tesco, for example, have used the robots.txt file to block Google from crawling their mobile site, prioritising their non-mobile site in the search results. They’ve used redirects so when a mobile browser is detected the use is automatically redirected from tesco.com to m.tesco.com, however redirects can go wrong.
1. If a user searches for a subject in a search engine and the most appropriate page on your website is returned in the search results the user wants to see that page. Some websites would redirect visitors to any page on their online site to the homepage of the mobile site, so the user then has to search or navigate to find their subject.
2. It’s not uncommon to get caught in a redirection loop, as a site grows and the redirection code is changed it can end up redirecting you between the mobile and online site.
3. Some users don’t want to see a standalone mobile site at all, especially if it is missing functionality found on the main site. The addition of a “view full website” link in the footer is an easy fix, however some sites (adt.co.uk for example) will then redirect you back to the mobile site.
The second advantage of using responsive web design is that you don’t have to pay any further attention to the user journey or redirections. All your online tracking and analytics should continue to work.
A separate site, whether mobile or microsite for a campaign or product set, increases management time. Not only do you have to maintain the site, but from a search marketing perspective you also have to spread your learning’s across all your sites. So a change you make to your primary website will have to be replicated across your mobile site and the risk is that an optimisation task may be missed.
The third advantage of responsive design is that you spend less time on low level duplication of tasks, and your future knowledge need only be applied to one site.
The use of responsive web design is a rare win win for all parties, reducing costs, improving performance and making the best use of the client and agencies time. For a search marketing campaign it’s the ultimate end goal so that our campaigns perform well.
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