Responsive Web Design and Search Engine Optimization: All the cool search engines are doing it.

If Google jumped off a bridge, would you jump too? The answer, in terms of search engine optimization, is yes. For those of you unfamiliar with the dark arts of search engine optimization, or SEO for short, it is the process in which a website is systematically tuned to most efficiently match the criteria that the algorithms Google, Bing, and other search engines use to determine the relevance of your website to keywords in user searches. This is how search engines determine the display rank for websites based on each search query; and they have endorsed Responsive Web Design as the best way to make sure your website is king of the keywords.

I’ll start with a little background, since this is such a hot, albeit confusing, topic. Originally, these algorithms were not intended to be catered to. However, enterprising individuals discovered the potential that search engine optimization held, and began to wield this power for great evil. The world of SEO fell into darkness…until recently. Thankfully for those of us who hate our results being populated by irrelevant advertisement websites, Google and other search engines have begun taking a very active role in cleaning up their results. They are carefully monitoring SEO practices to make sure only the most relevant and useful information is displayed.

seo diagram

Search engine tree

All the cheap tricks, (link farming, keyword spamming, cloaking, etc.) that were being used to circumvent the original purpose of the search engine (locating useful and relevant content), have been debunked. The websites who succumbed to the cheap thrills of the dark side of SEO have lost their ill-gotten ranking, and all the capital their marketing team had invested in it.

These changes have ushered in the dawn of the Golden Age for legitimate search engine optimization. Google and Bing have begun defining best practices and distributing recommendations and guidelines to help aid us in our goals to develop proper SEO while building the best websites in the world; and it all begins with the foundation. This is where Responsive Web Design comes in.

In recent articles, Google and Bing have tapped Responsive Web Design as their preferred method for building a website that will be visited by any source of mobile traffic; which is any website that exists in today’s world. Google has chosen Responsive Web Design for many reasons, but a few major ones include:

  • A single URL is easier for users to interact with, share, and link to
  • Single URLs are much easier for search engine algorithms to process
  • A singular source of HTML makes crawling the website much easier, and avoids the need to reconcile findings from different bots searching multiple HTML sources
  • Content is contained in one source, enhancing keyword saturation without filler, and allowing search engines to index the content more efficiently and accurately

But what does it all mean?! Basically, the easier it is for search engines to read, analyze, and index the content on your website, the more precisely and confidently they can display that website with a high ranking when a consumer searches their engine using a related keyword.

Non responsive websites force search engines to try and reconcile content from multiple sources, and across a host of redirects, which clogs the algorithm. It’s similar to when those amazing customer service centers transfer you around for 45 minutes trying to find the “right person” to handle your problem. You don’t like it, and apparently algorithms don’t either.

All in all, SEO will still remain a moving target, and not everyone will follow the new rules, but any organization who wants to protect their web investments should do their homework when developing their SEO strategies. The major search engines have laid out their preferences for building effective long-term search optimization, and it begins with flawlessly executed Responsive Web Design.

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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It’s Official: US Government Endorses Responsive Web Design

Still on the fence about RWD? The Federal Government isn’t.

Digital_Gov-229x300In a report entitled DIGITAL GOVERNMENT: BUILDING A 21ST CENTURY PLATFORM TO BETTER SERVE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, the government officially endorsed the use of responsive web design as a better approach in providing greater accessibility to government information and resources.

Here are a few some excerpts:

Mission drives agencies, and the need to deliver better services to customers at a lower cost—whether an agency is supporting the warfighter overseas, a teacher seeking classroom resources or a family figuring out how to pay for college—is pushing every level of government to look for new solutions. 

Early mobile adopters in government—like the early web adopters—are beginning to experiment in pursuit of innovation. 

Customer-centric government means that agencies respond to customers’ needs and make it easy to find and share information and accomplish important tasks.

Using modern tools and technologies such as responsive web design and search engine optimization is critical if the government is to adapt to an ever-changing digital landscape and deliver services to any device, anytime, anywhere. Similarly, optimizing content for modern platforms, rather than just translating content from paper-based documents to the Web, will help ensure the American people and employees can access content regardless of platform. Agencies will need to keep current with the latest design concepts and refresh content delivery mechanisms to ensure the highest performance.

These imperatives are not new, but many of the solutions are. We can use modern tools and technologies to seize the digital opportunity and fundamentally change how the Federal Government serves both its internal and external customers— building a 21st century platform to better serve the American People.

