The principles of good web design have changed a lot over the years, but traditionally the way a site looked had no effect on its search rank. For years, search engine optimization has been a separate issue entirely from design: A great-looking site would appeal to visitors, but it was other factors like content and behind-the-scenes efforts that would drive traffic. These days, the issue is a bit more complicated.
It’s a fact that mobile browsing is on the rise, with more people searching the Web from their smart phones and tablets, and having a site that looks good on any size of screen is crucial. For many site owners, that means using responsive web design. For others, it means running separate mobile and desktop versions of a site. But do these choices affect SEO at all? And if so, what’s the best decision?
Mobile Sites vs Responsive Design
If you don’t make any concessions for a mobile-ready site, you will lose valuable traffic. Sites that aren’t optimized for mobile devices will be hard to navigate or even totally unreadable on smart phone and tablet screens, so visitors will move on to another site rather than stay on yours. Your SEO may not be directly affected, but the “bounce rate,” or number of people who click away without staying to explore, will be very high.
But when it comes to mobile-friendly sites, you have two options. The first choice is to build two separate sites, utilizing coding to identify how the page is being accessed and presenting the correct site for the medium. Mobile sites may be simpler, stripped-down versions of the full page, providing a more on-the-to option for people using small screens.
The other option is a responsive design. This is a special type of design that’s coded to match the screen size of the device used to access it. The site itself will look the same across different devices, but with elements resized to better fit the smaller screen.
Which Option is Best?
From Google’s perspective, responsive design is preferred simply because it poses less work to search engines. If you have a separate mobile and desktop site, both versions will need to be crawled and ranked. Responsive designs do not pose this problem.
There is currently little evidence that Google is actively boosting the ranks of responsive sites. However, there is some compelling evidence to suggest that a responsive site could be favored – and it certainly won’t hurt. To play it safe, for both search engines and your visitors, a responsive web design is often the best choice.