Google has long been accused of offering contradicting opinions in regards to mobile SEO. Those contradictions were recently put to rest during the iSEO panel at SMX Advanced, when Pierre Far of Google announced guidelines and recommendations for web design in regards to mobile SEO.
The primary takeaway from the announcement was that Google recommends a responsive design when feasible; but advises individuals to use device-specific HTML if necessary. Below, we will evaluate Google’s recommendations and try and distill what this means for you as a web professional.
What is Responsive Design?
We’ve written about responsive design in some recent past’s blog posts and debated the strengths and weaknesses of the various methodologies. We at DBS fully support the responsive design movement and have been utilizing it since its early origins. To gain a better understanding of responsive design, check out one of our recent websites, Leadership Louisville.
Why Google Recommends Responsive Design
The goal of a responsive design is to create one unique experience that is similar across all devices. It is simply unfair to expect the user to relearn your website when interacting with it on a tablet vs. desktop vs. mobile, unless these experiences are proven to require different experiences.
Google recommends using the Responsive Design Approach to web design because it allows for your desktop and mobile content to display on a single URL. This makes it easier for site visitors to interact and share your pages.
The responsive design approach is also highly beneficial to the Google bots themselves as it allows Google’s “algorithms to assign the indexing properties to your content”.
Last, but not least, it also makes Google more efficient as the approach eliminates the need for the different Googlebot useragents to index and retrieve your site content.
If you must use the Device-Specific HTML Approach
There are exceptions to every rule. In some instances, a device-specific HTML approach may be the preferred solution. A prime example is a large web application like Facebook where the mobile experience is intended to be much different than its desktop equivalent.
If you do decide to move forward with the Device-Specific HTML Approach, Google has a few recommendations for you. Google highly urges webmasters that use this approach with the same URL to deploy the Vary HTTP header to give their algorithm a signal that the content and CSS may change based on the useragent that is accessing the page.
Conversely, when you take the different HTML and different URL approach, Google asks that you use the rel=alternate on your desktop version and place a canonical tag on your mobile version to allow their algorithms to discover and understand the structure of your content.
Are These Guidelines Game Changing?
The answer to that question is unfortunately, No; however it was certainly a step in the right direction. With as influential as a company as Google backing responsive design, we can only hope that other businesses follow suit and help establish standards.
Ultimately, the decision as to how you should implement mobile SEO should be chosen by asking yourself one question> How do users of your product/service expect to use your site across the various devices. With knowledge of how users desire to take in your website’s experience, you can then develop and implement Google’s recommendations accordingly.