You have a desktop site and a m.mysite.com mobile version, just as best practice prescribed ten years ago, right? It has probably worked just fine for you. Now, however, when the internet is turning upside down due to the pending mobile index first update, this setup isn’t recommended any more. Despite of web designers desperately fighting against the adoption of responsive designs (probably because they are to lose 50% of potential work projects), the king of the internet, Google, has made it clear: responsive designs are the current best practice and this is what you should adopt.
Why to Move to Responsive Web Designs?
Throughout the last ten years, since mobile devices became mainstream, webmasters worked on delivering some sketched website experience for mobile device users, which was supposed to engage users just enough to bring them to the “real” site, the desktop version. Sites with only a few pages, shorten content, and missing functionality became suddenly the standard for the mobile web and they worked fine for businesses during the past decade, sending traffic to desktop sites.
There, however, are several problems with this practice, becoming obvious now, when mobile is no longer an insignificant actor but the dominant trend, both in terms of number of sold devices and number of internet searches carried out.
The first problem is that Google, following the trends in user behavior, have set to roll out the anticipated mobile index first update. This update means that, among else, site rank will from now on depend on the mobile version of a site and not on the desktop version.
This first problem brings all the rest of the problems to live:
- Mobile sites lack often content. They are made to shortly present a company or its products but don’t have any of the important content, making a desktop site useful and profitable. This means that they can’t engage users and can’t deliver value. As a result, a serious drop in rankings can be expected.
- Due to lack of content and the fact that webmasters, for the most of it, focus on generating backlinks to desktop sites, mobile sites are almost entirely stripped of backlinks. This is yet another potential SEO-crisis.
- When you work with mobile and desktop versions of a site, the server has to detect, which device is being used, in order to serve a fitting version of the site. This, however, is not a good practice, as it adds additional steps to the process of rendering the requested page, thus making it slower. Slow sites, especially on mobile, don’t stand a chance and get a SEO-penalty.
- Supporting two versions of a site makes maintenance and optimization a difficult task. You have to worry about setting up user agent sniffing, rel=canonical, hreflang, structured data, and intricate analytics views, as well as doubling up on time and resources spent to update and develop two sites instead of one. All this can result in a lot of errors, hurting your site’s SEO.
- Google bots can have difficulties assigning correct indexing properties to pages, when there’s a corresponding desktop or mobile page. This can result in lower rankings or incorrect indexing.
Because of all these potential issues, and because they work for simplicity, Google recommends using responsive web designs.
Moving from Mobile Site to Responsive Design
The process of moving from mobile site to responsive design includes the following steps that you must follow in order to avoid errors or SEO issues:
- Implement a responsive design on your desktop site. By working on the design of the desktop site, you make sure that all content and backlinks will still be present, once your new design is ready to be deployed.
- Configure 301 redirects from the mobile site to the responsive one. This must be done for each individual URL and not for the site as a whole. The reason is that the URL structure of the mobile site isn’t necessarily the same as the URL structure of the desktop site. As a result, you might end up with a lot of errors. You should keep the mobile site live, even though it won’t be accessible for users anymore, if you want to benefit from eventual backlinks or other SEO signals, generated on it. You do not need to set up redirects from the desktop site to the responsive one as it should be deployed in the place of the desktop site, preserving the exact URL structure and content. If, however, this isn’t the case for some reason, you should configure redirects from the old desktop site to the responsive one as well.
- Remove conditional redirects or vary HTTP header that you have used to deliver the right website version, depending on device or browser. If you fail to do this, you risk to send users on an endless loop-trip between the new responsive site and the mobile site. You can skip this step, if you’re using dynamic serving to send different HTTP response, depending on the agent that requests it.
- Set up rel=canonical on all pages of the responsive site, pointing to themselves. This, combined with rel=canonicals on the mobile pages, pointing to the desktop pages, is considered best practice in cases, where the same content is server from multiple URLs. Such setup helps search engines better understand and index content, potentially resulting in higher rankings.
This is the recommended way to move from mobile site to responsive design, as suggested by Google in the Google Webmaster Blog of September 2017.