SEO for responsive websites

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 by Richard Howe

Responsive websites are great. They allow you to tailor your content and your design to a range of users, regardless of device type, in a variety of situations and locations. They can look beautiful and function perfectly. But that still doesn’t necessarily make them SEO-friendly.

So to help you make sure that all your hard work in responsive design is paying off, here are some areas you will need to consider to make sure that your website is ticking all the right SEO boxes for Google and other search engines.

Indexing

Put simply, a website needs to be in a search engine’s index in order for someone to find it when they search. Sounds obvious. But sometimes, unintentional errors can result in an otherwise wonderful responsive and interactive site not being fully indexed. One example, often a problem for mobile in particular, is when URLs do not change when a user clicks on a particular element or moves to a different page. This means that when somebody searches for text on that page, it won’t appear as a search item and its chance of being found is significantly reduced. Ideally, you should use a single, static URL with easily-readable characters.

Crawling

Every piece of information on your site must be followable by Google and other search engines. Running a website crawler is a way in which you can check this (examples include Xenu, Screaming Frog or SEO Crawler) and is recommended so that you can see exactly what is crawlable and what is not. You will also need to verify your website with Google and Bing and submit accurate and up-to-date site maps.

Search engine spiders have a limited crawl budget per website, and this amount is based upon the website’s PageRank. This means that if you have several URLs, you might be inadvertently hindering Google from assigning page authority and crawling efficiently.

Text

As with any website, whether responsive or not, using high-quality, keyword-rich content is a central part of search engine optimisation. It’s not about how many keywords you can cram in, but about making your content interesting and relevant to your target audience, which will in turn generate more visitors, more shares, more links and more attention from Google. Don’t forget to make sure that your title tags and meta data correspond with your content too.

Beyond text

Google Search does have its limitations, perhaps the main one being its inability to read anything other than text. So if you have important text as an image, or a central video, rather than as actual words, the crawler will not recognise it and your SEO will be affected. Whilst you can get around this to some extent by using the ‘alt’ attribute, it is better still to use web fonts to incorporate as much real text as you can.

Using a tool such as SEO-Browser enables you to see what your website looks like through the eyes of a search engine. Check whether there’s enough relevant text with terms that people are likely to search for, and try to avoid using images as text, particularly for headings and subheadings.

Memorable URLs

Lengthy and complicated URLs are difficult for both search engines to understand and difficult for visitors to use, remember and share. This aspect of sharing is particularly critical since Google now includes interaction, referral and participation in its algorithm. Shorter URLs have also been shown to get more click-throughs than their longer counterparts and also are given less credit by Google. So make your URLs as simple and obvious as possible, and make it easy for people to share your pages, through social media and bookmarklets.

Accessibility

By making sure your videos and games are viewable and playable on all devices is important not only to avoid visitor frustration, but also in terms of SEO. Google has made clear its intentions to penalise websites for videos that won’t play, so getting ahead of the game now with this makes sense. Remove or replace any Flash-based content and use HTML5 standard tags to make video accessible to as many devices as possible.

Loading speed

There are, unfortunately, many responsive websites that are simply too slow. Again, this is something that Google have expressed their intention to penalise, but luckily, there are plenty of resources to improve your website speed. One of these is the Google PageSpeed Insights tool, which will help your website to load in the Google optimum load time of under one second. To find out just how fast (or slow) your site is on mobile devices, try using the Mobitest tool too.

To summarise, making a website responsive will not automatically make it more visible. By using static and easy-to-read URLs, uploading accurate site maps, and ensuring that your content is optimised for common search terms, you will be well on your way to making sure that people can easily find your beautiful responsive web design and moving up those Google rankings.

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