So, why is the Federal Government, which typically lags behind the private sector when it comes to technology and innovation, embracing RWD? The answer is obvious if not paradoxical: RWD provides a mechanism that allows the government greater accessibility to its citizens, not merely the other way around. I will leave it to the pundits to dissect this statement, but there is no denying that RWD creates brand new communication channels that go both ways.

There are other factors that have contributed to this early adoption. Consider the government’s own stats:

  • Mobile broadband subscriptions are expected to grow from nearly 1 billion in 2011 to over 5 billion globally in 2016.
  • By 2015, more Americans will access the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs.
  • As of March 2012, 46% of American adults were smartphone owners – up from 35% in May 2011.
  • In 2011, global smartphone shipments exceeded personal computer shipments for the first time in history.

For me, the issue boils down to one word: accessibility. As we have worked with several Federal agencies over the years, including NASA, DoD, US Courts, EPA and the NCI, I have learned that accessibility is matter of constitutional rights. All citizens are entitled to free and open access to government documents and resources, and to deny even one of us that right is to discriminate against all of us. Hence the reason for 501 C3 compliance.

Not everyone owns a computer. I was in my early 20′s before I had one that I could call my very own. Websites have historically been designed for computers – traditional desktops and laptops – and this has long created the great digital divide that has existed between the haves and the have-nots. Enter smartphones. For many, the smartphone represented their first true web experience. Not everyone can own a computer, but just about all of us can afford a phone. And smartphones can display websites.

The end of the digital divide? Not quite.

One of the big problems with smartphone web browsing is the formatting and display of content. Navigating through them is a mess. As websites are still generally designed for desktops and their larger screens, the experience on a smartphone can be less than optimal. We can all relate to the frustrations – resizing, pinching, and panning in a sometimes futile attempt to find what we were looking for. Just imagine how this frustration gets compounded on a government website – typically not best-of-breed in the first place. The EPA website, for example, has in excess of 500,000 static web pages. Dozens of content contributors have worked for over a decade to add page after page in what became a complete discombobulation. Want to learn how environmental chemistry methods for soil and water are used to determine the fate of pesticides in the environment?

Good luck.

Responsive web design creates websites with fluid proportion-based grids, to adapt the layout and images to the viewing environment. As a result, users across a broad range of devices and browsers will have access to a single source of content, laid out so as to be easy to read and navigate with a minimum of resizing, panning and scrolling. For the private sector, a poor mobile experience can lead to loss of business. For the public sector, it can lead to a discrimination lawsuit as the case can be argued that the government did not take the necessary steps to ensure accessibility for everyone. For this reason alone, it is only a matter a time before all government websites – Federal, State and Local – employ responsive web design. I will take this one step further and boldly predict that the RWD adoption rate for government will either equal or surpass that of the private sector.

That’s not something you hear every day. Is it?

Uncle_Sam

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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Responsive Web Design and Progressive Enhancement: The Right Approach

Progressive enhancement is a strategy for responsive web design that emphasizes accessibility relational to the user’s device. The aim is to allow everyone access to basic content and functionality of a website, starting with the smallest of devices (eg, your smartphone) and then gradually enhancing the experience as you move up to larger devices that have more advanced browser software, greater bandwidth and more powerful processing.

With progressive enhancement a basic markup document is created that is geared towards the lowest common denominator of browsers and features. Once this has been completed a developer can then introduce new functionality to the web page, using modern web technologies such as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) or JavaScript. Only devices and browsers that support the advanced functionality will display them. The strategy is an attempt to subvert the traditional web design approach known as “graceful degradation”, wherein designers would create websites for the latest browser technologies, then remove features so that the site would function on older browsers and less capable devices. The core principle of progressive enhancement is that basic content and functionality should be accessible to all web browsers. Web pages created using progressive enhancement are by their very nature more accessible, because the strategy demands that basic content always be available, not obstructed by commonly unsupported or easily disabled scripting. Progressive enhancement focuses on the content, not the browser.

progressive enhancement

progressive enhancement and graceful degradation

From a philosophical perspective, progressive enhancement is vastly superior to graceful degradation. As opposed to punishing us for using less capable devices and older browsers the strategy rewards us as we progress through each platform. Progressive enhancement comes from a happy place. It’s a Zen thing.

Developing responsive websites with progressive enhancement should be a best practices standard for web design agencies. Sadly, most of them still cling to the old graceful degradation legacy approach, because that is what they know. If you own or manage a website in 2013 you should be very concerned with content availability, overall accessibility and mobile browser compatibility. I strongly recommend that you take the time to learn more about progressive enhancement and responsive web design as they relate to your overall web strategy.

