Mobile Web Enthusiasts Unite! A Peace Offering For Responsive Web Design Advocates
If the enemy of your enemy is your friend, advocates and opponents of responsive web design must band together to oppose the encroachment of mobile apps.
My point was: this is not reality even if it is the prevailing perception. And the perception is as ridiculous as it looks.
Seems harsh, maybe, but I still get comments from people that think I hate responsive web design, such as this one that came through when Search Engine Land launched its responsive redesign last month:
— Jonathan Keller (@JonoKeller) August 12, 2014
This may seem hard to believe to those who have already pigeonholed me as “the m dot guy” or “the guy who hates responsive web design” or “the guy who stands in the way of humanity’s progress on the web,” but I do not hate responsive web design. Let me repeat: I do not hate responsive web design!
Responsive Design Works For Some
In fact, as I mentioned at the show, there are many things that I like about responsive web design. It helps ensure content is accessible on a number of different devices, and it does it in a way that doesn’t require workarounds for Google.
It’s not realistic to have a different subdomain for every device type, and I am happy that responsive web design has caught on as a best practice instead.
For many site owners — particularly publishers, small business and blog owners — responsive web design can be an acceptable solution to the problem many people are having when visitors on mobile devices outnumber those on desktops and laptops.
That being said, I hope that people understand why I’ve spoken out against responsive design in some contexts when everyone else was jumping on the bandwagon.
As I’ve seen so often with new technologies, too many people see the easiest option and think it’s the best. And when Google comes out and says it’s its preference, this gets translated to “Google loves responsive web design.”
The phrase “Google loves responsive” currently has 44,000 listings in Google, but none of these sites, curiously, is Google saying “we love responsive.” And when people hear “Google loves responsive,” they tend to push all of responsive design’s potential shortcomings out the window and focus on that.
This is a shame, as I would hope that my readers would try to find the best solutions for their SEO and mobile marketing issues, rather than default to the easiest. And there are many, many cases when it comes to mobile SEO where the easiest solution is not necessarily the best.
Choose The Best Solution, Even If It’s Not The Easiest
I see a lot of articles that are pro-or anti-responsive web design, but not as many that show the potential upsides or downsides of responsive web design written by someone who has no financial stake one way or the other. I’ve tried to be that objective voice in these columns, as I think that voice is necessary in getting at the reality of responsive web design today.
It’s gratifying to me when I see more people, over time, advocate for extraordinary (rather than adequate) web experiences, as Google Analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik did in his blog this month. Having apparently not read the internal memo that Google loves responsive design, Google employee Kaushik said:
“[In spite of mobile’s dominance among media], if you look at the mobile experiences of the Fortune 1000, you will feel sad. If you look at the mobile marketing strategies, you will see they don’t reflect this shift to mobile. A majority of YouTube consumption is on mobile, yet if there is an advertising or content strategy inside a company for YouTube it rarely accommodates for this reality.
Many reasons. CEOs still don’t get it. CMOs don’t grasp the implication of this shift in consumer behavior. Company UX leaders are happy to stink less by taking the sub-optimal path of responsive design, rather than create a mobile-unique experience (your customers tend to do different things on your desktop site than your mobile site!).”
And I’ve been happy to see the Bright Edge data, which demonstrates that people at Google may love responsive web design, but that preference doesn’t seem to have an effect on the search results, with responsive sites doing no better than mobile URLs or dynamic serving where it matters.
Google’s John Mueller also confirmed that Google gives no special boost to responsive sites in search results.
How I Really Feel
And I’ve been gratified by others who tell me to keep writing the good and bad things about responsive web design. I plan to keep doing this to the extent that it’s interesting to me, but I want to make sure everyone who reads this column understands my stance on responsive web design, which, put simply is this:
You have three good options for creating mobile web experiences that are accessible to Google: responsive web design, dynamic serving and mobile URLs.
Take time to create an amazing, super-fast experience for your site visitors, and use whatever mobile configuration allows you to do that. That experience is not the exclusive domain of any of these mobile site configurations, as it’s possible to build a great site or a crappy site with any of them.
Hopefully all of us can agree on this, regardless of which option you prefer.
Focus On Our Common Web Roots
I’m going to go ahead and offer an apology of sorts to the responsive web design community, so if you have a weak constitution you might want to sit down for a bit.
In countering what I saw as the injustice responsive web enthusiasts were committing against other valid methods of mobile site creation, I may have inadvertently made it more difficult for all of us to win the larger fight against mobile apps.
Mobile apps have their time and place, but companies seem to be investing far less in their web sites in order to focus on the area where mobile users spend most of their time: apps.
Flurry released a report that demonstrated mobile app superiority in terms of time spent earlier this year, which many people saw as the decline of the mobile Web. comScore released similar data last month that shows it’s not getting any better:
As I wrote earlier in Marketing Land, I think these figures are not as threatening to the mobile web as they might appear, as most of that time is spent in Facebook or games, and both of those represent great reach but limited relevance to consumers and limited return for advertisers and marketers. But they’re threatening to the extent that companies see them and elect to build mobile apps instead of working on their mobile web content.
As proponents of mobile web content, responsive enthusiasts, let’s focus instead on creating great web experiences that search engines and users love.
Entrepreneur and author John Battelle thinks what he calls the Quickening is coming, where mobile apps will be interconnected and there will be little difference between web pages and native apps.
Unfortunately this day isn’t here yet, and mobile apps are invisible in search results unless they’re already installed on a Google searcher’s phone or a Google searcher makes it very clear that she is looking for a specific app.
So because of that, among other things I’ve mentioned here and at Search Engine Land several years ago that still apply, I’m going to stop focusing on responsive’s shortcomings and shift the focus here to creating great web experiences, regardless of mobile configuration strategy.
I hope my friends in responsive web design will join me in doing this, so that collectively we can increase the visibility and engagement of that thing we all have in common: the web.