As the owner of an online store, you’re deeply aware of the effect that SEO can have on your visibility. You may also know that responsive design is a competitive advantage in a world where 62% of smartphone users make purchases on their mobile device.
But how does responsive design interact with SEO? More importantly, can errors in responsive design create SEO problems?
Responsive Designs Are Good for SEO
A responsive design is any website theme that changes based on the browser or device using it. On a fundamental level, responsive design is good for SEO. The search engine indexes one page using one theme, rather than having to deal with a different URL or an entirely different HTML structure for the same content.
A mobile theme is different from a responsive design. BigCommerce offers both responsive and mobile themes, however, they recommend using a responsive theme if possible. Some of their older themes are not responsive, so they suggest turning on their mobile theme or upgrading to a responsive theme.
Some mobile themes create problems for search engines that can result in lowered rankings, but the worst scenario is not having a mobile-friendly website at all. A truly modern mobile-friendly site uses responsive design to achieve six goals, according to Yoast. Sites should:
• Load properly on smartphones and tablets.
• Load quickly regardless of the device used.
• Present content readably without requiring users to zoom in or out.
• Be spacious enough for users to navigate by touch.
• Offer added value to mobile users.
• Be understandable by search engines.
It takes an experienced web developer to achieve all of these characteristics – and that’s what search engines want.
The Effect of Responsive Design on Bounce Rates
To really get into why responsive design helps produce SEO results, we must cover bounce rates. As Rosy Strategies points out, Google measures the difference between mobile and non-mobile bounce rates. It uses this data to determine whether a particular site is mobile-friendly or not.
Google has made it clear that it favors mobile-friendly sites, so it will compare your mobile bounce rate to your desktop bounce rate to determine just how responsive your site really is. If mobile users are leaving your page faster and more frequently than desktop users, you can expect Google to downgrade your ranking.
This demonstrates an important point about responsive design – to produce results, it must be done right. The simple fact that a website changes shape to accommodate mobile devices isn’t enough – the site needs to be legitimately mobile-friendly.
How to Plan for Smart Responsive Design
Think about the structure of your website. Rather than designing the site in a top-down manner – beginning with a presentation and moving down the funnel to conversion – you (or your designer) should establish a mobile-friendly architecture first.
The generic pattern for one-off sales pages goes like this: Build awareness at the top of your page, move downward to product information and demonstrations, then build on reviews and testimonials to land a conversion at the bottom.
However, if your mobile page has the same structure, you can be almost completely certain that you’ll lose the majority of leads before they hit the bottom of your page. Since you only have a few seconds (and a tiny screen) to grab their attention, you will need to plan for responsive design by editing out some content.
- Only leave introductions and demonstrations that are short, punchy attention-grabbers.
- Remove reviews, testimonials, user guides, tutorials and FAQs – or simply move them to another part of the site.
- Don’t crowd the screen with multiple blog post titles – just your latest. Either use infinite scrolling or incorporate a simple sliding carousel to display multiple posts in a clean, organized manner.
- Place touch elements far apart from one another. Even if you find your website easy to navigate, you can increase conversions by designing for fat fingers.
- Remove full-screen pop-ups. Yes, they can pad your email newsletter, but users hate them, Google hates them, and chances are you hate them too.
- Incorporate video. This can have a great effect on your conversion rates by combining multiple elements of your page in place – an all-in-one introduction, demonstration, and tutorial, for instance. Hubspot encourages this, yet stipulates that video content must be short enough to load quickly. Videos should not autostart. Allow the user the option to start the video.
Don’t Forget About Load Speed
One advantage to cutting out all the superfluous information crowding out your mobile site’s display is that your load time is likely to decrease. Most mobile conversion losses occur during site loading, so you should pay close attention to how your responsive site design elements affect load speed – especially if you incorporate video (remember, don’t have it autostart!).
Fortunately, Google lets you test your mobile speed using a web application. Type your website’s URL into Google’s mobile site tester and find out how you measure up to your competitors. Google will give you feedback on your site and tell you how you can improve it.