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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Don’t Be a Luddite! Embrace Responsive Web Design.

In 1779, legend holds that a youth by the name of Ed Ludd broke two stocking frames – mechanical knitting machines used in the textiles industry – in a fit of rage. Stocking frames represented the first major stage in the mechanization of the textile industry, and played an important part in the early history of the Industrial Revolution. To Ed Ludd and others of like mind, these machines forewarned of a dangerous new world in which machines would replace English textile artisans through less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work.

Thus, the Luddite movement was born.

Dont be a luddite

Dont be a luddite

For years, the Luddite philosophy endured as the emergence of technology created a sense of fear and helplessness that coincided with the rise in difficult working conditions in modern factories. In modern usage, “Luddite” is a term describing those opposed to industrialization, automation, computerization or new technologies in general. Neo-Luddism is a viewpoint opposing many forms of modern technology; an inherent – perhaps misguided – belief that technology has a negative impact on individuals and communities. This dictates that humanity was better off before the advent of specific new technologies, labeling these technologies dangerous. These technologies are seen as so foreboding that it challenges faith in all technological progress. Because of this, Neo-Luddites are apprehensive about the ability of any new technology to solve current problems without creating more, potentially more dangerous, problems.

Technology Infiltration

During this era of technological proliferation across all facets of society and into our personal and professional lives, the luddite philosophy has manifested itself into a kind of sub-conscious, heuristic rejection of anything new. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – so they say. Although much of the trepidation with new technology can be attributed to the headaches and annoyance of actually having to use our minds to learn something, the intuitiveness and innovation in handling these emerging technologies makes this argument obsolete. Take the iPad Mini, for example. It is a device of supreme simplicity. Take it out of its box, hit the power button, and you are up and running. Anyone can learn how to use it in a matter of seconds. Period. No exceptions. We love our iPad Mini’s because they fundamentally destroy the Luddite living within all of us. Intuitiveness trumps primal fear.

imgres

Slaying the Luddite

This brings me to the point of this posting. Anyone can embrace and learn emerging technologies, but you must consciously confront your internal Luddite.

In 2013, Responsive Web Design will emerge as the new standard in web architecture, and DeepBlue will be at the forefront as a thought leader in this new approach. As I have proclaimed on several occasions, Responsive Web Design represents an elegant solution to a complex problem. The approach allows developers to create a website from a single-data source and adjust its layout accordingly to provide an optimal viewing experience – easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling – across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to tablets to mobile phones). RWD satisfies the user experience demands of today’s multi-platform consumer. Is RWD perfect? No, and I have written previously on the subject of RWD pros and cons (see Responsive Web Design and the Acceptability Threshold: What You Should Know). However, it is our fundamental belief that Responsive Web Design is the right approach for all organizations, large and small.

responsive devices

Embracing Emerging Technologies

Although most of the folks I have spoken to regarding RWD are truly excited about the new approach, I have taken notice that a few remain hesitant. You see, Responsive Web Design represents a SIGNIFICANT departure from the “traditional” way of designing websites. It is a total reinvention of the web user experience and it is only a matter of time of WHEN – not IF – all websites of integrity and reputation go responsive. Companies, particularly the larger ones, tend to err on the side of caution and can be more reactionary than proactive when embracing new technologies. The Luddite prevails. They prefer to sit back and watch as the thought leaders seize the opportunity and establish best-practices. Then, they will play perpetual catch-up as market shares drop and they finally understand and embrace the benefits of emerging technologies and their impact. They allow the Luddite to cage the beast of Innovation until it finally devours its keeper. For any of you out there – CEO’s, Marketing Directors, IT Directors, etc. – who allow themselves to feel the trepidation of the Luddite and decide to sit this one out in 2013, allow me to share with you a small sampling of industry leaders that have already embraced Responsive Web Design:

There is a reason why these icons represent some of the most recognizable and loved brands in the world. They are thought leaders and innovators (although the case can certainly be made against Microsoft on this assertion  ) and they are not afraid to challenge conformity and set new standards. These organizations made the conscious decision to put their Luddite in its place and embrace emerging technologies, particularly Responsive Web Design.

As we head today into a new year full of questions and uncertainty, I challenge anyone out their hearing my words to heed my advice…

DON’T BE A LUDDITE!

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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