Responsive Web Design (RWD) indicates that a website is crafted to adapt to the layout of the viewing environment. As a result, users across a broad range of devices and browsers (mobile and desktop) will have access to a single source of content, ideally easy to read and navigate with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling.
As covered in a recent Search Engine Land article, Pierre Far, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, announced clear guidelines and recommendations on mobile SEO. Google now recommends site owners go with a responsive design when possible, serving 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.
While this announcement may be significant for B2B marketers considering the impact of future mobile device endeavors, it does not necessarily mean one should immediately switch priorities. Here are five reasons responsive web design may not be the answer for your B2B SEO and mobile marketing strategy.
Existing SEO Performance
How is your site performing in mobile search results thus far? Make sure to check relevant search engine and website reporting metrics to ensure change is necessary. Places to start:
- Benchmark between traditional visitor metrics and visitors on mobile devices
- Percentage of traffic coming from a mobile device
- Growth in mobile device traffic month to month, quarter to quarter, year over year
- Keyword ranking comparison between mobile and desktop search
Michael Martin wrote a good column for Search Engine Land on testing mobile search results earlier this year. I have found testing results and usability easiest by masking the desktop browser’s user agent through the User Agent Switcher plugin on Firefox.
Bottom line: Get a handle on the performance of your website, with respect to mobile device usage and SEO performance metrics, before jumping into the urgency of a design overhaul.
Complexity of Existing Site Architecture
How much customization has gone into your existing site architecture? If you are building from scratch, responsive web design should certainly be included in the exploration of code development, but switching code simply for SEO may not be advisable.
There are many companies we work with that are locked into specific CMS and site deployments, where responsive web design cannot easily be layered in. Via my column covering mobile search from Search Engine Strategies NY last March, some of the pros and cons of RWD included*:
- There is no server side redirection (i.e., faster) but, for advanced mobile marketing, there may be a need to design with multiple screen sizes and orientations in mind.
- Fewer URLs and more crawl budget but not IE8 supported or with older versions of Firefox.
- One HTML page (less maintenance) but more calls and slower page load.
In some circumstances, IT teams may have difficulty building RWD capability into site assets with heavy customization, application development, etc. Make certain to evaluate current site architecture and the ability of responsive web design to remain applicable to all business needs.
Already Have a Mobile Website Variation in Place?
Fortunately, Google provides recommendations for managing search presence when there are multiple versions of a website (domain.com and m.domain.com for mobile). Googlebot-Mobile crawls with a smartphone user-agent in addition to its previous feature phone user-agents. The key is to treat each Googlebot-Mobile request as you would a human user with the same phone user-agent.
Eric Enge wrote a good piece on managing Googlebot-Mobile for Search Engine Watch earlier this year. Google recently expanded upon this information, calling for annotations for desktop and mobile web addresses via various link and canonical tags in the HTML page and XML sitemap.
There is still search engine support for sites with mobile and desktop variations of a site. If your organization is already developing a separate mobile site, SEO does not need to be sacrificed.
Responsive Web Design does not necessarily take conversion optimization and lead scoring into account. Adapting layout to viewing environment makes sense but there are circumstances in the B2B lead funnel, particularly with different device types, where the content marketing assets may need to be modified to satisfy the priorities of the viewer.
- It seems unlikely mobile searchers will fill out more complex form submissions or want to access detailed marketing collateral. Sales qualified leads will be more difficult to obtain, as a result.
- Mobile searchers appear to be looking more for “instant gratification” (call, buy, or download now) and want to see one-click actions.
- Via web reporting tools, B2B marketers should seek to understand the types of content marketing assets being requested by mobile users, bringing them closer to the forefront when possible.
B2B organizations should consider how they structure form requirements and content marketing assets accessible in the mobile environment to ensure the most effective opportunities for lead capture.
While it is great to see a clear recommendation for mobile SEO initiatives from Google, marketers should consider a range of business objectives when adopting a B2B mobile marketing strategies. Complexity of existing site architecture, current business performance metrics, and status of the current SEO program all should be taken into account.
Fortunately, responsive web design is only a recommended option and there are alternatives available. B2B marketers will still be able to work toward SEO goals even if responsive web design is not the answer in their B2B marketing programs.