Could Mobile Responsive Website Design Hurt Your SEO?

Could Mobile Responsive Website Design Hurt Your SEO?

Reader Comments (72)

  1. My website is responsive, and to be honest, I never thought that a responsive website design could affect ones search engine rankings.

    I’m glad that your post put any doubts that your title made in my mind to rest.

    At the end of the day, responsive web design is all about making your website as easy to use for as many website visitors as possible.

    • Jakk, certainly design can affect search rankings based on how it impacts load times, time on site, sharing, etc. And you summed it up perfectly with your last sentence. The design that best fits what your visitors want and need is one that, ultimately, will be best for SEO in the long-run.

        • Jakk, thanks for posting this. I think it simply confirms what we’ve been saying here at Copyblogger for a while: responsive is the design method of the future. It also suggests that Google is even more strongly in the responsive camp as the “right” way to do things. So from an SEO perspective, you’d have to assume that following their suggestion will be in a site’s long-term interest.

  2. Depending on how the navigation is programmed, responsive mobile design CAN HURT SEO. Example: a site with 1000+ pages goes responsive. The mobile navigation allows the visitor to go from any page to any other pages, which means that all 1000+ links are in the navigation, which means that 1000+ links were just added to the code of every page. Three days later…Panda penalty. Rank crashes. Traffic drops by 30%.

    Drop me a line if you’d like more details on how we mopped up the blood. πŸ™‚

  3. Phfft. Who cares if responsive websites are SEO friendly or not. Responsive breaks down a long time before you get down to the SEO nitty-gritty.

    There is so much that doesn’t work on responsive websites. Maybe you’ve seen what happens if you don’t use the right pricing chart. Pricing charts with segments that are ten or a dozen pixels wide work out so well. You’ll have the same problem with other graphic elements trying to scale down from desktop to phone size.

    There are too many able mobile site builders that are also easy. For marketing on the mobile web responsive construction makes little sense.

    • Thanks for reading and for your comment Joelin. Poor design is poor design, responsive or otherwise. I agree that there are poor examples of responsive design out there, just as there are poor examples of mobile design (app or web) and standard desktop design. The key, of course, is to think about your customers and their experience on your site. If it’s an ecommerce site, and you need pricing charts as you’ve described, either find a good mobile solution that works…or perhaps your site needs to be mobile-specific. But I have to disagree that “for marketing on the mobile web responsive construction makes little sense.” It makes A LOT of sense for the majority of the sites.

  4. Thanks for the post. This is something my team and I are in the process of developing for our product’s site – but more importantly, we’re working on making our product responsive as well. At the end of the day, though, I think it simply all boils down to what your audience needs and or wants.

  5. If your standard desktop website has good rankings, is it better to create a separate mobile site or to recreate the standard site using a responsive design? My concern is that I would lose rankings by switching layouts. I realize it’s more about the content than the design as it relates to SEO, but I’ve read horror stories of sites losing their high rankings after redesigning them even though the content remained the same.

    • Wes, whether or not you create a separate mobile site will depend on if you fit into the exception cases listed above. As for being fearful of redesigning, it’s a valid concern. But switching layouts to responsive *shouldn’t* (in the hands of a capable theme framework or developer) cause any negative impacts. Remember to keep important elements like page title, heading tags, and URL structure, etc., the same … and any possible negative impact (if there would be any) should be offset by increased user engagement, linking, and sharing, all which will boost SEO.

  6. User intent. User intent. User intent. You really have to know who your users are, and what they’re doing on your site. My fireworks directories (I have six of them) get millions and millions of pageviews in season. Last year 49% of them were mobile – it’ll probably be more this year. Everything we do is geared towards putting the most important information front and center for the people out and about with their phones. So we were early adopters of responsive design. And it’s worked out very well.

  7. This is a fantastic perspective on the debate, Jerod. Thanks for sharing. The only question I have is on what you meant by “location” regarding keywords:
    “There are so many factors beyond keyword targeting that determine how pages will rank on mobile devices … the biggest being location.”
    Which location are you referring to – geography of site traffic, placement of the keywords or something else? Could you expand a bit on this? Thanks again – great content.

    • Ben, excellent question! In that statement, “location” refers to physical location. Where is the mobile device that is accessing the site? Search engines have become so sophisticated at geo-targeting, and no keyword wizardy is going to trump it.

  8. I’ve never even once thought that responsive design would be beneficial for SEO.

    I was always focused on responsive design to let users have an easier time with the website, no matter if they went on it on a mobile or desktop. The experience should be good either way.

