SEO and Responsive Web Design

SEO and Responsive Web Design

You hear it so much, it has almost become a cliche now… “2013 is the year of responsive web design!” While only time will tell if this is true, we were given a clear indication that we are actually headed that way when Google weighed in on the issue
Their stance? Use responsive web design over other mobile development methods when possible. Why should we pay attention to what Google says? Well, because they practically own the search engine market with no end to their dominance in sight. 

Oddly, with all the hoopla surrounding it, not much attention is being directed towards SEO and responsive web design. What are the benefits of RWD? What analytics should we track? How do we track them? Let’s explore these questions and more.

The SEO Benefits of Responsive Web Design

As mentioned above, Google supports responsive web design as the primary form of mobile development. In a nutshell, they prefer sites that serve all devices the same set of URLs, with only the CSS changing based on the device type. That explanation sure sounds like responsive web design to me!

  • Digging more deeply, Google provides three main reasons for this preference:
  • RWD keeps desktop and mobile content on the same URL, making it easier to for users to share and interact with a site.
  • RWD makes it easier for Google’s algorithms to assign proper indexing properties to a site’s content.
  • Google can find a responsive site’s content more quickly and easily, as it doesn’t need to crawl multiple sources for the same content.

In other words, RWD increases site usability, eliminates duplicate content, and improves ranking for mobile searches. What is there not to like?

Well, for one thing… Others – such as SearchEngineLand – suggest that developers not only use responsive design, but also dynamically serve content based on the search visitor’s intent (Google details a method of doing this here). While this goes against Google’s preference of ONLY changing a page’s CSS, a site’s audience and their interests are the main factors to keep in mind.

What do we draw from this? While it is important that Google prefers RWD, they make it clear that RWD may not be the right thing for all site visitors. For example, imagine those looking for a pub or restaurant in their area. Most likely, these users probably wouldn’t want the same content served up on their mobile device as they would when searching from a desktop.

So, it is important to understand the needs of your users BEFORE tracking determining a mobile development method. How do we do this? By:

  • asking questions among a sample portion of the site’s target audience
  • tracking the site’s use via Google Analytics.

Let’s take a look at the latter method next.

Tracking SEO and Responsive Web Design

How do you track responsive web design with Google Analytics? Unfortunately at this point in the game, there are not a ton of options without resorting to javascript shenanigans. But, there are three key measurements we can track with ease:

  • The devices being used to access the site: To access this data, go to your Analytics Dashboard and then go to Standard Reports > Audience > Mobile > Devices. When there, change the primary dimension to “Mobile Device Info”.
  • The screen sizes of visitors: Access this data by going back to Standard Reports > Audience > Mobile > Devices and then changing the primary dimension to “Screen Resolution”.
  • The orientation in which the site is being viewed: Again, go to Standard Reports > Audience > Mobile > Devices and then change the primary dimension to “Screen Resolution”.
Google Analytics Mobile Device Info

How to find Google Analytics RWD and mobile device info

With these three key metrics in hand, you can now make intelligent decisions on not only what method of mobile development to use, but how to properly use the chosen method. In our case, knowing all three key metrics helps us make responsible responsive web design choices. Such considerations – among others – include the break points for our media queries, what devices to test on, and whether to create special layouts for users of a particular screen orientation.

2013 will indeed be an interesting year for web developers. While responsive design will continue to grow in use, will it become the most sought after thing in the web development industry? Will it become a household term? And, how will Analytic’s methods grow with the rise of RWD?

Only time will tell, but it will be fantastic when the likes of Google begin providing us with fool proof methods of tracking additional detailed metrics such as screen resolution/depth (think Retina displays), media query break points, and CSS file access. Malphurs Interactive will continue to monitor SEO and responsive web design as new tools and methods become available!