Game on Google – Mobilegeddon Cometh

Google announced the update early, but details are pretty vague and somewhat contradictory. Google Webmaster analyst Gary Illyes did share a few details in a recent Q&A.

Most notably:

  • Googlebots must be allowed to crawl CSS & JavaScript to pass the “mobile-friendly” test
  • Tablets will not be affected by this update
  • Google is currently working on a dedicated mobile index

Preparing for upheaval

Google has been warning developers and marketers to prepare for mobile for several years now. We’ve been preaching mobile friendliness since 2012 when we built our first responsive website, now, thanks to the announcement of the Mobile Search update, many business owners have a very compelling reason to take action. As if the fact that mobile visitors actually think you don’t like them if your site isn’t mobile friendly wasn’t enough, If you find yourself scrambling to be mobile-friendly and can’t decide between a dedicated mobile or responsive design, it makes sense to weigh the pros and cons of each before making a decision:

Customization

Building a separate mobile site allows you to optimize it for mobile users. But, mobile sites have some signficant drawbacks. They have less content, a different navigation system, or other unique mobile-only options. All of the work in making the site mobile-friendly is done on the server and by the Web designer. An end user (read, you our client), can do very little to change their site without having to hire a designer or developer to implement changes.

Even though you might have a separate mobile website, there’s still a problem with presenting an optimal display on intermediary resolutions. Not all displays are the same. Apple makes several different screen sizes, Android has, what seems like a gazillion different sizes, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. That’s a lot of variations. Some of the standard resolutions are 320px wide, 480px wide, 600px wide, 768px wide, 800px wide, and 1024px wide. So, with a mobile website configuration, you basically have to build a different site for each screen size.

A responsive website on the other hand takes a standard website and instructs the mobile device how to display it properly for each different screen size. Responsive websites handle the resolution changes in the CSS files, which affects how Web pages are presented on the screen. Computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets will all display the website in the best way possible.

Design

Although “Mobile-only” designs are kind of a pain in the tush, they’re relatively simple to build and generally not too drastic in development costs. Responsive websites are more complicated to build; having a higher upfront cost, however, the one big consideration is the “lifetime” cost.

Overall, it is generally much more cost-effective to build a responsive website and optimize it for all standard resolutions. This also means that future updates related to content are to be done at one place instead of multiple versions of the website(s) that cater to each screen width.

Search Engine Optimization

Most mobile sites are built on a subdomain, m.domain.com. If you choose to go that route, remember to utilize canonical tags pointing to the desktop URL for duplicate mobile pages. This resolves potential duplicate content issues. Don’t put canonical tags on unique mobile content. Both the mobile and the desktop pages can rank for competitive phrases. Responsive sites require no special SEO consideration beyond normal best practices.

Linking

From a practical perspective, link-building to one site is more productive and cost-effective than building links to two sites. Mobile link-building is different from traditional link-building and requires a different approach. A responsive design mitigates running a second campaign.

Overall Sales

Statistics gathered by a variety of companies show that mobile sites have much better conversion rates. This goes back to the fact these sites are designed only for mobile platforms. They tend to load faster and are easier to navigate. In short, they offer a better mobile user experience than responsive designs.

Preparing for Future Updates

Does your site meet the Mobile-Friendly test? Even if your site makes the grade today, there’s no guarantee that it will continue to stand up to future changes. Staying on top of mobile search trends needs to be a priority item. Mobile designs may not be fully compatible with future mobile browsers or devices. Responsive websites, on the other hand, will most likely be able to work with newer browsers and devices, so they’re more of a one-time investment.

So Which Is Better?

So which type of website is best for you? If you’re still uncertain, here are the highlights of both types of sites:

Pros of Mobile Sites:

  • Can be customized for mobile users
  • Easier and cheaper to design initially

Cons of Mobile Sites:

  • Recurring maintenance
  • Higher costs for updating the content of multiple websites
  • May need to be reworked to meet future browsers

Pros of Responsive Web Design:

  • Highly flexible – one responsive website works on all devices, so only one site has to be created and maintained
  • This is Google’s recommendation
  • Can be a better return on investment since most responsive sites won’t need much future maintenance to comply with new browsers

Cons of Responsive Web Design:

  • More expensive upfront cost

The Bottom Line

It truly depends on what your site is focused on and what you need it to do. Make your website user-friendly, helpful, and relevant and you will have the opportunity to rank in Google organic search, regardless of the website type.