If you are in business today you need a mobile website. Not just because Google has been promoting the idea for the past year and has made mobile friendliness a ranking factor in search results (SERP) but because customers demand it through their actions. According to Google this year (2016) will be the year that mobile searches outnumber desktop searches and that number will continue to grow. This is especially important for local businesses who depend on walk in traffic or pre-orders of their products although any business who ever has clients or potential clients search for their contact info will benefit as well.
There are a few choices when it comes to creating a mobile friendly presence on the web. In this article I want to take a look at the main ones.
Ways To Become Mobile Friendly
There are several primary ways to make mobile friendly version of your website. There are plusses and minuses to each and it will depend on your unique site and situation when it comes time to decide which will work best for you.
1: Responsive Web Design
If your website was built in the last 2 or 3 years on WordPress or another competitive platform then chances are you already have at least a (somewhat) responsive website. “Responsive” means that your website configures the content on each page of your site based on the device that your site visitor is using to view your site.
Upside: This can provide a good user experience on a mobile device and is the easiest and cheapest way to have a mobile friendly website. It also allows both versions of the site to use the same URL and is therefore easier to set up.
Downside: Mobile devices and their users like speed. If a page loads in longer than 3 seconds they will not wait. Responsive websites are usually simply a reconfiguration of the elements from your desktop site and so those elements remain the same size that they are (file site not dimensions). This may make for a slow loading mobile site even if it is essentially mobile friendly otherwise.
One thing that you can do to optimize a responsive website is to go over the desktop pages and optimize the contents on each page with an eye to mobile. Some changes might include eliminating a lot of the extraneous animations and other things that just make the site slow and are not really necessary and making sure that a click to call phone number is near the top of the page. Most modern website templates are designed to be Responsive and so require no additional setup beyond building the site.
2: Dynamic Serving
Like Responsive Design sites Dynamic Serving uses the same URL for your optimized mobile site as is used for the desktop version of your website. Unlike Responsive Design, Dynamic Serving provides a different web page(different HTML) to the visitor based on their browser/device. The Google sponsored AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pges) initiative is an example of a rather stripped down version of Dynamic Serving.
Upside: You can create a mobile user experience that is much more independent of the desktop version of your site than is possible with Responsive Design. You can also potentially improve the loading speed of your site by creating a mobile version of your site that is much smaller in file size than your desktop site and can reconfigure elements to make for a better mobile user experience such as putting click to call versions of your phone number near the top of the pages.
Downside: Since you are essentially serving different versions of the same page on the same URL you will need to let the search engine know you are doing this by enabling vary accept encoding in your site header
Dynamic serving is probably the best solution for WordPRess sites who are looking to go beyond Responsive Design and/or score better on Google’s Page Speed Test. It allows you to create a uniquely tailored user experience without the effort and expense of creating a whole separate website just for mobile users.
Separate URL (m.domain)
As the name implies a Separate URL website is a whole other website that may or may not be identical to your desktop site that resides on its own URL (usually m.mysite.com). I used Yahoo in this example but many large sites use this option such as Facebook. If you have a large website that is older or for some other reason cannot be easily converted into being Responsive or cannot utilize Dynamic Serving then this option may be for you. There are many companies out there that will build or allow you to pretty easily build a mobile version of your website which they usually host. The best known such company is probably Duda Mobile.
Upside: You can create a totally custom site which can be tailored to provide exactly the functionality and user experience on mobile devices that you want. This can solve issues in the realm of pagespeed too.
Downside: A different domain which may take traffic away from your main domain. You have to make sure that you have the right cannonical tags in place when you have identical content on both versions of your site to avoid duplicate content penalties. Mobile url’s shared from mobile browsers may not count toward impressions/clicks on your main site.
Another thing to be aware and wary of is sites that offer you a mobile website via a redirect on your main domain to the mobile page on their domain/URL. I have seen this method recently and there is no good reason in my mind to ever do it as you are essentially sending all of your mobile traffic to someone else’s website.
According to Google 94% of smartphone owners use their devices for commercial searches and they do these searches at home as well as on the go. It is no longer a matter of choosing whether or not to be mobile friendly. Now it is a matter of how you want to become mobile friendly. If there is a “preferred” method of doing it in terms of SEO it is either Responsive Design with the right site design or (probably more so) Dynamic Serving if you want to optimize your site for Google Page Speed as well.