What are the Mobile Website Options to Improve SEO?

Learn the pros and cons of Mobile vs. Responsive Websites.
Many of my prospects and clients ask about mobile website options and what is the best choice for improving SEO and search rankings for mobile internet searches. This is a very important topic now that Google has added specific mobile ranking factors to its search algorithms. So, if your website is not optimized for smartphones you may lose mobile website traffic as a result.

Smartphones are now prevalent in society and it’s very easy to use them to search the web while you’re waiting for an appointment or standing in line or when you need to find a restaurant or hotel. In fact, according to a 2013 PEW Internet study, about 63% of cell phone users used their phone to access the internet.

If you have a website that was designed before 2013 (or if your new website is not mobile optimized), some work may need to be done in order to improve it for smartphone users and for mobile SEO. Why? There are some new website design technologies that just emerged into the mainstream over the past few years.

These include:

Responsive website design
Mobile website templates
Separate mobile websites
Each option has its own pros and cons which I discuss below.

Understanding Your Mobile Website Options

 

Responsive website design

Responsive design for websites was introduced in 2011 and became widely accepted in the industry in 2013. With this approach, the layout of the website is flexible and adapts (is responsive) to different screen widths. So, if you make your browser window narrower, the elements of the website — header, navigation, sidebar, content, and footer — automatically rearrange themselves. Images can be set to automatically resize as well. On smartphones, the website automatically adapts to the narrower screen width.

This website you are viewing right now uses a responsive design.

Pros:

Google prefers a responsive design approach for SEO
Single website design handles all screen widths and devices.
Makes use of new web technologies such as HTML5 and CSS3.
One website to maintain.

Cons:

Expensive to implement as it requires a redesign of the underlying website framework and visual layout.

 

Mobile website templates

With this approach the same website content is used, but there are multiple website templates. The website may have a different templates for desktop users, tablet users, and smartphone users. Each template is programmed separately to accommodate the screen size of the device. This approach is often used by internet retailers and news websites.

Pros:

Allows different views of the same website content to be created based on device.
Navigation and content layout can be tailored to specific devices.
One set of website content.

Cons:

Multiple website templates must be maintained.
Device specific designs may not be flexible for new devices that are developed in the future.

 

Separate mobile websites

Many businesses have opted for a mobile website that is totally separate from the main website. The pages have a small amount of text and are more button oriented. Often a separate website URL is needed for the mobile website.

Pros:

Small, quick websites optimized specifically for mobile users.
Good for quick look-up, finding locations, and ordering. For example, a mobile website may be used by a pizzeria take orders or by a hair salon to schedule appointments.

Cons:

For SEO, having two websites dilutes the search engine rankings for a brand and its target keywords.
Two websites and two sets of page content to maintain.
The website must redirect mobile users to a different website.
Limited mobile websites are often frustrating to smartphone users who would rather view all of the website content.

Which of these mobile website options is the best?

Each approach has its own purpose and uses. The approach chosen depends on the goals and budget your business has with respect to your website.

For most small businesses that have older websites (3-4 years old or more), I recommend redesigning the website using responsive design. This not only takes advantage of new technologies, but is also easier and less costly to maintain in the future.