Responsive vs adaptive vs mobile specific sites

The case for responsive design is well beyond the tipping point now, especially with Google specifically saying that it prefers responsive design solutions to mobile specific sites. Content is easily shareable across any device, page load times are faster and there’s a single URL.

However embarking on responsive design can be a costly and lengthy overhaul, and if not done correctly can end up being slower for mobiles than other alternatives.

Google’s advice also doesn’t mean that if you have a separate mobile domain you will not rank highly, it’s just easier for Google to crawl one set of pages and index them rather than crawl two sets of pages and then figure out which one to index for which platform. 

Mobile sites are easier to implement and of course offer customisable, mobile exclusive content. However the potential for duplicating content and splitting link authority is much higher.

Another solution may be adaptive web design where a server delivers different content to different devices.

This is a solution that takes elements from responsive design (single URL, no duplication of content, easily shareable) and marries them to elements from mobile specific (customisable content, fast loading times). However this is also a costly and technically complicated process.

Check out Graham Charlton’s post for more pros and cons of adaptive web design.

Verifying your mobile website

Head to Google Webmaster Tools to verify your site using its specific mobile settings. This will give you more mobile-specific information such as search queries that do not show up as ‘not provided’. 

After this, be sure that when you upload your sitemap to Google, you’re uploading your specific mobile sitemap. It has an additional tag requirement.

Page speed

Google has announced on multiple occasions that site speed has a big impact on mobile search engine results pages (SERPs). Your website needs to be as fast as it possibly can be to rank highly and provide an optimal user experience.

HTTP redirects are a common way to slow down page loads, and therefore perhaps a good reason not to offer a separate mobile site.

Google+ Local

According to most SEO experts, Google+ has a huge influence on personalised search results. On a mobile screen, the presence of a Google Local listing will be more even more prominent than on a desktop due to the screen size. 

Having a Google Local profile will also put your website on Google Maps and on the Maps app. I talk extensively about the benefits of local SEO in relation to Google Places for Business and Google+ Local in Why you need local SEO.

PageSpeed Insights

This tool has been updated to include additional recommendations on mobile usability. 

Measured on a score from 1-100, Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool will quickly diagnose some problems holding a website back from being 100% mobile optimised from a speed point of view. 

The tool not only identifies the weaknesses for mobile in a website, but offers some generic information on how to fix them and highlights examples of problem pages.

Some of the key pieces of advice include… 

  • Sizing your content so it scrolls vertically, never horizontally.
  • Use legible font sizes without the user zooming in.
  • Tappable buttons that are large and separate enough from each other not to be accidentally pressed.
  • Avoiding plugins of any kind, particularly Flash.

For more on SEO, download our latest SEO Best Practice Guide.