Google: Why We Like Responsive Design

May 3, 2012 • 8:37 am | comments (9) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google Responsive DesignMobile is a hot topic and in the SEO world, mobile SEO is confusing and debated like crazy. So when you see Google post anything on the topic, mobile SEO 'experts' jump on it to debate it.

The latest Google post named Responsive design – harnessing the power of media queries talks about why Google likes responsive design. It was written by Rupert Breheny, a front-end developer at Google and he mostly talks about why he likes it on the design and developer side.

Google's Michael Wyszomierski, aka Wysz, shared his thoughts on why he likes it from an SEO and maintenance perspective on Google+.

In short, here are the three reasons he likes responsive design over specific mobile sites:

(1) Easier to maintain one site vs many. So having a design that adapts to the device automatically can save time and makes sure you have the same content for everyone. There are many who would argue mobile users don't want the same content. But the point about maintaining different content basis is a strong one.

(2) Responsive design doesn't have canonical URL issues and you don't have to worry about ranking issues, he said.

(3) You don't have to worry about redirects and he said that "many sites are terrible at managing redirects." Trust me, he is involved in webmaster relations, so he sees how most sites handle redirects.

Forum discussion at Google+.

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Jill Whalen

05/03/2012 12:55 pm

To me, that always seemed like the only smart way to have a mobile version of your site.

Barry Schwartz

05/03/2012 12:56 pm

It is what we do here.

Bryson Meunier

05/03/2012 02:49 pm

Barry, you know what I think about this, and you'll hear more about it in Seattle in June, but I did post a response on Michael's Google+ page.  I agree responsive design makes sense if all you're doing is making your desktop content accessible to mobile devices, but given that mobile searchers are often looking for different things, why would you do that? For blogs and news sites, I get it. But why would a retailer with a local presence show all of their online content and specials when the majority of searchers are just trying to get to or call a store? Makes more sense to do what Walgreens did and provide different content on their mobile home page than their desktop home page, and serve it on an m. subdomain ( Why would an insurance company try to sell a policy to a mobile searcher, when they're likely stuck on the side of the road looking for a tow ( State Farm and eSurance make it as easy as possible for users to find that content and don't slow them down by hiding a lot of content that's not relevant to them. Why would a bank try to get a mobile user to sign up for a mortgage on their home page, when 99% of the total query volume for [atm location] and 77% of the total query volume for [atm] comes from mobile devices? Granted, 14% of the total query volume for [mortgage] is from mobile devices, so we shouldn't exclude this content; but why would we put it on the home page when most searchers are overwhelmingly looking for ATMs? To these questions I have yet to hear a satisfying response from the one URL in all cases contingent, whether they be from Google or not. Even Ethan Marcotte, who started this whole responsive design movement, agrees that there are instances when users are looking for other things, and it doesn't make sense (or is "irresponsible", he says) to serve them a lot of content that they don't need ( And usability guru Jakob Nielsen made headlines in the design community when frustrated users in usability tests forced him to conclude that separate mobile optimized sites are best for usability ( Furthermore, how is canonicalization an issue for Google when they now have Skip Redirect/Old Possum to place mobile URLs in search results when they belong there, regardless of link equity ( Seems odd that Michael didn't mention that in his post. Not to mention, Google is made up of many people with many opinions, and they don't always agree on responsive design ( ). Would be fantastic if they all got on the same page and addressed all of the issues, but I haven't seen that yet.


05/03/2012 08:38 pm

I took part in helping Google build over 1000 dedicated mobile websites at GoMo in Mobile Alabama in November and every mobile website was a TRUE mobile website with a redirect. On Google's GoMo site they mention nothing about responsive fact they partnered with Dudamobile to allow businesses to create dedicated mobile websites. Almost every one of the 1000+ mobile websites we built at GoMo were designed specifically with the mobile visitor in mind which required a dedicated mobile design. Once we interviewed each business owner and explained the best practices of Mobile website design (based on Google's recommendations) and how to get optimal mobile conversions they all wanted a customized mobile experience for their mobile visitors.  For local businesses it is very important to custom design a mobile experience. Especially with Click To Call and Click To Map buttons at the top of every page. A responsive design would not be optimized for the mobile user's information needs and actions.  Again, Google is not thinking of the end user's needs or intentions or the business's needs when they recommend responsive design. There are other issues also, like page load speeds (which Google is so focused on), page elements that don't work on different mobile operating systems or in mobile browsers, mobile optimized forms, images, videos, etc. As all SEO's know there is more than just SEO, a great website must also take into consideration conversion optimization and visitor experience, etc. Funny how Google forgets these and no disrespect to Jill and Barry but I'm a little surprised at their comments. But I guess maybe until you design and use many mobile websites maybe it's not all that clear? Martin Maybruck

Kim Dushinski

05/03/2012 09:32 pm

Well said Bryson and Martin.  There is no one right answer about mobile websites. It all depends on the site, its purpose and what the mobile visitor who is likely to land on it (or seek it out) wants to do when they get there. Bottom line: The mobile web is not one size fits all. 

Cindy Krum

05/04/2012 04:52 am

Yup - I agree that it really depends on your goals and your content. If you are trying to drive lots interactivity on the site then Responsive Design is probably not the best way to go - The interactivity and goals will surely be different from desktop to mobile, and different calls to action and formatting would be needed. Conversely, it does make sense that the simplest to maintain and SEO will always be a one-url/one page solution - Especially if all you are doing is presenting flat content that is not super interactive, like text and simple images.  The biggest down-side to Responsive Design is load time - It would be great if there was a technical work-around that was easily accessible and made it so display:none content and similar assets that are included in the desktop rendering but omitted in the mobile rendering did not have to download. Once this obstacle is over come it will eliminate this question, and pave the road for the next big breakthrough in mobile web development.  

Web Outsourcing Gateway

05/04/2012 08:35 am

 I agree with that. But somehow, responsive design is helpful to small businesses that can't afford the development for a mobile website.

Multivariate Testing

05/16/2012 03:12 pm

I appreciate the information above. It always matter on the features of the design and how should it be done properly. It also depends on the goals of your design and you should also provide a good content to make it more fabulous to look at.


06/24/2012 06:28 pm

Just thought i might mention the following on they say "When building a website that targets smartphones, Google supports three different configurations: Sites that use responsive web design, i.e. sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device. This is Google’s recommended configuration.

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