April 21, 2015…….”Mobilegeddon”
A major algorithm update has been filling Twitter feeds. Nothing gets a webmaster’s attention quite like this kind of news. When it comes to the world of SEO, penguins, pandas and hummingbirds are like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Often, algorithm updates arrive with no warning. However; Google recently announced, “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.” Got my attention.
Time to Prepare for Mobilegeddon
The announcement from Google about the update was early, but still vague. It has been very vague and sloth with details. Webmaster trends analyst Gary Illyes did share a few details in a recent Q&A.
-Responsive design does not have a ranking benefit
-Mobile friendliness is determined at the page level – not sitewide
-Tablets will not be affected by this update
-Google is currently working on a dedicated mobile index
Preparing for the Update
Webmasters have been warned for years by Google to prepare for mobile. Now it’s game on. Thanks to the announcement of the Mobile Search update, many webbmasters have a good reason to take action.
Constructing a separate mobile site allows you to optimize it for mobile users. Mobile sites often have less content, different navigation systems, and other unique mobile-only options. All of the work in making the site mobile-friendly is done on the server and by the Web designer.
In spite having a separate mobile website, there remains a problem with presenting an optimal display on intermediate resolutions. The device screen widths on the market has many variations. Some of the standard resolutions are 320px wide, 480px wide, 600px wide, 768px wide, 800px wide, and 1024px wide. It would be too expensive to have a separate version for each resolution.
A responsive site enables a standard website and instruct the mobile device on how to display it correctly. Responsive websites can handle any resolution with changes in CSS files, which affect how the elements on Web pages are presented. Computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets will all display the website in the best way possible.
“Mobile-only” designs are simple to build and very economical in development cost. Responsive websites are more complicated to build and having a higher upfront cost. But over the lifetime is more economical than the former.
Over time, it can be much more cost-effective to build a responsive website and optimize it for all standard resolutions. This also means that future updates related to content are to be done at one place instead of multiple versions of the website(s) that cater to each screen width.
Search Engine Optimization
Mobile sites are built on a subdomain, m.domain.com. If you choose to go that route, remember to utilize canonical tags pointing to the desktop URL for duplicate mobile pages. This resolves potential duplicate content issues. Don’t put canonical tags on unique mobile content. Both the mobile and the desktop pages can rank for competitive phrases. Responsive sites require no special SEO consideration beyond normal best practices.
From a practical perspective, link-building to one site is more productive and cost-effective than building links to two sites. Mobile link-building is different from traditional link-building and requires a different approach. A responsive design mitigates running a second campaign.
Statistics gathered by a variety of companies show that mobile sites have much better conversion rates. This goes back to the fact these sites are designed only for mobile platforms. They tend to load faster and are easier to navigate. In short, they offer a better mobile user experience than responsive designs.
Preparing for Future Updates
Your site must meet the Mobile-Friendly test. You must maintain diligence, even if your site makes the grade today, there’s no guarantee that it will continue to stand up to future changes. Staying on top of mobile search trends needs to be a priority item. Mobile designs may not be fully compatible with future mobile browsers or devices. Responsive websites, on the other hand, will most likely be able to work with newer browsers and devices, so they’re more of a one-time investment.
So Which Is Better?
So which type of website is best for you? If you’re still uncertain, here are the highlights of both types of sites:
Pros of Mobile Sites:
Can be customized for mobile users
Should be the most mobile-friendly version of a site
Easier and cheaper to design
Cons of Mobile Sites:
Higher costs for updating the content of multiple websites
May need to be reworked to meet future browsers
Pros of Responsive Web Design:
Highly flexible – one responsive website works on all devices, so only one site has to be created and maintained
This is Google’s recommended configuration
Can be a better return on investment since most responsive sites won’t need much future maintenance to comply with new browsers
Cons of Responsive Web Design:
More expensive upfront cost
Doesn’t convert as well
The Bottom Line
It truly depends on what your site is focused on and what you need it to do. Make your website user-friendly, helpful, and relevant and you will have the opportunity to rank in Google organic search, regardless of the website type.