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Internet Marketing Matters: Does Google Reward Responsive Web Design?

Internet marketing has always been a complex and dynamic process, and the introduction of mobile browsing only made things trickier. Online advertising companies have built entire branches dedicated to pinning down a winning formula for the mobile market, but many questions remain unanswered. As the internet evolution rolls on, “best practices” remain in a constant state of flux, and many business owners are forced to take shots in the dark when trying to appeal to a growing mobile market.

So what do we know for sure? Google has maintained that responsive design is their recommended mobile configuration, which has led many to believe that responsive sites will be rewarded with a rankings boost. The team at 360 decided to take a closer look.

Laying the Groundwork

Before we sink our teeth into this topic, let’s review the different mobile design options that business owners can choose from for the mobile internet marketing:

  • Separate mobile sites. This configuration is used by a number of prominent internet retailers today. Often referred to as “mDot” (m.) by industry insiders, this setup delivers different HTML on separate URLs depending on the device detected. Typically, the business owner has their main site assigned to a conventional “www” subdomain, while their mobile-friendly site uses a “m.” subdomain.
  • Adaptive design. Google calls this configuration “dynamic serving.” Adaptive design uses the same URL structure, generating an appropriate version of the site’s HTML for the device being used. The site will have different versions that are all served through common URLs.
  • Responsive design. Known colloquially as “RWD,” responsive web design uses dynamic, proportion-based grids and flexible visuals to create the perfect user experience for any device. The site will shrink, stretch, or grow depending on the device it’s being viewed through.

Google Prefers, But Does Not Reward RWD Directly

Google seems to favour RWD, based on the information they provide developers. Specifically, Google states that RWD:

  • Streamlines sharing and linking using a single URL (whereas separate mobile sites may cause some compatibility issues when shared carelessly)
  • Helps Google’s algorithms accurately assign indexing properties to the page, mostly by cutting the signalling tasks in half by having a single site
  • Requires less engineering time to maintain multiple pages
  • Reduces the possibility of “common mistakes” that affect mobile sites
  • Reduces load time by eliminate the need for redirection to separate “mDot” sites
  • Saves Googlebot crawler resources, since only one version of the site must be crawled

Clearly, Google prefers RWD when it comes to internet marketing, but do they reward it? Does this preference translate into a quantitative SEO ranking factor?

In March, 2015, Google’s Gary Illyes denied any claims that RWD has a direct SEO advantage. He stated that RWD does make it “easier” to crawl by conserving Google resources, but that it does not provide a tangible ranking advantage beyond reducing the chances of setup errors that frequently occur with mDot sites.

Avoiding Penalties – The Unspoken “Reward” for RWD

Still, while there isn’t a direct SEO reward associated with RWD, it does protect you from a number of Google penalties associated with separate site and mDot configurations, including:

  • Bad redirects. Adaptive and mDot sites are sometimes hindered by erroneous redirects. RWD doesn’t carry this liability.
  • Improper canonicalization. The URLs of mDot pages are entirely distinct from their desktop counterparts. Unless you take time to signal the relationship between the two, or Google can be easily confused.

In conclusion, it appears that RWD is the way to go, if only to avoid some of the headaches and penalties associated with the two alternative configurations. Though it won’t directly boost your internet marketing power for mobile campaigns, RWD will provide some important benefits.

To learn more about responsive web design, and how it affects your overall online marketing campaign, visit

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