Mobile SEO and benefits of a responsive design

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  • November 7, 2012

With the ever-increasing popularity of smart phones and mobile devices, it’s essential to consider the use of them in your digital and online marketing strategies, because not doing so could cut out a massive proportion of your potential audience.

The use of mobile devices also has a big part to play on the SEO side of things, certainly factoring in local search intent. Recently, we’ve been asked a lot about the best approach for working with smart phones, so with regards to developing a mobile presence, here are the three key approaches we use to deliver the content:

1. Use the same HTML as the desktop version using CSS to change the look of the site so it’s mobile compatible

This first process is our preferred and recommended route as it means that you are focusing on delivering a consistent user-journey, and you only need to write the content and functionality once.

By considering the device screen resolution from the outset, it’s much easier to identify the key purposes and call-to-action’s on the site, and how you are trying to convert these users.

This approach also means that there’s only a single URL that the visitor needs to remember, and more importantly, only one URL which Google will need to crawl and index. All of the benefits of your SEO work can be realised and shown under one central domain.

2. Serve different HTML using a Vary http header

This is essentially running two sites under a single URL with a cut-down or alternative version to the main site. The issues here are that Google would be seeing the site URLs with two different versions depending on how it’s crawling the site. This can cause duplication issues across your rankings.

3. Different URL

Most of the time, this means using a subdomain such as Personally, this isn’t my preferred option as it means using the canonical tag and alternate tag on desktop pages.

You would essentially be managing two different websites with all the overheads that it brings, and managing more content, more SEO and more assets.

You also have to ensure that you treat Google-bot and Google mobile-bot as any other agent, otherwise you could risk cloaking penalties; this will probably mean making a list of user agents which need regular maintenance to account for different devices.


So overall, the key message is to focus on a single site which can be represented on both desktop and mobile devices without having to alter the key messages of the content. In our opinion, responsive design is certainly the way forward.

Steven Shaw

About Steven Shaw

One of the first students to ever graduate from Bradford University's Cybernetics & Virtual Systems course; Steve joined Branded3 in 2008 and he quickly delivered his winning enthusiasm to Branded3 and has since become our Digital Director. Progressing with the evolving digital environment, Steve is a skilled expert in Microsoft development .NET, and PHP Open Source; always aspiring to build upon his expanse of knowledge and find the right solutions for our clients.

  • Joan May

    Would you recommend responsive design for ecommerce websites? We are thinking to redevelope our ecommerce websites and thinking responsive design. Due to responsive design when the screen gets smaller to fit iphone and ipad we need to hide some content to make it more user friendly.

    My question is, how Google will treat hiding content with the smaller screens?

    Will this effect our rankings in a negative way?

    We really don’t want to get punished by Google :)

    • Steve Shaw

      Hi Joan, a very interesting point, one of the main things about responsive design is that it should always retain the key information on a page, the main purpose is to adjust the layout to be more in tune with the screen rather than being fixed horizontally. So you shouldn’t really be hiding any of the main content such as headings, body text etc which are the things that will get you penalised, what you should be reducing is the scale of images, navigation elements, footer links and items that are not essential to viewing a page. So overall I would say yes responsive design is certainly recommended for e-commerce sites if possible but you should certainly consider the user journey and make sure the buying process remains as simple as it does on a desktop!

      • Joan May

        I understand where you’re coming from. I think you can’t hide the main page elements such as headings, content, products, etc. But what would you do if you have quite a few banners on the page in the categories, sidebar blocks, etc? With the responsive design if you don’t hide any of these, and plus products, attributes, etc you will have a mobile page as long as my arm :) And that will be annoying for the visitors. They will leave the site and never come back.

        • Steve Shaw

          I think if someone is looking at a product page then there would be very little need for the banner ads and links to other sections, you want to focus the visitor on the product they are viewing. On category pages showing a list of 10 products with a small thumbnail should be suitable all with a click to full details. For navigational elements, instead of having the full list of categories you could focus it on the current sub-level the visitor is in and have these at the bottom of the page.

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