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Google recommends responsive Web Design for Smartphone Websites

Published on June 8, 2012
Tags: Mobile Application Development

We have long known that smartphones are becoming more important in terms of internet share. Plenty of people now use their smartphones to access the web on a regular basis, and over the past couple of years we have seen huge levels of growth in the amount of attention web designers put into developing mobile sites. This has had the impact of improving the mobile web experience for millions of people.

We have also known for a while about responsive web design, which is where the same HTML code is used for all web devices, but CSS technology is used to tell that HTML how to display according to the device and browser that is being used to display it.

Now we have had confirmation from Google that it recommends responsive web design when creating websites for use on smartphones. The announcement came in a blog post detailing the configurations that are supported by Google for smartphone websites. There are three configurations that are supported in total, but responsive web design is highlighted as ‘Google’s recommended configuration’.

The other two configurations that are supported by Google are a separate mobile and desktop site, and sites that utilise different HTML and CSS according to the device that a web user is using. In the blog post, a couple of benefits of using responsive web design are highlighted, including that it keeps all relevant content on the same URL. This means that it’s not only easier for readers to use, but it’s also easier for Google to assign indexing properties to the content.

Another listed benefit of responsive web design for smartphone sites is that it allows Google to ‘discover your content more efficiently as we wouldn’t need to crawl a page with the different Googlebot user agents to retrieve and index all the content.’ This is obviously something to take note of if you are interested in SEO as it makes your content easier to find and read – and therefore, hopefully, boost your chances of doing well in relevant search rankings.

It also means that rather than having to manage multiple sites separately (one for smartphones, one for desktops, one for tablets and so on), a responsive web design can be managed as one entity. This is beneficial because it means there is just one set of links to be maintained, which is not the case if you have separate sites for different devices. Take Facebook likes as an example. You could have a desktop website that has got 50 likes of a particular page. By contrast, the mobile version of your site might only have 5 likes for that page. Not only would the mobile site be less likely to rank well, but those 5 likes could well have decreased the number of likes that went to the desktop site. A responsive web design that works across platforms helps to standardise this rather than assigning different links and likes to different platforms.

As well as the SEO benefits, a high quality responsive site that works on smartphones just as well as it does on desktops makes things much better for web users. Research suggests that if users visit a bad mobile site, a majority of them will not recommend the company, which just goes to show how important this aspect of the market has become.

However, Google has also acknowledged that responsive web design is not always an option for mobile sites, which is why other configurations are also supported. In the case of using device-specific HTML, Google recommends that designers make use of the Vary HTTP header. This is to signal that content might change depending on the device used. For example, it can send a signal that a particular version of the site might need to be scanned using the mobile Googlebot.

As well as the summary blog post outlining the supported smartphone configurations, Google has also released a longer article entitled ‘Building smartphone-optimised websites’, which developers can utilise to find out more about the different configurations and see which option might be the most appropriate for their site.

Multiple configurations still play a part and they are all important, but responsive web design has received something of a boost from Google’s recommendation and it seems increasingly clear that it is the future of design.


By Chelsey Evans

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