The mobile search revolution is very well established by now. For years we’ve been warned of its coming, mobile statistics show we’re well past the tipping point of mobile surpassing desktop. Mobile search has become so pervasive, that Google considers mobile performance when evaluating and ranking a website. So, with more and more people accessing the internet via mobile devices, and with Google placing an ever increasing emphasis on mobile performance, the time has come to reevaluate your website and bring its basic design in line with new user trends. Make no mistake, mobile is the future, and now is the time to decide which type of mobile website design works best for you.
There are three basic mobile design options from which to choose – Responsive, Dynamic, and the Dedicated Mobile Site. Each comes with certain advantages and disadvantages, and it will be up to you to decide which mobile design best suits your needs.
Let’s start by looking at the Responsive design. It is easily the most versatile design option, and Google has been pretty open about preferring mobile design over the other basic options. Responsive web design does just what it says, it responds to the type of mobile device accessing any given page on your website. A media query determines device type and screen resolution and adjusts the size and layout of the page accordingly. Because there is only one version of a given page, there is no reliance on user-agent detection, meaning visitors will always receive the correct version of your site. Moreover, websites using Responsive Design typically load faster than others, which is an attribute Google has been pushing in their latest ranking algorithms.
Responsive design does have its disadvantages, however. A total redesign of a website takes time, effort, and money. For websites that are extremely content heavy, such as news sites, it may be too difficult to break up the content to fit a single column satisfactorily. Navigation elements have to be redesigned to be compatible with mobile devices, and media elements, such as photos and video, will need to be optimized for both mobile and desktop display.
Responsive Design is the most popular mobile option, but it is important to remember that if you choose to go responsive, you should test your site across a variety of browsers and devices before going live.
Dynamic Serving, also known as ‘user-agent sniffing,’ detects the device being used to view your site and then redirects the user to either a desktop or mobile site. There are two types of dynamic serving, unidirectional and bidirectional. With unidirectional redirecting, the switch tag code is placed on the desktop site, which redirects mobile users to a mobile mirror site. With bidirectional redirecting, a switch tag code is placed on both mobile and desktop sites, and the visitors are redirected accordingly.
There are some advantages to dynamic serving. Redirection occurs at the server level, so you only need to maintain one URL per page. Dynamic serving works better for so-called ‘feature phones’ which, because they can not process CSS, do not handle responsive design very well. This keeps your site mobile friendly for both ‘feature phones’ and smartphones. Dynamic Serving also allows you to target separate keyword for both your mobile, and desktop, users.
Dynamic serving has several disadvantages, however. Chief among these is building and maintaining, a separate mobile site. You will need to create a separate, and unique, set of indexed HTML, and you will essential have to run two distinct SEO projects concurrently. You will also have to constantly update your site with the latest user-agent strings, to ensure that your site is accessible on the newly developed mobile devices.
The Dedicated Mobile Site
This design option involves creating a separate, and distinct, mobile domain, and is best suited to large online retailers and content heavy news sites. Similar to dynamic serving, this design option involves creating content specifically for mobile devices. However, unlike dynamic serving, no redirecting takes place, and each site must have a separate and distinct URL. A Dedicated mobile website might be the best solution for those Websites that are so large and complex that a complete redesign is impractical. It also gives these larger sites the opportunity to create a unique mobile experience for their users.
There are some significant drawbacks to a dedicated mobile site. First, and foremost, you are essentially starting from scratch, so your mobile site will not benefit from your desktop site’s existing backlink profile. Your SEO work will be more than doubled, as you will basically be running two websites, one of which is playing catch up in the SERPs. That means creating, and submitting, separate XML sitemaps, customizing meta tags for both desktop and mobile search, researching and deploying site specific keywords, etc. Maintaining a dedicated mobile site is labor intensive and expensive, and impractical for most webmasters.
The mobile revolution continues to advance, and now is the time for SEOs and webmasters to look to their websites and consider how they are going to make them mobile friendly. With more and more people using mobile devices to access the internet, and Google placing a greater emphasis on mobile performance, webmasters that ignore mobile search and functionality are likely to get lost in the shuffle. The internet marches on, and like it or not; a redesign is in your future.