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Up until last week, webmasters and website developers have largely been in the dark when considering the best method of constructing a search friendly mobile website.

Pierre Far, Webmaster Trends Analyst at the search giant Google finally offered some clarification on the issue at SMX Advanced, and gave some insight into recommendations for ideal implementation – responsive web design.

As reported in this post on Search Engine Land Google’s own mobile guidelines, there have been three commonly used techniques to keep users browsing easily on the move:

  1. Responsive web design – where a single URL serves the same content with differing CSS styling depending on the device. This is Google’s recommended configuration, creating one strong URL and removing the additional crawling resource and need for redirection.
  2. Websites that detect the device used and serve different HTML and CSS accordingly. Whilst this method still results in the optimum single URL and does not call for redirects, displaying different content to different users has historically been something to avoid. If this method is used, it is important to make an effort to communicate to search engines that content may be changing based on the user agent.
  3. Websites with completely separate mobile and desktop sites. The least ideal option, this method created two or more weaker pages which will dilute the link equity of a page. There is also a risk of duplication if rel=canonical attributes are not correctly implemented.

 

Asos Mobile Website  BBC mobile website  Guardian mobile website

Separate mobile websites are popular, indeed many of the big online players use sub domains to serve mobile content. Whilst strong brands can get away without following best practise guidelines, most businesses are not afforded such luxury and must strive to make their content engaging for both users and search engines.

Utilising responsive design techniques for mobile content does not require extra development work, if anything; a separate mobile website is more labour intensive. Separate websites require detection of the user-agent via the HTTP request header, which then allows the server to redirect mobile users to the mobile destination.

All that is therefore required for responsive design is to display appropriate CSS once the user-agent is detected. The relatively easy development fix is certainly worth the effort for websites currently using mobile sub domains.

Receptional can help with mobile website development and optimisation; get in touch for more details.