Google recently released a developer page outlining their stance on mobile SEO. It goes into great detail explaining how to adhere to their three specifications for serving up web pages for mobiles and desktops. The three points are:
Sites that use responsive web design, i.e. sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device. This is Google’s recommended mobile SEO configuration.
Sites that dynamically serve all devices on the same set of URLs, but each URL serves different HTML (and CSS) depending on whether the user-agent is a desktop or a mobile device.
Sites that have separate mobile and desktop URLs.
Put simply; use responsive design, serve up separate html depending on the device, and use different URLs for mobile and desktop. Now I’ve been designing and building websites for quite a few years now and this is how my experience of the web as gone. Before mobile devices blew up, I built sites simply, and provided different css if viewers were using IE. Then mobile started to become a prominent figure in web design so I started using css media queries to serve up changes to css, making the layout of the page react to the size of the browser. So it turns out I’ve been doing the correct thing and adhering to these new specifications.
This is all fine, but it gets a little more complicated when you start thinking about load time and more crucially for mobile, web usage and download size. Obviously I follow common practices to reduce these, crunching images, minifying scripts and so on, but when you build a nice smooth web experience for desktop, such as a page that loads a lot of data dynamically, you run the risk of hitting mobile download hard. So it’s better in these cases to separate the ‘modules’ and give them unique URLs for mobile viewers. So you end up having two URL structures for the same content.
There are many advantages to this, for example you can add functionality that is unique to mobile devices (touch or swipe) to the experience keeping it on the mobile URLs, and maybe keystroke events solely for the desktop URLs. Wow, sounds great right? But what are the effects when it comes to SEO? Surely search engines will see that there are multiple pages that are either identical, or containing near identical content. That’s never good for SEO is it. According to Google, it’s absolutely fine now.
So for me, these announcements will not make any change to the way I code up sites, but it has quashed a few fears that may not have prevented me from doing things, but made me a little uneasy. Bottom line, if you’re a good designer/developer, keep doing the same things that you do now, but now you can explore a couple more things without your clients screaming at you about the SEO effects. Everyone’s a winner.