    Great article, and that may well let some bosses know about the importance of responsive design. πŸ™‚

    • Zell, you are not alone. And I think there is a paradigm shift in how people are thinking about “SEO” nowadays, which is good. The best strategy for long-term SEO — essentially, do right by your readers — has never changed, and never will. And fortunately Google is reinforcing it with every change and, seemingly, every public statement.

  9. Thank you for NOT leading us all down a blind alley and providing a sound example that works. I believe I’d still like to opt in for mobile design, not be forced into it – this is why mobile browsers have scale ratios. Have you ever seen how retarded some of these mobile down OS looks where, all you see are 3 or 4 menu tabs, and a slim edge of content beneath? Sometimes you just don’t want the breakpoints and scrolls – Disney is an excellent example of a menu interface clean slide in – slide out (haven’t visited in a while) but not everyone can be Disney. Sometimes, I want to pinch and pull away, I want to fly across the screen and zoom…cant do that with one size fits all

  10. You should be using “e.g.” instead of “i.e.” Look it up.

    Great work though. I’ve finally come around and embraced responsive design. Interesting that even Google is recommending the same DOM for different devices.

    • Martyn, you are correct! “e.g.” is for examples, “i.e.” is for clarification. Good catch.

      And yes, when Google recommends something as being preferred, it should be taken seriously for SEO … assuming it’s right for YOUR readers.

      • Three notable reveals were an iMessage like service for all Google platforms, A Spotify like service called Google Play “All Access” and a Game Center clone for Google Play

        • Interesting. I am a Spotify junkie and have never used Google Play. If anyone can present a compelling reason why the latter might be better than the former, I’m open to listening.

  11. This is a great topic and in a lot ways I agree with you but there are definitely more reasons to not go responsive. For content marketers, which is obviously the audience here for the most part, yes responsive is a great way to go but when it comes to local businesses I would disagree.

    If you’re a restaurant, salon, dentist, etc…Responsive does not serve you the way a separate mobile site does. With much of the traffic coming from local search (and on a phone) these types of businesses have a chance to convert people to action within seconds. So when we’re talking local, consider your users intent.

    It’s most likely that they are not browsing…They are trying to call, make an appointment or reserveration, get directions etc. A mobile site aimed at driving that conversion is much easier to accomplish using a separate site and just as affordable as a responsive theme

    As a content marketer myself, I use a responsive theme but i cover mobile marketing on my blog and podcast and have been offering mobile services to both brands and small businesses for 8+ years. I think responsive is a glimpse as to the direction we’ll want to go in the future but for now there are benefits of separate sites depending on your business type.

    Also glad you brought in Bryson. I’ve had him on my podcast and he is truly a thought leader from the SEO side of things.

    Oh and my responsive theme is from studiopress. πŸ˜‰

    • Greg, you make GREAT points. I actually don’t think we disagree much at all, especially with your main point here: “consider your user’s intent.” That’s the key. And what design will best serve that intent. If a local business can afford the development of a mobile-only site, it can have benefits. If not, going with a responsive theme (like, say, oh…Genesis!) at least provides a better (even if not ideal) experience for mobile users.

      And yes, Bryson’s work is terrific. As I was researching this article, I continued to come across his pieces, and they provided an outstanding alternate perspective.

    • I actually think that for a lot of local businesses, that’s also exactly what people want to do on their desktops or laptops. If I’m looking up a restaurant, I want to know their hours, what kind of food they serve, and where they are. What I don’t want is the dancing baloney and flash slide shows that a lot of better restaurants think their web readers are looking for.

      For a local business I’d design for my mobile users first and then think hard about whether desktop/laptop users actually need anything different.

  12. Do you have an opinion on plugins like WP Touch (free or premium)? Or even Jetpack’s Mobile option? If, for example, you didn’t have a StudioPress responsive site?

    • Bradley, I have no used WP Touch in at least 2-3 years on any sites, so it would be unfair for me to comment. And I haven’t used JetPack’s Mobile option. I think that if the WORDS of your site are THE main attraction, then these plugins (or at least, how I remember them working) can be beneficial in decreasing mobile load times and cutting out all excess crap. They don’t measure up to responsive, but if they will provide a cleaner, quicker experience for readers then they have merit, especially as quick, low-cost alternatives.

      • Good point about “the words.” Also, you mention, “quick, low-cost” alternative. Maybe a good solution is to go with one of these plugins as a Phase 1, test it out for a while, then if the audience merits it, go with a more robust options (responsive or a mobile version of the site). Thanks, Jerod!

  13. Mobile internet use is widely predicted to exceed desktop usage within a couple of years from now, so some sort of mobile optimisation should be a serious consideration for any business.

    50% of traffic is from mobile devices and tablets. This not only is this going to grow, it’s going to be come the clearly dominant form of internet use.

    So its wise to make responsive website, to give user charming experience of you business. Whether its small business or large.

