Web Development

The Responsive Web Design Confusion: Does It Really Affect Your SEO?

For those who are unfamiliar, responsive web design is a strategy that helps your webpages resize based on the size of the screen—desktop screen, tablet, smartphone, etc. Responsive web design will also help bring the least important information to the bottom if you’re using a smaller screen. For example, if someone is looking at your website on a mobile phone, they won’t immediately see a huge cut-off photo. Instead, the responsive technology will move that photo to the bottom and put content up to the top. Consider the screenshot from Design Modo below that shows how it all works:


It sounds great, right? It is a great technology and any website that is serious about success has a responsive web design. Everyone agrees that there are major benefits to this type of website. However, there are some discrepancies when it comes to SEO. There are differing opinions regarding whether or not SEO is affected by responsive SEO, and it’s important to understand these conflicts yourself so you can make the best decision for your business.

Responsive Web Design and SEO Conflict: Matt Cutts vs. Bryson Meunier

As discussed above, the most confusing question about responsive web design comes back to SEO factors. Experts in the industry, two in particular, have different opinions regarding how SEO comes into play when you’re working with responsive web design. Consider the two arguments below:

Argument #1: Matt Cutts, Head of Google Webspam team, says a responsive web design does not affect a website’s SEO.

This particular side of the argument is interesting because it’s not really an argument at all. Being that Matt Cutts has an inside look at Google and helps make decisions for Google, he states his stance as a fact. Cutts has been known for being very vague in much of the information he gives to the public, but this is one area where he’s being fought with and almost forced into this argument (even if it is unknowingly).

Just last month, Cutts released a video stating that you don’t need to worry about any SEO issues if you’re using a responsive design for mobile websites. Why? Because Matt Cutts says there isn’t. See the video below:

Some companies create an entirely separate URL for mobile instead of a responsive design, but Cutts says that isn’t necessary. With responsive design, everything is handled with one URL, so the PageRank doesn’t get divided (which could happen if you take the other approach). Long story short, responsive design could actually make your SEO easier. That is, at least, according to Cutts.

Argument #2: Bryson Meunier, Director of Content Solutions at Resolution Media, posts on Marketing Land that responsive web design can be detrimental to SEO.

Meunier wrote an article in response that explained why he doesn’t quite buy what Cutts is saying. He felt that Cutts only focused on the issue of split link equity when discussing mobile URLs. There are, according to Menuier, been many cases where SEOs have seen the SEO of a website worsen due to responsive designs. He gave three reasons why:

  1. Responsive sites have trouble connecting searches with platform-specific content. If someone searches differently on a mobile device versus a desktop, responsive design doesn’t take that into consideration.
  2. Responsive sites often create less compelling content. Responsive websites with adaptive content are limited in the types of content they can deliver to users based on platform (an overlap of the first point).
  3. If you do a search on your phone for specific queries, you won’t see many responsive sites ranking. Meunier gave Disney as one example where their responsive site appears on the first page for “games” but they don’t show up on the keyword search for “mobile games.”

I highly recommend you check out his actual article here where he goes into much more detail, complete with screenshots and actual examples. He definitely makes it clear that he respects Cutts, but what he has found in his own experiences leads him to believe that Cutts might have missed something when he went to create that last video.

So How Should You Handle the Confusion Between Responsive Web Design and SEO?

As a small business owner, it’s tough to know what to believe. You probably don’t really care about any kinds of disagreements happening because you just want an answer. Of course, coming up with clear-cut answers in SEO isn’t really a luxury this industry seems to have.

Regardless, this particular argument makes some good points. While I will always be an advocate for responsive design, I suggest you take a look at Meunier’s article and take some of the things he says into consideration when it comes time to optimize your mobile site. He doesn’t say that Matt Cutts is completely wrong; he just says that sometimes that advice is going to be wrong. Find out when those “sometimes” are and make sure you’re doing something to avoid any problems you may have in the future.

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