Since Ethan Marcotte popularized the idea of Responsive Web Design with his article of the same name in 2010, the trend of responsive web design has been on a tear in the web design world. Responsive web design is the practice of using media queries, fluid grids and flexible images to make the page readable regardless of what device is being used to access it. In a digital age when multiscreen browsing is the norm, and consumers are accessing content from smartphones, tablets, desktops, televisions, and readers, responsive web design is often seen as a solution to this fragmented environment.
Although it has been promoted since 2010, many in the SEO community got behind the idea of responsive web design in June of 2012, when Google announced that responsive web design is their preferred solution for mobile SEO for smartphones. At Resolution we’ve been asked many times in the last two years if responsive web design is a good solution for mobile SEO. The answer we give always depends on the business, and the goals of the user.
Before you consider responsive design as a solution for your site, consider these three points:
- Look at your business. Responsive design is great for content-heavy sites like blogs and news sites. Content is adaptive — in other words, it does not change based on the device that’s accessing it.
As Content Strategist Karen McGrane pointed out, this leads to fewer maintenance headaches as a result of content forking, which is the practice of creating multiple articles that need to be updated separately. With adaptive content and responsive web design, content only needs to be updated once and will be resized based on the device.
But if you have platform-specific content that’s necessary for your business (e.g. downloads, games, etc.), responsive design might not be the best solution for you.
- Look at your consumer. Typically when a user is looking for information in search engines, their search behavior will not change from the desktop. A search for [jillian michaels] or [nate berkus], for example, has about the same amount of searches (between 23-27%) on mobile as desktop relative to demand for the keyword.
However, if we look at content queries, we can see that the intent can be quite different. Only 1% of the 10,000 searches for [desktop background] come from mobile devices, while 80% of the searches for [mobile wallpaper] come from mobile devices.
- Look at your site. In cases where responsive web design is not appropriate for the demographic, it’s better to use dedicated URLs or dynamic serving to provide a customized experience for mobile, tablet and desktop users.
We’ve created a flowchart to help webmasters determine whether responsive web design is appropriate for their sites, based on five simple questions.
Responsive web design can be a fine solution for news sites and blogs that primarily target users in the United States with smartphones, but it’s not for every site all the time. Resolution has provided a flow chart to help our clients decide whether responsive web design is the right design methodology for their business. Using this tool can help them avoid the user and SEO pitfalls that designing a responsive site for any other reason but a positive user experience tends to create.
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