Google: One URL With Special Stylesheet Is Easy Mobile SEO

Feb 20, 2012 • 8:58 am | comments (25) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google Mobile SEOI love SEO topics where there is no solid firm answer and one of those areas is mobile SEO. Google has no clear guidelines on how you should set up your site properly to handle mobile users and mobile bots. They tell you to treat Googlebot mobile like you would mobile users but not exactly how to structure your site for it.

Do you use mobile URLs, do you use the same URL with a mobile template. Google says, you can do both. But which is better. This is where there is a split in the SEO industry on expert opinion. I think it depends but most of the time, for SEO purposes, use the same URL, with a special mobile template.

Google's John Mueller said yesterday in a Google Webmaster Help that the easy solution is to go the one URL route with a special template. He is specifically replying to an issue with redirects for a mobile SEO strategy gone wrong. He wrote:

An easier solution, if you can do it, is to just serve smartphone and desktop users from the same URLs, using something like special stylesheets or CSS3 media-queries to optimize the content shown on smartphones. The advantage of that is that you don't need special URLs, think about the crawling and indexing of them, nor would you need to consider how you'd redirect smartphone users.

John then links to an article from a year ago, which I personally think confuses things a bit more.

I really want a definitive answer from Google on mobile SEO best practices, but honestly, it is changing so rapidly, it might be too much to ask for.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

Previous story: Users Trusting Google Less & Less


Autocrat (Lyndon NA)

02/20/2012 02:05 pm

How about when you have a site that works in most mobs without special treatment? Is G looking for signals for Mobs, and handing out an additional benefit for mob-SERP ranking for those signals being present? Considering the large (and increasing) number of mob-surfers, getting that sort of info would be useful.

Rob Young

02/20/2012 02:14 pm

It's all about Responsive Design...

Eduard Blacquière

02/20/2012 02:20 pm

From my point of view Google seems to be repeating the single URL approach, as you outlined in June last year: "Even better however is to use the same URLs and to show the appropriate version of the content without a redirect."


02/20/2012 10:43 pm

For smartphones I'd favour the single URL approach. Surely maintaining link equity is an important factor here...

Michael Cordova

02/21/2012 01:15 am

I agree with Rob Young. Responsive design (one website) is the way for multiple reasons including (but not limited to): 1. Same website, no extra content or website to maintain 2. Social engagement is unified instead of split across 2 sites 3. SEO value is unified instead of split across 2 sites 4. No mistakes made in guessing what your mobile users want for the mobile site 5. All content original is shown, if the original content is presented intelligently


02/21/2012 02:11 am

I believe it will take care of itself, meaning the mobile browser will eventually catch up with computer browsers.  -There will be no need for this

Viktor Dite

02/21/2012 07:17 am

why i should grant access for mobile crawlers? the content is the same? don't get it

Nathaniel Bailey

02/21/2012 10:20 am

Because some sites dont display the same on a mobile as they dont on desktop, meaning they can look bad, miss bits out or not even load is some cases. Personally, I think if you have designed and coded your site as best you can, it should work just fine on any modern mobile, but if you want a mobile version of your site, I would use the same url's and just have a different css for mobile users.

E Watkinson

02/21/2012 02:11 pm

These posts should be labelled "smart phone" not mobile. There is a difference with Mobile referring to WAP devices where using the same URL is not an option.

Jeff Tirey

02/21/2012 08:52 pm

I'm in the redirect camp.  From a recent crawl I completed of the quantcast top million, I can share that 54% go with a ULR redirect while 46% go with single URL (cloaking).   What's interesting is that 73% of mobile sites in the top Quantcast 100K use URL redirects over cloaking.  Larger websites want to better brand their mobile presence while giving to their visitor a visible clue that they're consuming a mobile page.  

