Is there an SEO disadvantage to using responsive design instead of separate mobile URLs?

By | August 15, 2019


Today’s question comes
from John E. in New York. John wants to know, “Does a site
leveraging responsive design lose any SEO benefit compared
to a more traditional m. Site?” OK. So let’s explain exactly
what’s going on here. Whenever you have a
site that can work well for regular browsers
on the desktop as well as mobile phones,
there’s a couple completely valid ways to do it. One is called responsive design. And responsive design
just means that the page works totally fine
whether you access that URL with a desktop
browser or whether you access that URL with a mobile browser. Things will rescale,
the page size will be taken into account,
and everything works fine. Another way to do
it is, depending on the user agent that’s
coming, you could do a redirect, so that a mobile phone, mobile
smartphone, for example, might get redirected to a
mobile dot version of your page. And that’s totally fine as well. We have guidelines
and best practices that we’ll include in the
description of this video how to do that and
handle it well. Things like having a
rel=canonical from the mobile version to the desktop
version, that sort of thing. In general, I wouldn’t
worry about a site that uses responsive design
losing SEO benefit, because by definition,
you’ve got the same URL. So in theory, if you do a
mobile version of your site, if you don’t handle that
well and you don’t do the rel=canonical and all
those sorts of things, you might in theory divide the
page rank between those two pages. But if you’ve got
responsive design, everything is
handled from one URL. And so the page rank
doesn’t get divided. Everything works fine. So you don’t need to
worry about the SEO drawbacks of responsive
design at all. You need to make sure that
your page works well for users and that it’s fast and all
that sort of good stuff. But I wouldn’t worry at
all about responsive design and whether that will
hurt you in terms of SEO.

46 thoughts on “Is there an SEO disadvantage to using responsive design instead of separate mobile URLs?

  1. Omkar Nath Nandi Post author

    Thanks just moved to responsive design and still updating content.

    Reply
  2. Nizam Khan Post author

    That's good to know that responsive design is great to have.

    Reply
  3. Byron H Post author

    There are an amazing number of companies that use mobile sites and do not have the appropriate canonical tag to let Google know they are versions of each other. Not only could the page value be split (link popularity and social engagement metrics) but if both pages are seen as individual non-related pages there could be duplicate content issues.

    Reply
  4. Zsolt Bégányi Post author

    I think, this is the best method, to appear your site in cell phones, tablet pcs etc.

    Reply
  5. Zsolt Bégányi Post author

    I think it as well! Why should I make a different site, with different subdomain, if I can find a responsive wordpress theme?

    Reply
  6. Zsolt Bégányi Post author

    The worst, when I want to read a magazine, and the site is not responsive, and I have to zoom in, and slide the side.

    Reply
  7. Jay Best Post author

    That doesn't sound right to me – I thought that mobile sites are given a higher rank when searched from a mobile device, so if a site is responsive, then there is no clear way to signal that to Google? Or am I missing something here. 

    I get the detail about split sites / canonical, and that would just be sloppy practice anyway, but now I am confused..

    Reply
  8. Patrick Coombe Post author

    Thought @Antonino Bologna and @Bruce Breton Jr.  might want to see this.

    Reply
  9. Collin Davis Post author

    Disadvantage with responsive design is only that probably the page may not be as well catered to mobile users as with a separate mobile website but then again you don't distribute the page rank…

    Reply
  10. Gururaj mahale Post author

    Bla Bla Bla all crap… these people are just annoying SEO for their SEM benefits!!! All questions and answers are paid here….

    Reply
  11. Transmission Repair Post author

    Matt makes it clear that good SEO design, regardless of M-dot or not, is one of the major changes of the new hummingbird update.  While a webmaster can still use the power of M-dot, I believe Google's constant search for a good user experience was the driving force behind merging mobile and desktop for the masses.

    Reply
  12. Matt Miller Post author

    There is a problem with m. sites when a link to the mobile specific site is shared. (see http://bloggidy.com/kill-the-mobile-specific-sites/). Just do responsive, not from a SEO perspective but rather because it, when done properly, is the current way to provide a quality browsing experience regardless of device.

    Reply
  13. Michael Rizzo Post author

    Clearly Google is and has been pushing responsive design. Remember 50% of your traffic is or soon will be mobile. 

    Reply
  14. Alessio Lo Vecchio Post author

    What about the "massive" usage of display:none in some responsive layouts?

    Reply
  15. Greg Dixson Post author

    I think the question should have been is there a SEO disadvantage to separate mobile sites. Matt's answer is telling of the issues of separate mobile and desktop sites – dividing PageRank, etc. Responsive design in 'most' cases is the way to go. 

    Reply
  16. Fred Petrenko Post author

    How about cloaking problem: serving different content on the same URL? 

    Reply
  17. Travis Holt Post author

    Short answer is no 🙂  Now all the web developers can continue to breath again.

