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Responsive web design is a new web design practice which, by all accounts, is the “next big thing,” at least in the web design industry. This practice eliminates the need for separate mobile and desktop websites, and Google has gone so far as to explicitly announce their preference for responsive web design. This has led many SEOs to assume that Google will be providing special SERP benefits to those who use responsive web design tenets in their websites.

Those who react in this way, however, forget the numerous other “tips” that Google gives to webmasters in their Webmaster Guidelines. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines could be summed up in just one word: usability. What Google has said time and time again is that what they are really looking for are the best user experiences on the web which will fulfill the intent of a certain entered keyword or keywords. Thus, it could be easily concluded that Google does not prefer responsive web design in those situations which would negatively impact user experience. Thus, to say that responsive web design is better for SEO than any other means of serving content to mobile users must be false if there is a situation where responsive web design negatively impacts mobile users.

As it turns out, there are, in fact, several such situations:

  • Responsive web design frequently causes the load time on a mobile phone to be longer than a dedicated mobile website. This by itself means that it is often the case that you are not serving your mobile users in the most expedient way possible.
  • When your mobile users would be better served by an app than a website, it’s always a good idea to develop and give away the app. An app is by far the most efficient way to reach a mobile audience, and getting your business on people’s smartphones in this way is a valuable means of obtaining potential “regular” customers.
  • There are many keywords that are more likely to be used by a mobile user than a desktop or laptop user. If any of these keywords could lead to your site, it makes sense for there to at least be some mobile-only landing pages available.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to providing a rich user experience to the person performing the search. That is the person any business owner needs to impress most, and if the business is succeeding on that front, then there’s a good chance that changing to responsive web design isn’t going to improve your visibility on Google.

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