Google Webmaster Help released a new video recently, in response to a user question about responsive design and its effect on search engine optimization:
Does a site leveraging a responsive design “lose” and SEO benefit compared to a more traditional m. [mobile] site?
—John E, New York
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, started by explaining, “Whenever you have a site that can work well for regular browsers on the desktop as well as mobile phones there are a couple of completely valid ways to do it.”
One practice is to make use of what is called responsive design. Responsive design is a relatively new approach to website creation that divides a website into grids, based on the proportion of a screen. A combination of media queries that change CSS style rules, flexible images and this flexible grid format allows the website to change shape and size as needed. When a user visits a website with responsive design, no matter how they access the site, they should be able to view all of the information they need in a format that is optimized for their device.
Web designers and webmasters are also able to specifically direct mobile-device users to a m. or mobile website. With this method, Cutts reminds website owners to include things like the rel=canonical tag when developing a mobile site. According to Cutts, if you forget these things, “You might, in theory, divide the PageRank between those two pages.” Included in the description of the video was a link to Google’s best practices and guidelines for mobile websites, for interested or concerned parties.
After taking into account some of the risks that come with mobile websites, Cutts seems to prefer responsive design, “In general, I wouldn’t worry about a site that is using responsive design losing SEO benefits because, by definition, you’ve got the same URL.” Using the same URL regardless of the device being used to access a website tends to mean fewer drawbacks to search engine optimization; it just comes down whether or not a webmaster or designer has the time and resources to utilize responsive design.