Do Responsive Websites Give The User A “True Mobile Experience?”

Sep 22

responsive web design

It’s a fact – your business needs a mobile website. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 85 percent of adults now own a mobile device and nearly 60 percent of them are using it to access the Internet. So the question now arises: Should your website be a responsive one or a mobile URL?

The difference between a mobile and responsive website

Though they essentially serve the same purpose, websites built on a mobile or responsive framework operate in different ways:

A website built with a mobile platform is essentially a reset of an existing desktop website. It’s a custom, separate website ( or designed to provide a user with a unique and optimized smartphone Web browsing experience.

A website built with a responsive code base is an existing desktop website but completely fluid, scaling on the fly as the browser window is adjusted and providing a user with an optimal viewing experience across a wide range of devices – from the biggest desktop computers to the smallest smartphones. The responsive website responds to user control.

Does Google prefer responsive websites over the mobile URL?

Many webmasters have expressed a bias towards responsive website design citing Google’s preference for it. However, this should not be misconstrued.

What Google does is recommend webmasters follow the industry best practice of using responsive web design, namely serving the same HTML for all devices and using only CSS media queries to decide the rendering on each device.

However, if responsive design is not the best option to serve users, Google supports having the content being served using different HTML. The different HTML can be on the same URL or on different URLs, and Googlebot can handle both setups appropriately.

Google actually wants the best experience for the user.

Is having the one domain for the responsive website advantageous for SEO purposes?

Another argument put forward by the proponents of the responsive website is that with multiple domains (of the desktop and mobile site) the SEO links and authority are being diluted. Hence in terms of SEO, it is better to have a responsive design.

There is a special tag you can use to alert Google to the fact that another version of your site exists. This tagging system helps indexing and link equality concerns, allowing Google to treat both the mobile website and desktop website as one.

“Switchboard tagging” is used to alert Google of another page similar to the one the tag is located on, and enable Google to index and rank them as one, instead of as separate sites, potentially removing the negative  effect on both site’s rankings.

Responsive websites generally take longer to load

Complicated websites relying heavily on Adobe Flash animations or players, and a number of other interactive components become useless on a mobile device as most simply don’t support these elements or have the memory to run these efficiently even if they could. All this “heavy” coding can seriously delay the website load time.

Sure, a responsive code base can “hide” these elements at certain device screen widths, but the effect is somewhat deceiving. For example, while a responsive developer can prevent a homepage photo slideshow from displaying on a mobile device, there’s nothing responsive coding can do to stop that slideshow from functioning – from loading the heavier back-end code that makes this interactive element work.

Simply put, preventing interactive elements from appearing on a device with responsive coding does nothing to prevent a complicated website from being complicated.

Responsive websites can actually increase your “Bounce rate” and lower your Google rank.

We already know that speed is a ranking factor for SEO, and we also know that Google wants to send searchers to the best possible experience. Sites using responsive web design, which by nature include more code than mobile websites, generally take longer to load.

Loading speed is crucial. Each additional second leads to more and more rejections, as has been shown by numerous surveys. Visitors using a mobile device don’t want to wait. Also Google may rank slow-loading websites lower.

Apart from the ranking factor of page speed, a slow loading website could increase your bounce rate and/or decrease your conversions. According to Google research, mobile searchers are a fickle group, and won’t stick around if you make them wait.

Despite its shortcomings, responsive design is making huge inroads into the mobile world as webmasters are wholeheartedly embracing it. What you need is to give your mobile users as clean and convenient an experience as your desktop users, so that your content can shine and your conversion strategy can go to work.

Do you need a mobile optimized website? Contact us and we can help you.




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