3 Mobile Friendly Website Options: Which is Right for You?

Matt Crowley - February 13, 2014

If you’ve yet to go mobile, or if you’re planning on developing a new mobile site, it’s important to take a step back and look at the big picture before diving in. In this post, we’ll look at the mobile website landscape and look at the benefits and drawbacks of each – especially as it relates to SEO.

Building a Responsive Website

A responsive website dynamically responds to fit the users’ screen size. With responsive, the same version of your website may appear differently depending on the device that’s being used to reach it. To see how responsive design works, access starbucks.com on your desktop and resize the page – the page elements will rearrange themselves depending on the size of your window.

  • Benefits: There are huge SEO benefits for going responsive. This is because many of the optimization efforts performed on your main site can be beneficial for mobile SEO as well.
  • Drawbacks: For one, cost. To develop a responsive website, you have to re-design your current website or build a new website whole-cloth. While this is a great opportunity for anyone in the market for a redesign, the cost of developing a responsive website can be a barrier for some. Second, any SEO issues facing your desktop site, including page load time, can be magnified on mobile devices when going with a responsively designed website.

Mobile Versioning

The other big option for creating a mobile website is to send users to a completely different version of your website. There are two ways this can be done – through dynamically serving different versions of your website on the same URLs, and through creating separate mobile URLs.

  • Benefits: One major benefit of mobile versioning is the ease with which mobile versions can be created – they do not require you to re-design your current desktop site. Also, it allows you to create mobile versions of your website, and landing pages, so that your content, and campaigns, are optimized for the user’s specific device.
  • Drawbacks: Improper implementation can cause a host of SEO and user experience issues, including duplicate content, problems with indexation, and split inbound link value. In addition, as mobile usage grows, users will expect individual mobile experiences, not just an abbreviated version of their desktop experience.

Dynamically Serving Mobile Templates

Dynamic serving is essentially a “one URL, different version” option wherein you serve separate templates to users who are on different devices. However, the URLs for each page remain the same. This requires extra technical implementations such as the use of the Vary HTTP header to ensure that search engines are able to properly index your website.

  • Benefits: When the separate versions of each page live on the same URL, it helps search engines consolidate the value of ranking signals to the correct pages. In addition, the mobile versions of each page can be optimized for mobile device users, including improved page load time.
  • Drawbacks: Dynamically serving mobile templates requires extra technical implementations, such as the use of the Vary HTTP header, which can impact other facets of your website. This is especially true if you are using external services such as a CDN to help serve your content to users. In addition, maintaining separate templates for your website may require more ongoing maintenance to ensure their SEO friendliness.

Using Separate Mobile URLs

This entails creating a separate domain for mobile URLs – for example, m.morevisibility.com. To implement this properly, Google recommends adding a link rel=”alternate” tag on the desktop version of each URL pointing to the mobile URL, and a link rel=”canonical” tag on the mobile version of each URL pointing to the desktop URL.

  • Benefits: Ease of setup – creating one separate design and URL for each page so that you can display a mobile friendly version of your site may require the least amount of resources of all the mobile friendly options. Also, creating a separate mobile version of each page can allow you to tailor the content directly to your mobile audience.
  • Drawbacks: There can be a wide range of issues with the SEO friendliness of both your desktop site and mobile version, if the correct technical implementations are not put in place. Additional ongoing maintenance will be required to ensure that both the desktop version and mobile version of your website are well optimized.

Which Mobile Option is Right for You?

If you’re planning for the future, and have the budget, a responsive website is a great investment. On the other hand, if you are focused on going mobile – now – and intend to use a mobile version as a stepping stone to providing a more optimal mobile experience, mobile versioning is a great first step.

In terms of what type of mobile configuration to consider, this comes down to your resources, the type of content on your website, and your target audience. The goal is to serve your content to users on every device as optimally as possible.

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