Google prefers responsive design only if your users do

After the completion of the iSEO session at SMX Advanced in Seattle, most people left believing that Google instructed them to make their sites responsive. However, that is not really what Google told them to do at all.

Although Google did mention its preference for responsive sites, what Google really recommended was what they always recommend—they want developers and designers to build websites that make the most sense for your users. Google wants your users to be happy. If you come to the conclusion that responsive design hinders your users’ experience, then Google wants you to use another form of mobile configuration.

Google’s guidelines for developing mobile websites:

Google recommends just two things:

If your users’ benefit from responsive design, you should follow the industry’s best practice of using responsive web design (using the same HTML for all devices and using CSS media queries to determine the rendering necessary for each device).

If your users do not benefit from responsive design, then Google supports serving your content using different HTML. You can serve the different HTML either on the same URL (dynamic serving) or at different URLs (mobile URLs). As long as you follow Google’s setup recommendations, Googlebot can handle both configurations appropriately.

The first point addresses how users benefit from responsive design. The second point addresses what to do if responsive design will not work for your users. There is not a point that says, “You must make your site responsive.” However, many SEO experts say we should make our sites responsive because it is what Google prefers. They are missing the point. It’s what your users prefer. Google is clear on this—most SEO gurus understand that any SEO strategy that does not take the user into consideration and is not sustainable (i.e. Panda and Penguin) should not be implemented. If you make your site responsive and your users do not like it, Google will not like it either.

So when should you not make your website responsive? Google suggests that it is not beneficial to build responsive sites when the users you are attempting to reach do not have a smart phone. If you want to design and develop your website to be accessible to smart phone users, the only options you have are dynamic serving and separate URLs.

Let your users decide which configuration is the best. Do not do something because it is what Google “wants,” what Google “said,” or what some SEO guru said. It gets confusing. Keep it simple—keep your users happy. If your users benefit from responsive design, then make sure you design responsively. If they do not, then don’t do it. It’s as simple as that.

It is easy to lose the message when both sides are using Google to justify their approach. Not listening to your user is not only bad for your SEO, but it is also bad for your users, your clients, and your business. Design for your users’ needs. Not anyone else’s.

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