Bryson Meunier

02/21/2012 11:22 pm

Hi Barry. I think you know where I stand here. As I explained to John Mueller yesterday on Google+ ( it's unfortunate that he's still saying that Google treats desktop and smartphone searchers the same, when at this point they have separate bots (, separate techniques for webmasters to index mobile or smartphone URLs in search results with redirects (, a separate interface for smartphone and tablet searchers, and separate results for smartphone searchers. It's not the case any more that Google doesn't treat smartphone searchers differently, so I'm not sure why he's still claiming that it is. I'm with you in that I would love for Google to give better advice on this topic, rather than the disjointed advice we've heard so far ( However, even if we had that it wouldn't change the fact that search behavior for smartphone and feature phone searchers is often different from search behavior for tablet searchers, is different from desktop searchers; and that webmasters who recognize that and make adjustments to their site architecture, home page and certain pages to cater to these searchers are going to be more user friendly and will get more search traffic than those companies that only reformat their desktop websites for smartphone viewing.  Sorry to break the news to all you fans of responsive design, but you remind me of the early days of the Internet when people were putting print brochures online and expecting them to be as engaging as they are offline. It doesn't work that way. This may be the easiest way to make your content readable to mobile and smartphone searchers, but optimization is sometimes hard. Companies who don't just reformat their desktop content but make adjustments by platform based on searcher needs are always going to get more traffic from search engines than those companies who stop at mobile friendly.  Also, Michael Cordova, mobile content is not duplicate content. It's a different paradigm. This is the one point that Google has been consistent about.


02/27/2012 07:06 am

we should ideally create different pages to the different devices desktop, wap, smartphone based  as the screen resolutions and redirect the users simple. URLs structure should be same to make the analysis simple and  indexing better.

kids shoes

02/29/2012 03:40 pm

SEO is not a complex thing to understand it starts from promotion campaign for a web-site which includes link building, social bookmarking, classified ads, posting advertisement & promotion of the net site.

Angie Schottmuller

03/08/2012 03:35 am

Thumbs up for RWD! My theory: "One URL to rule them all, One URL to mind them, One URL to share them all and in the engines find them." In a recent discussion I had with Maile Ohye at SES London, it seems Google's concern on RWD for mobile SEO is that many people are "doing it wrong".  Sites display fine for appearance, but page load and indexing for device-distinct content is a challenge. Hiding HTML element display through a complex set of CSS rules doesn't allow the search engines to easily assess what content would actually be presented to users. Leveraging server-side user agent (UA) detection to selectively render HTML and CSS (versus simply hiding it from display) would logically be a preferred method from a search engine indexing perspective. (The UA list rapidly continues to grow which adds some up-keep challenges for developers.) At the end of the day, RWD is a very complex beast with a small niche following and an even smaller pool of skilled resources. Adding mobile SEO into the mix assumes that developers, web designers, and SEOs will actually collaborate to come up with an ideal solution. There is no boiler plate. As such, I expect Google to lean towards documenting (not necessarily promoting) mobile SEO guidelines for separate site scenarios simply because it's easier for them to communicate.

Angie Schottmuller

03/08/2012 03:57 am

I agree with you on the search behavior differences note, but I don't get your interpretation of RWD. A seamless experience across devices is a pillar of mobile strategy. UA detection can easily be used to render code for things like click-to-call and maps at the top of mobile pages as needed to properly address mobile user top actions. With the exception of feature phones, why would you advocate for a separate mobile site URL?

Angie Schottmuller

03/16/2012 02:17 am

Good call. Using a m.* subdomain for feature phones makes sense because those devices aren't capable of the full site functionality anyhow.

