All the SEO advantages in the correct use of responsive design

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It is the design model recommended by Google, but above all it is the one that can help improve the user experience and avoid some of the common pitfalls of the design of navigation: let’s talk about responsive design, or the creation of a site that can adapt dynamically to the device from which it is displayed, also generating a number of benefits for SEO and ranking.

What is the responsive design

Responsive design is a web design technique that involves the creation of websites and Web applications which layout automatically adapts to the screen size of the device used by the user, so as to ensure that navigation and reading are optimal, without the need to resize or scroll content.

More precisely, responsiveness means responsiveness and identifies an approach to web design in which the interface graphically adapts to the layout and capabilities of the specific device with which the user is browsing, facilitating usability, navigation, and information retrieval. In practice, the site is able to transform its template and functions according to the size of the display, so that the user does not have to intervene to adjust and scroll content (or limiting these operations).

Responsiveness is provided by media queries, which allow the design to automatically arrange itself according to the browser space, ensuring consistency of content across devices and design elements that are sized in relative units (i.e., percentages); thus, for example, on a phone users will see content in a single-column display, but on a tablet the same content might have a two-column display.

Responsive design offers significant benefits to site owners, is now a default setting in web design to support switching between devices, and is also the option recommended by Google, which calls responsive web design “the easiest design model to implement and manage.”

Having a responsive website goes beyond simply adjusting the size based on device type, because it actually also means reformatting the back-end to allow it to load faster than sites that are simply optimized for mobile devices.

A smartphone has a screen size that is on average one-tenth that of a laptop, perhaps even one-twentieth that of a desktop computer, and often the hardware inside is also a fraction of computers-a responsive site takes this into account and, for example, simplifies the loading of pages required by mobile browsing.

It is clear, then, that it is an important element for the general user experience – regardless of the type of device used, which can be computers with different resolutions, tablets, smartphones, mobile phones, web tv etc – but above all to respect the criteria of accessibility, which we can also take into account many other factors, to suitably respond to the needs arising from the characteristics of the user (such as, among others, cognitive abilities, sight or physical difficulties).

Why responsive design is important

In practice, then, responsive web designers are able to ensure a fruition of the site that adapts to the different ways in which users access and interact with its pages, regardless of the device and the size of screens and windows.

Web fruition can occur from a multitude of devices and screens of different sizes on phones, “phablets,” tablets, desktops, game consoles, TVs, and even smartwatches and wearable devices: it is crucial to set up your site layout to ensure maximum fruition regardless of screen type and size, today or in the future. In addition, different devices have different interaction characteristics: For example, some of your visitors will use a touchscreen. Modern responsive design considers all of these things to optimize the experience for everyone.

Implementing a responsive design is also a crucial first step to have a mobile friendly site, an increasingly important aspect nowadays: for some time now, web traffic from mobile devices has exceeded that from desktop, and therefore it is no longer thinkable to offer the audience of users who use the smartphone mainly a page and a site designed for a display on the larger screens of old desktop computers, which would inevitably be difficult to load, to use and read, leading to frustration and bad experience.

Nor is it possible to follow the road of adaptive design, which provides several completely different versions of the same page depending on the device from which the request comes: today the devices are increasingly numerous and different, and this obviously entails an increase in optimization workloads.

Given the volume of traffic – even for search engines mobile users represent the first source of traffic and queries – we can not just design for a single device, but it is more useful to take advantage of the benefits of responsive design and create a responsive site, structurally and visually.

There are many statistics that show (and prove) that responsiveness produces a better user experience, but perhaps the most interesting data is still the one revealed by Google almost a decade ago: 61% of users expect to never return to a non-mobile friendly website and without responsive layout, and today the percentage would probably be even higher (to the advantage of direct competitors, ready to welcome these “unexpected” visitors).

The differences between responsive and mobile-friendly site

Due to its characteristics, responsive web design involves the use of the same URL and code for the page, and therefore the webmaster can manage only one version of the site instead of two (as happens with mobile versions on separate URLs). A possible alternative, but less effective, is adaptive web design: in this case, a script on the web server allows it to recognize the device used by the user and therefore transforms the site into the “best version,” eliminating images or text to speed up loading time. In practice, an adaptive site has multiple templates to provide a different response to each device, but this means that it cannot predict technological changes (as in the transition from smartphones with small displays to today’s smartphones, with the middle phase of the notch that has been trending for some years, for example).