  14. Yes.. YES.. absolutely Yes!

    I would not build a site today w/o mobile responsive. Too many people are using smart phones, Kindles, ipads, etc.. and as you know, the trend is growing.. I recommend to all my new bloggers to get setup “right” with a responsive theme.

    Think about it: It’s hard to read websites on a tiny iphone screen if it’s not responsive.

    I just started using Genesis in the last six months.. after finally abandoning Thesis with their mess of an update. So as you mentioned, they have a large selection.. and there are even free WP responsive themes.

    Oh, I almost forgot most of your article was on how the responsive themes related to SEO.. and of course I want to throw my two cents in on that, too! LOL

    I am SO over Google! Yes, I still SEO, (it’s drilled into me since the SEO ninja days) but I don’t spend a lot of time trying to please them anymore. I don’t give a hoot if they ever front page me again or not. Provide for your readers and they’ll make sure your site gets plenty of traffic… well that and a few other traffic sources.

    ~darlene πŸ™‚

    • Darlene, the irony is that immediately after saying, “I don’t spend a lot of time trying to please them anymore” you described, in a nutshell, exactly what Google wants you to do: “provide for you readers.” I would certainly not ignore Google’s recommendations for how pages should be structured, and the most important elements they look for in ranking sites, but the days of creating content “for search engines” is over. Or should be. Think reader-first, and good SEO will follow.

      • I hear you with: “exactly what Google wants you to do: β€œprovide for you readers.”

        But my point is that Google’s definition of “providing for readers” is a constantly moving target…. and there are waaaay too many other killer traffic sources to get bogged down with trying to plz Google.

        Like I said I will always SEO but that’s only a small part of my traffic strategy now.

        ~ darlene

  15. I’ve had a tough time trying to sell mobile websites to clients. Too many of them “think” that their desktop site is more than enough and that it looks “fine” on an Android/iPhone device.

    There’s just no comparison between a mobile responsive site and its clean layout, fast loading time, lack of zooming, etc. and a desktop site that looks absolutely atrocious when viewed on a mobile device! So I will definitely agree that a mobile responsive site is better for SEO, the problem is convincing my stubborn clients the same thing!

    • Mike, just remember that when it comes to selling, even just an idea, you have to turn features into benefits. Clean layout, fast loading time, lack of zooming, are great features of a responsive site, but how will they (and the cost to implement them) benefit your clients?

      Clean layout = increased content consumption and better conversions

      Fast loading time = greater on-site engagement metrics and improved SEO

      Lack of zooming = better reader experience, greater likelihood of sharing, which means more traffic, conversions, AND SEO.

      And, of course, all of this should, over time, lead to recouping whatever the cost is.

      Translate the features of responsive design into benefits, and you’ll be more likely to convince your clients to see things your way. (The right way!)

  16. Thanks for the article Jerod. Been making me think, 90% of the websites we design are responsive and I have never thought about the SEO impact. Personally I like choosing my experience rather than being forced (like Amy mentioned). For example the Disney website redirected me to disney.co.za, not responsive, I would have liked to have been given the choice of .com or .co.za and same with mobile.
    In South Africa we have a massive low income strong mobile (very old like WAP) market, but we usually don’t cater for them.
    We mostly do smaller informational pages, is there really value to mobile specific sites for us?
    FYI found your article when you knocked us number 1 for some of our keywords on http://www.google.co.za, well done!

    • George, thank you for being so gracious in “defeat.” I’d like to think my author Authority had something to do with it, but posting on Copyblogger provides a pretty good head start. πŸ™‚

      For smaller informational pages, I see no reason to do a separate mobile site. Why? Going responsive so that the content is clean and easy to read on mobile is more than enough. And that’s rather easily done with a framework like Genesis (if you’re on WP).

      • We popped back to to number 1. Thanks for the advise, I’m just trying to find the perfect strategy. In our unique market, strangely a completely legacy WAP mobile site for some mass industries might work. Will have to test.
        Strangely your article has sparked more interest to me on the Authorship side than Responsive design. Thanks again

        • So you are back on number 1. I know this is off topic, but how can Google’s SERP be so fluid? And what have you done right today that you didn’t yesterday, as you dropped almost off page 1? Your input would be HIGHLY valued πŸ™‚

          • George, I can assure that no one is doing anything proactively to influence that specific search result. Google’s results are incredibly fluid, and the results you receive for the same search can vary from one day to the next based on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different factors. We just put great content out there, work to help it get read and spread, and then the search engine rankings fall where they may. Because the domain has so much authority, that is typically high for any topic related to copywriting, web design, etc.

