For Mobile-Friendly Websites What’s Best for SEO?

Serving the same HTML on every device may not always be the best solution for SEO.

If you are thinking about how your website can become more mobile-friendly you have probably familiarized yourself with Google’s position on addressing mobile devices (see Building Mobile-Optimized Websites ). You probably have also looked into the details to help you implement Google’s recommendations (see Building Smartphone-Optimized Websites Details of Recommendations – ).

Google outlines three “acceptable” methods of addressing mobile users on Smartphones:

  1. Responsive Web Design (serve all devices the same HTML on the same URLs)
  2. Dynamically serving the same URLs but varying the content according to the user agent (desktop vs. mobile
  3. Creating a separate mobile site

We often get asked which of these is better from an SEO standpoint.

On the face of it, each method, implemented to Google’s guidelines, can yield an acceptably search engine friendly website. But if you think about it the way Google does the picture may change a bit.

Google’s goal is to present results to a search query that best meet a user’s needs. They use many metrics to judge how well they are meeting that goal. Among those are end-user engagement as measured by many different metrics, and performance – which also impacts end-user happiness and engagement.

Taken in that light, the second method where you are delivering different HTML on the same URLs based on user agent may actually have some SEO advantages. This would be the case if you use a responsive server side (RESS) and / or adaptive implementation.

RESS can address the performance issues that can plague many responsive sites. RESS sites detect the user-agent at the server and only send down the appropriate HTML for the requesting device. This means much less data transmitted over the 3G, 4G, or WiFi network, as well as much less work for the client yielding better performance.

Adaptive implementations actually alter the content that is presented to the mobile device. This can allow you to make content more compelling and useful within the context of the accessing device which could result in more engaged end users. Examples of this could be as simple as live phone links to as sophisticated as tapping into location services and presenting location-specific information or deals.

At the end of the day, having spectacular content that is useful to users is the main driver of good SEO. But if that great content is delivered faster and is more compelling within the mobile context then you have a double win. Perhaps, even more importantly, a faster and contextually more friendly site could lead to more conversions – which ultimately is probably the goal of your website.