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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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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