For more than a year, it’s been obvious that the online consumer trend has been shifting toward mobile. Mobile sales have increased dramatically as improved technology (and website designs) make it easier for consumers to convert from any screen size.
The shift to mobile has become so obvious and monumental that Google felt it important to update their algorithms accordingly. This past April 21, the search engine giant updated its search-ranking algorithm to reward websites that are deemed mobile friendly. As noted by Google itself, prior to the spring update:
“This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.” – Google Webmaster Central Blog.
April 21 has come and gone, meaning if your site isn’t mobile friendly, you could be missing out on thousands of hits and clicks. But what exactly does mobile friendly mean? In the past, it was as simple as avoiding such technologies as Flash, which didn’t work on mobile sites. But now it’s much more about a website’s ability to display information in a user-friendly manner, no matter if that information is shown on a mobile phone or desktop computer.
When it comes to building a mobile-friendly site, you have two common options: build a separate, mobile-only site, or create a responsive site that adapts to all screen sizes. While mobile-only sites remain an effective way for some clients to adhere to Google’s latest update, there’s no question that responsive design is the wave of the future, for such reasons as:
With responsive sites you only have one URL
You only need to check your analytics in one place
You can edit your site and content specifically for various screens, such as for a tablet
With a responsive website, designers create a variety of CSS files that tell the elements of your website how to respond, based on screen sizes. For example, a 4-column desktop design may become a 2-column design for tablets, and 1-column design for phones. Furthermore, you can choose to remove certain elements from your site to make it easier to navigate on smaller screens. For example, while the desktop version of your site may have a video on the home page, you may choose to omit this video when your site’s accessed from a smartphone.
Mobile-only designs are popular, in large part, because they’re generally cost-effective to develop. Comparatively speaking, a responsive site will have a much higher up-front cost than a mobile-only site.
However, it’s important to look at the lifetime cost of your site.
While upfront costs for a responsive site tend to be higher, over time it can be far more cost-effective to maintain and optimize your responsive site than a mobile-only site. Think of it: every time you have to update your site, you’d only have to do it once on a responsive site. With a mobile-only site, you’ll have to update both your desktop version and your mobile versions (which may include an iPhone version, Android version, iPad version, etc.).
Most mobile-only sites are built on a subdomain (such as m.domain.com). If that’s the case, then it’s important to implement canonical tags pointing to the desktop URL for all of your duplicate mobile pages. By doing this, you can be sure to avoid the negative impact of duplicate content issues. However, be certain not to place canonical tags on your unique mobile content (content that only appears on your mobile sites).
Also keep in mind that if you choose to build your site with a responsive design, you don’t have to worry about this canonical tag issue.
Link building is an integral part of your SEO strategy. If you choose to design a mobile-only site (in addition to your desktop site), keep in mind that you’ll have to develop link-building strategies for two (or more) different sites. As such, your workload will grow and managing this aspect of your SEO strategy can become overwhelming.
If you choose to build responsively, then you’ll only have to create a link-building strategy for one site.
Thus far it’s appeared as though responsive sites are overwhelmingly more effective than mobile-only sites. However, there is one area where mobile-only wins the prize: sales.
Mobile-only sites continue to have better conversion rates, because these sites tend to load faster and are easier to navigate. They tend to offer a better mobile-user experience than responsive designs (although a good designer can certainly correct this issue).
As you build your new website, you should always keep one eye on the future. While your site may meet Google’s new mobile-friendly test today, who’s to say it’ll make the grade in the future? You need a website capable of keeping up with ongoing changes. And this is where responsive wins, hands down. Mobile-only sites may not be fully compatible with future web browsers or devices, meaning you’ll be stuck having to create yet another new website down the road. Responsive sites, on the other hand, are far more versatile and will likely handle any changes faced in the future. In other words, responsive sites tend to be more expensive, however, they’re also more likely to be a one-time investment.
While responsive designs are the wave of the future, some clients are better off with mobile-only sites. Commerce Pundit can help you determine the best strategy to implement for your business. Contact us today to learn more.