    Reply
  18. Hicham Ahssini Post author

    Really far from the question ! Matt : On all your Videos, Why you always have my City (Fes) Behind You on the Map 🙂 If you would like to Visit you will be more than Welcome 😉

    Reply
  19. SEO Richmond LLC Post author

    Anyone having issues with HTML5 wordpress responsive themes? 

    Reply
  20. Patrick Coombe Post author

    Google has been hinting at the fact that seperate sites for mobile aren't the way to go for a while now.  responsive design IMO makes the most sense for SEO and UX in general.

    Reply
  21. Chris Hargrave Post author

    SEO=good, UX=bad.

    My BIG worry is that a responsive site takes too long to load on a mobile device, especially when that device isnt connected to wifi.  Those are precious seconds.

    Reply
  22. mark hamburg Post author

    Google is all messed up.Whats working again is building edu and gov links to get number one pretty fast.It's been working great for me.Here's 10,000 edu and gov links hotbacklinks.blogspot.com

    Reply
  23. Spook SEO Post author

    Matt Cutts just explained it well here. I think responsive design is better for everyone and I believe that this design won't hurt SEO value at all.

    Reply
  24. Subhash Jain Post author

    Responsive web site is the future of web while m.website.com is a thing of past now. The latter one only adds tons of work for #webdeveloper .  Responsive web has a clear cut advantage of a single URL for both mobile and desktop version and hence the #linkjuice does not get divided between two URLs if canonical tag has not been used. Responsive web is good from development as well as #seo point of  view.

    Reply
  25. Spook SEO Post author

    Indeed, from the SEO point of view, responsive design is quite more advantageous than arriving with a mobile dot version. In other words, having a single versatile site is better than the split solution – seems like a simple ratio yet a very tough design challenge during this evolutionary phase.

    Reply
  26. Mohamad Afif Post author

    website dengan responsive design tidak akan menderita dalam performa SEO nya, karena inti dari responsive design adalah agar pengalaman pengguna pada website tetap konsisten antara browser desktop maupun mobile. Thanks @Matt Cutts 

    Reply
  27. SCITECH7 Post author

    What about using 2 CSS files? One for 'screen' and one for 'handheld'. The CSS file for handheld would be lighter (so better for mobiles); and one big CSS with responsive structure for both would be heavier. What do you think of it? Thank you.

    Reply
  28. JP van der Meer Post author

    You should give the "m.site urls" a rel=canonical anyway, so just build a resonsive website.

    Reply
  29. GabakTech - Cursos de Computación y Tecnología Post author

    can you talk about YOUTUBE tags, description and titles?
    how to optimize that ?

    Reply
  30. Paul Kriloff Post author

    It seems like responsive design could hurt in SEO if the mobile experience weren't great. Sometimes, a certain site design just doesn't work, even if the page elements scale down. Of course, sites that don't handle their mobile sites properly (for instance, sites that revert to the home page when someone clicks a deep link from search) face the same risk of higher bounce rate, lower ToS, etc. The reminders about rel=canonical and inadvertently splitting page rank are really helpful. 

    Reply
  31. Paulstreet SEO Post author

    SEO is considered important for improving the business website. The responsive design of the website is good for SEO, because if the design is a website is responsive that will increase the usability. The website design must be adjusted according to the screen, and also have the mobile compatibility.

    Reply
  32. Marion Thwaite Post author

    yes. Besides I want to mention that I use youtube to drive traffic to my site since i am a video marketer. this particular video is very informative for me thanks! you can visit my channel on youtube to learn more information regarding the exact methods you can use to increase traffic to your site

    Reply
  33. thaalchemist91 Post author

    If you are looking to get higher rank on google search, i recommend using speed rank seo. Just google it on search results.

    Reply
  34. Mama Fafa Post author

    If you`re looking to obtain additional sales in your product, i suggest using speed rank seo to get more targeted visitors from search engines like google. Just google it.

    Reply
  35. Darko jovanovic Post author

    If you are looking to obtain additional sales for your product, i suggest using speed rank seo to obtain more targeted traffic from search engines like yahoo. Just google it.

    Reply
  36. Anna Haick Post author

    If you are looking to have higher rank on search results, i propose using speed rank seo. Just google it on google search.

    Reply
  37. slapmyfunkybass Post author

    A sense of irony in the fact responsive design was created to cater for tablets and mobiles, and nowadays tablets and mobiles rescale websites so well it's making responsive design redundant.

    Reply
  38. D L Post author

    Common SEO downsides in responsive design include: hiding content for mobile users (this is often deemed best practice by designers but is awful for SEO as it can be interpreted as the black-hat SEO tactic called 'cloaking' – instead of hiding things for mobile users, layout should be adjusted so it flows differently and still presents a good user experience) and embedding large images and lots of content for small mobile devices which tend to have poorer data allowances and slower processing power etc (there's not really a way around this, although img srcset makes some efforts to overcome the issue with images, pages can still be textually longwinded and containing lots of small images without an easy solution that doesn't compromise SEO)

    Reply

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