This is also why, according to many experts, setting up a responsive site means going one step beyond just mobile-friendly: mobile-optimized means “seeing” the same information from desktop and mobile device, while mobile-responsive means “experiencing” the same information from desktop or mobile device.

This is because mobile-responsive Web sites are pages that have been reformatted to mimic what occurs on the desktop: instead of shrinking everything, clickable elements and images are resized and reformatted, so that the user experience is also safeguarded when switching between portrait and landscape views.

Techniques for setting up a responsive site

From a technical standpoint, responsive design is based on a graphic layout model that uses smoothly proportioned grids and flexible structure (including menu structure) and images. More specifically, a responsive site must follow three basic principles, as well highlighted by this Interaction Design Foundation article:

  • Fluid grid system

Grid systems are aids that designers use to build, design, organize information, and create consistent user experiences: in interaction design, multi-column, hierarchical, and modular are the most commonly used types of grids.

The principle of a grid is simple: each element occupies the same percentage of space, no matter how large or small the screen becomes, which means that components can be scaled up or down as the user changes devices, and then content fills the available space depending on the size of the device.

  • Fluid images

In responsive design, fluid images are those that scale to fit their container: when the browser reaches a breakpoint, the image scales to the current window size. For non-photographic images, such as icons, we suggest using an SVG files, a lightweight format that can resize to any resolution without losing quality.

  • Media queries and breakpoints

Media queries are filters that detect the size of the navigation device and make the appropriate design appear regardless of screen size. To help media queries, we need to set breakpoints, which are values at which the website content will be rearranged to provide the best possible user experience.

Media queries and breakpoints go hand in hand and both can be defined in CSS style sheets: for designers, a breakpoint is a boundary where the design will change to adapt functionality to the new dimensions. Usually, designers use three dimensions when designing responsive Web sites: 1024 and above, 1023-768, and 767-320 pixels.

One concrete effect is the rearrangement of column placement according to the available screen space: for example, we may decide to display one column content on the smartphone, two on the tablet, and three on the desktop.

Media queries work best with a “mobile first” approach, i.e., by prioritizing what we want to show on mobile devices and then scaling up from there, testing the content to see where the breakpoints occur and planning for them.

Responsive web design, 7 advantages for sites

This information should be enough to push us to prioritize the user’s web experience and opt for a more responsive design on our sites, and as Alex Valencia suggests there are at least 7 other SEO benefits that come from adopting Responsive Web Design.

These tips apply to the vast majority of sites, and in particular should be a must if our business model involves gaining audience through the site or blog, heavily uses images, has an e-commerce platform to sell products and services, or integrates scheduling softwares such as delivery apps or calendar bookings.

  1. User experience

Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” as we have said several times, and more precisely this philosophy is concretized in showing users the content they are most interested in and intercepting their intent, thus making them satisfied.

A responsive web design is essential to create a positive experience for users, who can more easily become subscribers, leads and paying customers; moreover, especially after the departure of the Page Experience, create a user-centric experience and work on the technical performance of pages regardless of device can also have positive effects on search results ranking.

  1. Page speed

More precisely, in terms of performance a responsive and mobile-friendly site typically loads faster on mobile devices and even on desktop, with positive effects on traffic and conversions.

Improving the speed of the page is, as we know, another factor that greatly affects the SEO and therefore the positioning in the search: A site with low loading speed of your website can destroy a user’s experience and push them to choose to complete their journey on a competitor’s pages.

In addition, as stated in the Google guide, the responsive design “does not require any redirection to offer users an optimized view according to the device in use and thus reduces the loading time”. At the same time, it reduces the risks associated with user-agent-based redirection, which is prone to errors and can worsen the user experience with the site.

  1. Usability

The responsive design makes the sites more accessible, faster and easier to navigate: it therefore facilitates the task of users, who find the information they are looking for before and more immediately, and generally encourages them to stay longer on the site. In addition, ensuring good usability may encourage users to return to the site in the future.

The time spent on the page can be an important indication that the content matches what the user is looking for and that this person has had a positive impact with the site: a user dissatisfied with the content or experience provided by the navigation and layout, in fact, remains less likely on the page. Not least, it not only increases the time spent on pages, but also the likelihood that the user will convert and turn into paying customers or subscribers.

