Google often offers advice to web designers and developers so that they can optimize their websites for the search engine's algorithms and for SEO purposes. Recently, Google finally took a stance on a hot topic: Responsive Web Design(RWD).
But what is Responsive Web Design? Wikipedia defines it as "an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites 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 mobile phones)." The main advantage of RWD is that it allows for one URL and single content source. An RWD website can serve any device or screen size, so you do not need to design separate websites for mobile, tablet, and desktop devices.
Why Google Wants What Google Wants
Now that you know why RWD is important, I'll go into more detail about why RWD is important to Google. Google recommends that "webmasters follow the industry best practice of using web design, namely serving the same HTML for all devices, using media queries to decide rendering on each device."
To put this into more basic language, Google recommends the use of media queries, which form part of the backbone of RWD. Media queries allow websites to adapt to any screen size. So, a basic translation of this quotation is that Google believes it to be a best practice to use RWD.
Three Different Mobile Designs
Although Google explicitly notes that RWD is its preferred design option, it also notes that there are two other approaches to mobile design, including using separate URLS as well as a dynamic serving website.
A dynamic serving website "uses the same URL regardless of device, but generates a different version of HTML for different device types based on what the server knows about the user's browser."
Separate URL configuration refers to designing two completely separate websites-one for desktop and one for mobile. In a separate URL configuration, the system (ideally) automatically detects which device the user is using and then redirects him or her to the either the desktop version or mobile version.
Although RWD, dynamic serving websites, and separate URLs represent three potential approaches to mobile design, RWD is the most pain free. Admittedly, RWD requires a lot of up-front planning and costs can run higher initially, but after the design strategy is set, maintenance is usually far less resource intensive compared to having separate URLS or a dynamic serving URL. With RWD, you have a single URL for ALL content, providing a streamlined user experience, flexible orientation, and no redirects.
Dynamic serving websites are slightly faster loading and still have a single URL, but you still have to maintain multiple custom pages and multiple sets of the same content. With RWD, you only need to be concerned about one page and one set of content, which makes things more efficient and simpler for you.
Aside from the three mobile design options listed above, the last option that Google lists is creating an entirely separate mobile website, where the system detects mobile visitors and redirects them to a discrete, mobile-optimized website. Only mobile users will see this site; tablet users will still see the original desktop site.
According to Google, the principal upside of opting for a separate mobile/desktop website configuration is that it allows you to create a custom user experience and make easy changes. The downside is that you have to carefully manage multiple URLs, redirects, and other integrations between your mobile and non-mobile websites. In addition, similar to the cons of a dynamic serving URL, keeping two sets of content on two different web pages can make data management complex and difficult.
RWD is King
Ultimately, you can choose to optimize for mobile using any of the three design styles described in this blog; however, if your aim is to minimize hassle, extra work, and frustration, then RWD is probably the right choice for you. While the start-up costs of a RWD website can sometimes run higher than the creation of a dynamic serving URL or a separate mobile website, RWD often proves far less work and trouble in the long run.
So if you're looking to streamline your administrative process and optimize seamlessly across all devices, then RWD is your best bet.