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Going All Responsive Is Not Always “One Size Fits All” With Mobile

Tuesday, July 1, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gabe Salcido
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What if I told you that you could recover upwards of 200 percent in lost smartphone traffic by ensuring your site’s mobile experience was implemented well? Would you make your mobile configuration a top priority?

New research coming from BrightEdge shows that brands with misconfigured mobile solutions are missing out on a big opportunity.


We know that Google is putting mobile front and center with features and solutions that cater to what’s happening in real time. Increasingly, your customers are accessing your site via a mobile device.

Run a quick report in your Google Analytics; how many of your visitors are coming from mobile devices? How has that changed year-over-year?

2014 BrightEdge data featured in our Mobile Share Report shows that 27 percent of the websites studied wrongly implemented their mobile solutions, which yielded an average of 68 percent loss in smartphone traffic.

If these sites could recover the full potential of traffic coming from smartphone users, that would equal more than a 200-percent gain from that they are experiencing today.

So what gives? Why are sites losing in mobile? Two things are occurring:

  1. The complexity of mobile configurations results in incorrectly implemented mobile solutions that could create a poor experience for mobile users.

  2. Google wants to serve mobile search results with sites that are creating the best mobile experience, and will rank as such.

As many know, click-through rates are highly sensitive to rank, which can result in direct traffic loss.

BrightEdge Mobile Share Report

Image source – BrightEdge Mobile Share Report

Add to that the fact that mobile search results are rapidly distinguishing themselves from desktop search results, and the potential for more or less mobile traffic (depending on the quality of the mobile experience) is huge.

In fact, BrightEdge research found 62 percent of organic searches show different results depending on whether the search was performed on a desktop or smartphone.

The propensity for different mobile configurations to have more complex implementation rules is one of the reasons Google recommends responsive design as the best mobile solution: it’s less complicated to do well.

However, increasingly, we are finding that brands are using more than one solution for their site, as they feel one mobile configuration is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

All Smartphone Rankings Are Created Equal

When brands started going mobile a few years back, it was still unclear what the best approach was: separate mobile URLs, dynamic serving or responsive. After all, Google says it supports all three configurations.

As a refresher, here is a brief explanation of the types of configurations available and supported:

  • Responsive Web Design: This is when a website serves the same URL and same HTML (aka content) to all devices, using CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device.

  • Dynamic Serving: This is when websites serve the same set of URLs to all devices, but the HTML and CSS change depending on the device (in other words, the content is different, the URL is the same).

  • Separate Mobile Sites: This is when a website has a separate mobile experience from its desktop version, and the URLs are different. This can be applied to an entire site or specific pages within a site.

In 2012, Google gave its official recommendation: responsive web design was its pick for a mobile solution. So, does that mean Google favors sites that have implemented responsive design over other types of mobile configurations?

The answer is “no” — at least, that’s what we’re seeing in this latest data. We analyzed billions of keywords through BrightEdge’s Data Cube and found that for a given keyword, a website’s rank for smartphone users varies only slightly based on the type of mobile configuration a website has implemented.

Mobile configuration BrightEdge

That’s good news for mobile websites.

However, Not All Mobile Configurations Are Created Equal

While smartphone rankings vary only slightly depending on the type of configuration implemented, when it comes to the complexity of implementation and the tendency for errors, not all mobile configurations are created equal.

As stated earlier, responsive tends to have fewer complications that would lead to a poor user experience on a mobile device. One of the only things to watch for with responsive web design is the load time of unnecessary assets. That’s why many pursue conditional loading when implementing responsive design.

When it comes to the type of mobile configuration with the most complications, separate mobile URLs tended to have the highest error rate at 72 percent:

BrightEdge found the most common errors amongst separate mobile URLs tend to be:

  • No Alternate Tag: 61 percent

  • No HTTP Vary Header: 41 percent

  • Wrong Canonical Tag: 35 percent

  • No Canonical Tag: 35 percent

  • Wrong Alternate Tag: 2 percent

  • Disallow Robots: 16 percent

  • Faulty Redirects to Home Page: 12 percent

Many of these are addressed in Google’s help documentation, where developers can go to get more information on how to remedy these types of errors.

With dynamic serving, the most common error (at 82 percent) was with the HTTP Vary header, and not indicating the content should be different for each “user-agent” (for example, smartphone users).

This error could result in what’s reminiscent of Black Hat cloaking techniques, and webmasters should ensure their sites are not associated with that tactic.

One Mobile Configuration: One Size Fits All?

Sites that have already taken a mobile approach are ahead of the game. Sites that have implemented it well are winning. And, sites that are exploring a hybrid approach are innovating at the mobile level.

Some brands have decided to implement more than one configuration to further personalize the mobile experience for visitors. For example, a site may choose to use responsive design overall, but selectively choose dynamic serving for a site’s most critical landing pages.

These types of choices could be the next big move in mobile. But brands need to continue to be cautious with implementation in this next wave of mobile innovation; deploying one configuration can be complicated enough, and layering different approaches has the potential to compound errors.

We all want a clean bill of health when it comes to the mobile experience for our users. Going with Google’s recommendation of responsive design could be the safest route, but it doesn’t always create the brand experience you might be looking for.

Trying different mobile solutions on for size can be costly, but if you know what to watch for, you can ultimately come out on top.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.


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