Google has welcomed and in some ways helped drive the rise of Internet usage on mobile devices by rewarding sites that offer bespoke mobile user experiences, either through separate mobile sites or responsive design, with higher search rankings.
Webmasters who either develop separate smartphone-optimised versions of their site or build their site from the ground up using responsive design principles have many benefits to gain not only from SEO performance but also from the overall user experience of their site and consequent success of their site.
There is nothing more frustrating from a user experience perspective than conducing a search on a smartphone, clicking on one of the search results and then being taken to a site created for desktop use – the pinching and panning alone are enough to frustrate most users to return to the search results and look elsewhere. Subsequently Google’s crawling bots are able to detect whether a site has a mobile-friendly version and will prioritise such sites in their search results over desktop-only sites.
The three main options available to webmasters wanting to ‘go mobile’ are responsive design, dynamic serving and separate URLs. Dynamic serving essentially uses the same URL for both the desktop and mobile versions of the site, serving the appropriate version of the site based on the browser detected on the device or computer. This is usually implemented through user agent strings and can become complicated with the sheer variety of mobile devices available to the public. The separate URL option is fairly self-explanatory, where the mobile-optimised site URL usually begins with the letter m, such as m.yoursitehere.com.
Both of these options have many disadvantages when compared to responsive design. Responsive design technology allows the content and elements of the page resize and rearrange based on the screen size of the device being used to view the page. Having a separate mobile-optimised site does not allow for the large diversity in screen sizes in smartphone and tablet devices available to the public, which can often lead to a sub-par user experience. Furthermore separate mobile sites often do not contain all of the content available on the desktop version which can also lead to a negative user experience when people seek to view content they had previously seen on the desktop version of the site on their mobile device and are unable to locate the same content.
At Paradox SEO we recommend webmasters offer a user experience appropriate to the device they are using by utilising responsive design technology where possible with a separate mobile version of their site being the last resort.