Cameron FrancisNovember 19,2013

Designing Responsive Websites With SEO In Mind

Google pronounced that it prefers responsive sites as a solution for mobile friendly sites back in June of 2012. Many people equated responsive site design with SEO. However, although there are responsive sites that are designed well for SEO purposes, there are many that are not.

We will proceed to examine some practices that will make a responsive design more SEO friendly and improve visitor’s experience on any platform.

Is The Site Indexed?

Surely, a site that does not appear in the index of a search engine will not have visibility when someone searches for it. This will be true for responsive sites and sites that utilise dedicate URLs for mobile or dynamic serving. However, this is often more problematic with mobile URLs, since mobile sites are frequently no-followed in robots.txt so that mobile pages will not be in competition with “canonical” pages for link juice.

This is an ill-advised practice since switchboard tags or bidirectional annotations can make use of that link juice, resulting in mobile URLs showing up in search results. Sometimes designers don’t use escaped_ fragment with dynamic sites and the URL stays the same when visitors click on different site elements so that search engines are not able to add deep links into their indices.

This may occur with any site without static URLs. However, mobile SEO is not completed after the developer has chosen to design a mobile site with responsive design, dedicated URLs, or dynamic serving.

Can The Site Be Crawled?

For any site to become indexed search engines need to crawl it and follow links to all the site’s content and store the URLs.In order to check, you can run a site crawler like Screaming Frog or SEO Crawler for checking mobile sites. SEO Crawler let you select the Google smartphone crawler as a preference. This will allow you to determine if there are any problems crawling your site. It’s important to check this with both Bing and Google since both have developer tools that will point out any crawl errors that are encountered.

Search engines limit their crawl budget for each site, on the basis of a site’s PageRank. Therefore, if your site has more than one URL associated with it, this could be problematic, since if you are dividing the PageRank between several URLs, you could have an architecture that is not optimal for crawling purposes.

Website owners communicate with crawlers via site maps. Therefore, it is important to make your site map as clear as you can and avoid confusing crawlers. It is best to provide a separate site map for HTML documents, videos, and images.

The ability to crawl a site is not specific to mobile sites, but if it is not done properly, it can hurt a mobile site the same way it can harm traditional sites, so it must be done properly.

Can Your Site Be Read Without Enabling JavaScript, Flash, Or Images?

Google’s search engine is still only able to read text and it cannot use anything it cannot see. Therefore, ensure that you have content that the crawler can recognise.

  • Create a site that is rich in content and ensure that your content is accurately and clearly described.
  • Consider the keywords that would be used to find the pages in your site, and be certain that your pages have those keywords in them.
  • When displaying links, content, or names that are important make use of text rather than images. Crawlers don’t recognise text that is within images. If you must make use of images for these purposes, make sure that you have descriptive text in the “ALT” attribute.

Is It Easy To Share And Link To Your Site?

A lot of sites, responsive and traditional, have URLs that aren’t easily comprehensible to human readers. This is harmful to SEO, since the URLs cannot be remembered easily and they are harder to share. Considering the importance that search engines place on sharing and linking pages, the more amenable your pages are to sharing and linking, the more favourably they will be considered in the search results.It’s a good idea to use social bookmarklets so that site visitors can easily share your content on various social networks. This is important, since organic search is now influenced by social media and the vast majority of the user base of Facebook is now mobile. In addition, mobile users tend to spend much more time on social platforms than traditional PC users, so assisting mobile users with content sharing is a good idea.

Does Your Content Satisfy The Needs Of Users’ Regardless of The Accessing Device?

Advocates of “content parity” have a noble cause in making site content accessible to all users, on any type of device. However, this can be a bit complex. Creating content that is available for all devices is beneficial for users at times, other times it becomes detrimental.

Many responsive sites don’t make enough content accessible to mobile users or they have content that is not usable by mobile visitors.

Google has witnessed mobile sites with video that is not playable so often, that it is considering penalising sites with unplayable videos. Google recommends the use of HTML5 tags when using video and the avoidance of Flash, which is not supported by many mobile devices.

Is Your Website Fast Loading?

Responsive sites are frequently rather slow and bloated. They can be fast, but most aren’t. Not only is this bad from a usability point of view, it can also be harmful to SEO. Google has said that it may penalise sites soon that are slow loading. However, Google has provided developers with several resources to assist in speeding up sites including PageSpeedInsights. If you adhere to the recommendations provided by this tool, it will be quite helpful in making a site load quickly. Preferably within one second, which is Google’s recommendation for best mobile performance.

Does Your Site Attempt To Get Visitors To Perform An App Download Rather Than Showing Them What They Are Seeking?

Many sites try to get site visitors to perform an app download, rather than immediately displaying content that is relevant to them.

In the past this would serve to annoy users, but now, Google penalises sites that do this. Therefore, it will annoy many webmasters as well.

This normally occurs when a site determines a visitor is from a mobile device. It occurs less frequently on responsive sites, since site owners are pleased to allow users to access their content freely, instead of persuading them to use an app.