From the perspective of conversion rates, smoothly guiding a customer through the sales funnel can improve his or her experience and remove possible obstacles involved in transitions between stages caused by poor mobile design or usability and navigation issues.

  1. Bounce rate

As a direct positive consequence of retaining more users we have the reduction of the bounce rate, an expression that refers to the speed at which users visit and then immediately leave a page.

This metric can be an indication that a site satisfies (or not) the user’s search, and when the value is high it can indicate that the site did not load quickly or did not provide the positive experience that users were looking for.

The bounce rate depends not only on the content, which can be fantastic, but if not supported by a web design that makes it easy to navigate the site the risk is that users leave the page and look for information elsewhere. Rather intuitively, if a user from a smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device is forced to wait ten seconds for a page to load, they will quickly exit the tab, causing a bounce from the Web site, turning moreover to a competing Web site – thus adding insult to injury.

  1. Google mobile-first indexing

For years, Google has been moving towards a “mobile-first” approach to its Index and since 2019, mobile first indexing has been enabled by default for all new website content discovered by Googlebot.

In general, however, the search engine tends to provide users with valuable and accessible content, and therefore can prefer sites optimized for mobile devices that have adopted a responsive Web design, so as to satisfy the needs of the increasing number of users who search from mobile devices and who therefore want to visit appropriate, responsive and user-friendly pages.

Still in Google’s perspective, implementing responsive web design pages saves resources when Googlebot scans the site – in practice, saves you crawl budget: Recovering all versions of content requires only one scan of a single Googlebot user-agent, instead of multiple scans by different Googlebot user-agents. Indirectly, it always explains the documentation of Mountain View, thanks to this increased scanning efficiency Google is able to index a greater number of site contents and keep them duly updated.

  1. Duplicate content

As a positive side effect of the priority work on site responsiveness there is also the attention to content and UX in general, which can lead to avoid falling into the frequent error of duplicate content.

One of the causes of this problem, in fact, is the presence of separate versions of desktop and mobile pages created accidentally: URLs are physically different, but they point to the same identical content, and this can confuse Google in deciding which content to prioritize.

Following the best practices of responsive web design instead we can create a single responsive version of the pages, served immediately and uniquely for devices , and then prevent the duplication of URLs on two versions of the site.

  1. Social sharings

A responsive website allows users to easily interact with the pages, fully enjoy the content and then share it more likely on social media, thus increasing the sources of traffic and the online audience and, potentially, strengthening the visibility of the brand and the site.

Many responsive web designers create sites already thinking about social sharing features to allow users to easily share content far and wide: with buttons easy to use and clearly visible on each device, A mobile-ready site encourages users to share content and pushes them to a much wider audience.

The benefits of responsive design

It is clear, ultimately, that establishing a mobile-friendly strategy as the basis of design or a redesign of the site can be a lever for success.

A responsive design puts users first, allows them to easily interact with the site and immediately signals to Google that the pages are suitable to be displayed on any device, thanks to an easily accessible and well-reasoned structure.

It is about going beyond the principles of mobile-readiness and evaluating the possibility of implementing responsive and intuitive design, setting up a solid structure that can help the site achieve the SEO success we want.

As described, the potential benefits of this approach include:

  • Increased traffic, with the ability to reach a wider audience, given the predominant share of people accessing the Web from mobile.
  • Saving time and development efforts, as designers and developers can focus and work on only one version of the project.
  • Brand enhancement, ensuring brand and design consistency across all devices.
  • SEO optimization, as search engines prefer mobile-friendly sites.

This stems from the very characteristics of responsive design, which is robust and cost-effective, although we should not be fooled by its easy nature, as there are some difficulties and problems we can run into if we use it carelessly. For example, it may limit our control over the screen size of the design, and on-page elements may move independently if we do not set media queries correctly in advance, or critical issues may arise with ad formats, particularly on mobile devices.

Nevertheless, responsive design remains a crucial resource for having a good UX since, by default, it requires uniformity, continuity, and simplicity in design efforts. In addition, it is SEO-friendly and multiple CMSs and frameworks, such as WordPress and Bootstrap, make it very economical to implement.

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