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Responsive Websites for a Better Mobile Experience

  |  July 9, 2013   |  Comments   |  

It's clear the question is no longer should we invest in mobile, but how should we invest in mobile.

"There are over 1 million more mobile devices activated every day across the world than there are babies born," according to TNW. And as I mentioned in my previous post, a major contributor to the growth in mobile device usage is in Asia. With this in mind, it's a no-brainer that organizations must have mobile experience strategies front of mind. Notice I said mobile experience, and not mobile site. According to Google's Larry Page, in his opinion, a website should work seamlessly across all devices from one location opposed to having both a desktop version and a mobile-specific variation.

Mobile Website Design vs. Responsive Website Design

A mobile website is a simpler version of the standard website made for devices with smaller screens. Typically, mobile versions of a website are located in a specific subdomain or subdirectory, such as m.website.com or www.website.com/mobile/ and offer less features than the standard website due to usability constraints.

On the positive side, a mobile-specific website serves its purpose by giving precise information to those accessing the website from a smaller-screened device. Conversely, there may be content that the user specifically wants, but can't find because it's been stripped out. To make up for this sacrifice, brands such as Fandango and eBay also offer standalone mobile apps to fill the gap in content and feature-rich experiences left by their mobile website. While apps can be much more powerful than mobile websites, the downside is that it requires a user to install and refer specifically to it - in other words, they do not capture organic search visits.

Responsive web design is a relatively new concept that allows for a website's design to adjust and dynamically adapt to any type of device or screen size. Because the full content is available and the design simply changes on the fly based on device type, there is no need to host content in two separate locations. This not only makes responsive-designed sites much simpler to manage from a resource point of view, but also allows for the best user experience possible. Furthermore, because the content is not staggered across multiple locations, responsive design creates a more efficient and consolidated SEO strategy. All of your content sits in one location and can more quickly build authority, trust, inbound links, and ultimately stronger organic visibility. The screenshots below show how Mashable.com uses responsive design to adjust layouts based on different screen sizes. The flexibility of responsive design even allows for a custom mobile-friendly navigation menu in the far right image.


Web version


Tablet version


Phone version

A few other well-respected brands leveraging responsive design include:

  • smashingmagazine.com
  • starbucks.com
  • copyblogger.com
  • qz.com

Google's Stance on Mobile Site Experiences

Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page offers his opinion on mobile websites:

"We don't necessarily want [our advertisers] to have mobile sites…I find I get frustrated on my phone when I hit these mobile sites…I just find it confusing…As an industry, we need to improve these experiences…I'd almost say that we shouldn't be designing for mobile. The kind of mobile phones we have now, the state of the art, are a little bit beyond, and those experiences [i.e., full websites] should work on those devices as well. I'd like to see us move in that direction."

To add to this, Google's Yoshikiyo Kato and Pierre Far say that site speed is likely to become an even stronger signal in determining organic rankings:

"To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users."

In their blog post they talked about some current problems regarding mobile optimization and mistakes. The main ones concentrate on redirects. The website either redirects all pages from the website to one single place in the mobile version or it doesn't show anything at all when the user is using a smartphone, essentially "killing the user experience."



It's clear the question is no longer "Should we invest in mobile?" but "How should we invest in mobile?" Examples of sites leveraging responsive design are few and far between in the U.S. and even more so in Asia at this point, but the trend is leaning heavily in that direction of development and I expect to see more and more sites switch over to it.

Whether your organization opts for the traditional subdirectory/subdomain approach, or to invest in a responsive design experience, you must implement strategically. Consider not only the user's experience, but also SEO-specific issues such as page load times, content accessibility, and proper handling of content duplication to avoid any devaluation from search engines. Has your organization gone mobile yet? And if so, I'd love to hear whether you chose standalone sites or responsive design and why.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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Scott Kellam

Scott Kellam is a search engine optimization professional with over 8 years of experience in the industry. Scott has developed SEO strategies for marquee clients such as SAP, HSBC, Humana, Saint Laurent (YSL), SanDisk, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and many others. He has worked in search marketing since 2005 with a proven track record of developing profitable SEO and social media strategies. With a deep understanding of both technical SEO issues as well as search marketing’s role in identifying and connecting with target audiences, Scott has been able to effectively scale strategies that directly impact bottom lines for clients of all sizes across B2B and B2C industries as well as non-profits.

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