A growing trend among prospects and consumers is the demand for more personal web engagement. They want their browsing experience to be responsive regardless of the device they are using, and they want each device to know and remember who they are as they switch between technologies. That is a tall order, but one that marketers and technology can, and does, deliver on.
There are different ways brands can present their web experience described by several subtly different terms. This sometimes makes it difficult to keep them all straight so before we jump into the impact on a given site’s SEO, let’s present some definitions:
There are three main categories of web design: responsive, adaptive/dynamic serving, and separate URLs.
Separate URLs: The simplest yet most maintenance intensive solution. Often referred to as mDot configuration, the site serves different code to each device on separate URLs. This configuration tries to detect the users’ device, then redirects to the appropriate page.
Responsive: Responsive refers to web design aimed at allowing webpages to be viewed in response to the size of the screen or web browser one is viewing with. The best analogy I’ve have read is in relation to Bruce Lee’s ‘Be like water’ metaphor: ‘Be formless. Shapeless. Like water. You put water in a cup, it becomes the cup. Put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.’ Responsive content is like water. Regardless of the display medium – desktop, tablet, or smart phone – it naturally fits and is presented as the consumer expects it to look. The size, positioning and layout is natural. The same ‘water’ content is displayed to it’s best advantage.
Adaptive/Dynamic: Adaptive is responsive yet goes one step further. While responsive web design delivers essentially the same website to all users, adaptive design – using dynamic serving – delivers separate content to users based on their device, and on some platforms based on other factors as well. If we extend the analogy the content is a liquid, it takes the form of the container but the liquid changes based on the context – a pitcher of iced tea for a summer crowd, a mug of hot chocolate on a cozy winter night.
A responsive website shows the same content in different layouts based on the device used, while an adaptive website does the same thing, but shows different content based on the device used to access the site and/or the individual viewing it. The goal of both responsive and adaptive design is to offer the user an enhanced experience.
According to Googles developer site on Mobile SEO, Responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern. That begs the question, “Do adaptive websites and dynamic content hurt my SEO?”
The short answer is no.
The very next sentence on the Google page backs this up. “Google does not favor any particular URL format as long as the page(s) and all page assets are accessible to all Googlebot user-agents.”
Many sources trumpet the benefits of responsive vs separate URL/mDot solutions. Not many look specifically at adaptive/dynamic served sites. As we have said adaptive is primarily responsive in nature, with the added advantage of contextual content. Let’s look deeper into why Google likes responsive behaviour.
Google offers the following positive attributes for responsive web design:
- It makes it easier for users to share and link to your content with a single URL. This is also true of adaptive design.
- It helps Google’s algorithms accurately assign indexing properties to the page rather than needing to signal the existence of corresponding desktop/mobile pages. Also, true of adaptive design. While segments of the page are dynamic, the page is viewed as a single entity.
- It reduces the possibility of the common mistakes that affect mobile sites. Applies to adaptive as well as responsive.
- It requires no redirection for users to have a device-optimized view, which reduces load time. Also, user agent-based redirection is error-prone and can degrade your site’s user experience. Again, applies equally to adaptive.
- Saves resources when Googlebot crawls your site. For responsive web design pages, a single Googlebot user agent only needs to crawl your page once, rather than crawling multiple times with different Googlebot user agents to retrieve all versions of the content. This improvement in crawling efficiency can indirectly help Google index more of your site’s content and keep it appropriately fresh. Again, true for adaptive sites. The bots, lacking any contextual and dynamic profiles is always in the same stage of the ‘buyer journey’. As such they get the base version or default content, and see it as a single, responsive page.
Adaptive web design, as far as SEOs are concerned, changes to fit varying types of screens and device sizes, or in more advanced applications changes the content based on user information. When a user requests content from a server, it detects the device or user and serves them separate HTML that is designed specifically for that context.
So, if you really want to pay attention to the mobile user experience and serve contextually relevant content to better serve your users go ahead! Dynamic serving through adaptive web design will not hurt your SEO.
- Eric Murphy is the Digital Marketing Manager at ActiveDEMAND. He is responsible for driving the marketing strategy for the ActiveDEMAND integrated marketing platform. He has a strong background in online marketing, communications and working closely with sales teams. For many years Eric was an evangelist and marketer for the industrial communications community through guest articles, maintaining industry blogs and speaking at conferences and other events.