Bryson Meunier

03/16/2012 07:16 pm

Hi Angie,  Because I don't think it's an issue of accessibility, but context. I wrote an upcoming article in Marketing Land about this, and my most recent Search Engine Land column gets into it as well, but responsive web design was never meant to replace the need for mobile sites. As Ethan Marcotte, the guy who wrote the book on Responsive Web Design said very clearly in his book, "most importantly, responsive web design isn’t intended to serve as a replacement for mobile web sites”. Frankly, I’m not sure why so many people in the SEO community are favoring a single URL all the time, as though responsive web design could or should replace the need for mobile-specific web sites. Marcotte describes one such instance in his book where it made more sense from a design perspective to design a mobile and desktop site, even though they could technically have built it with responsive design in mind: “As we were planning the site, it helped us to think of the desktop site as the “pre-game” experience. The mobile site, on the other hand, was really intended for the night of the event, for attendees who were physically present. So the goals of the two different contexts couldn’t have been more distinct. With that in mind, it definitely would have been possible for us to include all the markup for each context on every page of the site. If we’d taken that route, every page would have had the regular “desktop” content marked up in its HTML, as well as the map, directions, and voting information for the mobile site. And with those two modes baked into every HTML page, we could have used some combination of media queries and display: none to deliver the two sites to the right devices. But that wouldn’t have been the right approach. We real­ized it would have been irresponsible of us to ask our visitors to download all that extraneous HTML, marking up content that they’d never see, much less benefit from. And I don’t say that just out of concern for mobile visitors: regardless of whether our visitors were on a phone-or a desktop-based browser, we would have been penalizing them with extra markup.”  If you haven’t read the book, I’d recommend it, as it does a good job not only of teaching how to do responsive web design, but also when to use RWD and when to build a mobile site with mobile site architecture and URLs. I suspect the reason that so many SEOs are recommending RWD these days isn’t because of design or usability, but because of the myth that mobile URLs split link equity, as though that matters when ranking on smartphones doesn’t require link equity if the mobile site is properly redirected. With the Old Possum/Skip Redirect update in December, properly redirected mobile URLs will now appear for relevant mobile queries regardless of link equity. I know this concept is difficult for people like us who spend so much time consolidating link equity to grasp, but the fact is this is a different platform, and a different paradigm. Duplicate content really isn’t an issue when it comes to mobile URLs. Given that, of course I’m going to recommend mobile URLs if the user's context and the information architecture calls for it. As my article in SEL ( describes, I recommend a hybrid approach, where duplicate pages are built with responsive design in mind, while mobile specific pages that don’t exist on the desktop site (such as the mobile home page and any primarily mobile landing pages) are built on m. subdomains with the proper redirects in place for feature phone and smartphone user agents. These types of sites are eligible for more relevant queries than mobile formatted desktop sites, they’re more usable because they prioritize the mobile user’s needs, and they are generally better optimized for search. Why do you only recommend one URL? That little poem may be catchy, but I'm afraid it doesn’t really help site owners build usable, findable sites.

Frederic C.

03/18/2012 12:34 pm

Hi Jeff,  I am afraid that Quantcast top 100 might not be the best place to look at for a simple reason: "Larger websites want to better brand their mobile presence  " I believe that a lot of the top 100 sites have such a huge brand presence that its skew their SEO response. From experience with big clients and from past internal work this is something that kept crawling back up again and again


03/28/2012 03:07 pm

I really like SEO subjects where there is no strong firm answer and one of those areas is mobile SEO. The search engines has no obvious suggestions on how you should set up your site effectively to handle mobile users and mobile bots...  

rc cars

03/31/2012 07:06 pm

Even better however is to use the same URLs and to demonstrate the appropriate edition of the articles without a refocus.


06/19/2012 05:31 pm

I think same url with media queries in your CSS to make it respond to smart phones, mobile devices and tablets. Unless there is some compelling reason (which I have not seen to date) to have a separate domain, it seems to break the user experience in a bad way. If I am browsing home builder site, an eCommerce store or some blog where I like the content and want to share, I don't want the link I send to be a mobile specific link. There is nothing worse than getting a mobile specific link to something that you click to view in a desktop setting see a mobile version of a site stretched out to "fit" your monitor. Horrible experience. Definitive answer from me is one url. Best for user experience and passive for SEO (I guess). SEO benefit or not, it makes the most sense to me to be broadcasting the same URL regardless.

Egan Rao

11/02/2012 05:37 am

Obviously, it looks like the most cost effective way to show same content to mobile and desktop user. But, we have taken a bit more traditional step in creating a totally unique site for mobile on which may be difficult to kick off but I believe that we have treat them separately for a reason. If anything goes wrong or the whole domain of desktop got a hit from Panda or Penguin, it won't effect mobile site as it looked like a totally new domain and it may not be effected with those major domain level penalties.

Crack Marketing

03/20/2013 08:21 am

Sometimes, RWD is not the solution. It actually depends on how you manage and want to show your content between desktop and mobile users. I still would prefer creating a separate mobile website though.


03/03/2014 07:21 pm

You need a developer to add a module to your website to make this easy for you or, even better, automatic!


05/27/2014 07:05 pm

that is not exactly right, subdomains still have an impact even if the websites are completely different. i am running such a setup for completely different sites but hosted on the same domain. The overall SEO Influence is still there from a subdomain to the main site or even vice versa, the fact that the other domain is a mobile site does not shield you from this.

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