          • Thanks Jerod, I know you aren’t, that’s why this has puzzled be so I did some digging. I first thought it was the Fresh Content you where getting through comments but then I realized it was good old backlinks. I wrote a little case study: http://www.restrive.co.za/link-networks/
            Thanks, I learn soooo much from this article, about things other than responsive design. Competition is good!

  17. Hi,
    Very interesting topic. Nowadays is very important to think about mobile responviness. I am myself a heavy mobile reader.
    I have one question about the Genesis framework in relation with the mobile responsiveness. If I want to built it in Genesis without using a pre-made theme, is there any documentation/tutorial about how to that?
    Thank you!

  18. Hi Jerod, I think you raised a very interesting topic which I havent notice until today, As an usual mobile readers, I think it worth for investing for a mobile responsive website since I think the visual look and interface of some websites on PC can hardly fit the size of mobile users. I am using a 5inch mobile but I prefer websites are designed to let user have the best experience.I think your advices are what businesses need now. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Nice article. The question what would Google do ( or better yet does ) is interesting. Their best practices as you pointed out was serve the same HTML using CSS media queries for particular devices.

    This works well for Google mainly because their base UI is lean and sparse it is almost as if their laptop and desktop web interface were designed for mobile devices from the beginning of time.

    In my experienced most sites owners / designers do not want that spartan of an interface for their base look.

    The problem with most responsive designs is the base design is for the larger screens and the all important conversion rate drops dramatically when you responsively resize the page down to a mobile device.

    It is almost as if you should have a base design for a mobile device and then size up to really be affective with the mobile device – unless you start with the clean look that Google provides on most of its web properties.

    We have found that for many SMB sites it is a better ROI to have separate HTML5 site for mobile devices and create the main site responsively with the base CSS designed for a tablet in landscape mode.

    Sure you have two code bases you must maintain but if the mobile site is relatively small in size and you give the user the ability to go from mobile to main site, you solve a lot of issues. The most important is the ability to fine tune your mobile site for better conversion rates.

  20. I’ve been recently reading all these buzz about responsive design, but no matter .. I think ‘Less is More’ when it comes to creating that seamless experience your user/audience craves, especially in the age of multiple devices. While having an optimal viewing experience can up your chances of visitors staying more on your site and lessening bounce rate, there is still no guarantee that they will convert into customers. What is the perfect mix then to make sure that happens? I believe it’s a mix of various factors that will come into play.

  21. Great read, thank you Jerod, it really is amazing how many mobile visitors websites are receiving, yet still some companies do not see the benefit of making life easier on their mobile visitors by changing to a mobile friendly website. It is amazing when you do a long term report on google analytics and see the dramatic growth of visitors coming from mobile devices.

  22. The starting point for deciding between responsive design and mobile-specific should always be “What is a typical mobile visitor looking for when they reach my site?”.

    From this point of view, sometimes responsive is best, other times mobile-specific is best. In making this evaluation, it’s helpful to note the benefits and drawbacks of both approaches and then evaluate them from the perspective of the visitor (not the site owner!).

    Starting from any other perspective (such as design, cost, time etc.) can end up costing a business more in the long run.

  23. If you use Google analytics or anything else to track traffic, you’ll notice the portion that shows where your traffic is coming from. If you don’t tap into mobile responsive sites, you’ll eliminate nearly 30% of traffic, I promise. People don’t want to deal with a non-mobile responsive site when they’re on their mobile device.

  24. Long time fan of copyblogger and medium techy. My question may be giving away my ignorance regarding responsive design. I’m using the Magazine child theme which is responsive at its base but, of course, I’ve fiddled around with it.

    Indeed, I’ve added a large picture on the Home Page (not good) and changed the logo text etc. None of the SoYouWantAChange web pages are responsive when I submit them to the test in http://www.studiopress.com/responsive.

    What must one do, or not do, for an original responsive child theme to stay responsive? Or, in other words, what breaks its responsiveness?

  25. My site is responsive however when I run page speed it recommends serving scaled images!! Well if it’s responsive and that’s what they recommend how does one over come this issue?

    Based on the screen size, images are sent in different sizes to the browser, this is causing other sites with non-responsive themes to rank higher (keyword stuffed posts too) with some keywords that I used to rank well with. This is certainly baffling for me. Can anyone shed any light?

  26. What a great article. I’ve been self-learning web design for the last year, therefore have read many articles online, and must say that this article is one of the best worded.

    In fact, everything about it from font style, colour, layout, and content is tip top! Thanks Jerod Morris .

  27. Since last few months i was emphasizing too much on having a responsive layout, finally i got one. Now after reading this post, it makes me wonder have i done the the right thing.

    The upward traffic trends is showing that i have made the right decision. Since i have noticed that CopyBlogger is also responsive, i think i am gonna stay with responsive for a while.

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