Does Your Site Have Duplicate Content?

Pages have been prevented from ranking due to duplicate content for quite some time. With mobile devices, this issue becomes more complex. For those of you who are unaware, duplicate content is content that is present on multiple URLs.This problem often occurs on subdomains of mobile sites. Just because a site is responsive, it does not mean that it is free from duplicated content. It’s vital to check any type of site for duplicated content. If you neglect this, it is up to Google to find the right canonical page for the content, and this is not always beneficial to site owners.Consequently, we need to make sure that the search engines know the pages that are intended for site visitors and the pages that are simply a copy of a canonical page. You can notify search engines of this by inserting canonical tags.

Adding canonical tags is quite straightforward, all you need to do is add this tag in the header of a page that is duplicate:

link rel=”canonical” href=””

The referenced URL is simply the canonical URL for the associated content.

Does Your Site Use Any Mobile Device Specific Functionality

Tablets and smartphones contain different functionality than PCs. In addition, they are frequently used in settings where it would not be practical to use a PC. Consequently, there are now usage patterns that were not prevalent in the past.

GPS is allowing users to locate businesses in their proximity using Bing and Google and many users are making use of these features. They are using search terms like “near me” or “closest”, most often on mobile devices. Seventy percent of users searching on a mobile device call businesses from search results directly, which they cannot easily do on a desktop PC. All of these mobile users have access to features like a camera, accelerometer, GPS, and phone, which are unavailable on PCs.

These mobile experiences are constructed on the web at times, but more frequently in apps. From the point of view of SEO, they are better off on the web. Google encourages designers to make their site valuable, engaging, and unique and claims these types of sites will perform the best in search results.

To make it brief, create extraordinary content that visitors find useful and engaging and it is likely to be shared and linked to, which will notify Google of its quality. However and app won’t show up in search results. Therefore, in order to make your content most accessible to users of mobile devices, the web is the best place for it.

The difficulty is that accomplishing this using a responsive site, is problematic. A lot of responsive sites make good use of geo-location, however the majority use server-side components or JavaScript to do this, which exceeds Google’s responsive website scope.

However, some sites do provide content that is quite useful to a mobile visitor, which may differentiate them from their competition enough so that Google ranks them higher. A good example is Sears. Sears utilises dynamic service serving on their mobile site. This gives mobile device users a scanner with which to compare Sears’ prices online with those of their competitors. This gives consumers the capability to easily locate the lowest price and help them locate the lowest prices at Sears.


Designing a responsive site, in and of itself, will not be adequate to ensure it is optimised for SEO purposes. Google prefers responsive designs that are user friendly and they don’t like to send visitors to sites that are not user friendly, do not have the keywords in their content that users are searching for, or that have uninspiring content. After reviewing this article we hope that you have a better concept of how to create a responsive site that does well in the search results.

Begin with these fundamental SEO points that are not adhered to by many responsive sites:

  • Ensure that your site has been indexed. If it has not, making it responsive won’t help its search engine visibility
  • Make sure that spiders are able to crawl your site and that every unique bit of content is indexed. The URLs in responsive sites should be static.
  • Site maps will make it easier to crawl your site. Make use of the right kind of site map for the content you have.
  • Make sure the pages of your site have adequate plain text for the consumption of search engines. Remember search engine crawlers only read text. You can check this with
  • Your URLs should include keywords that are relevant and that are easily remembered and good for human consumption. This will make them more apt to be shared and linked to.
  • Use social bookmarking that is responsive to make sharing your content by mobile users easy.
  • Don’t use content that visitors are unable to access on a mobile device.
  • Do not create all adaptive content. Relevant keywords in your content will help you get search engine traffic.
  • Make sure your responsive site loads quickly. Preferably in under one second. You can make use of PageSpeedInsights from Google
  • To promote apps, make use of smart banners rather than interstitials that are disruptive.
  • Make sure you make use of canonical tags on content that is present on more than one URL to let search engines know which pages should be displayed in the SERPs.
  • Enhance the adaptive content on your responsive site by making use of features like a GPS locator or scanner with server-side software.


Author: Cameron Francis Cameron Francis is the Director of eTraffic Group. He has been engaged in all aspects of online marketing for the past 8 years. He is actively involved in SEO, Paid Search, Social Media Optimisation, and Web Design.
  • Vladimir Mitrevski

    Awesome post, very constructive and helpful.

  • ruth0911

    Thank you for this. Very informative.

  • Rosalie Baybay

    Great post! very informative! from this I can get some information that i didn’t know before.

  • Natasha Blue

    It is really important nowadays to think of SEO when creating a new website. Gaining more traffic through search is a must.

  • Jeremy.b

    Great article. Responsive design in relation to SEO is paramount. Currently Smartphones as of January 2013 are in the top 10 sold electronic devices in the world, roughly over 700 million smartphones were sold. There is NO question users will be utilizing them as the first search tool to see who you are and what you offer.

    More Info on these stats here –

  • Good information about the website designs and yes i am also agree with it that a well designed website effects your web traffic .

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