Let’s clear this up, once and for all.
Misconceptions about device-optimized web design continue to run rampant within the automotive industry. Which web design is best: responsive (RWD), adaptive (AWD), a combination of the two? It’s an ongoing debate, one where mere mention of it ruffles feathers and injects divisiveness among scrum teams and executives alike. Hopefully the straight facts in this article will help leave the subject in the junkyard, once and for all.
Why Is RWD Such a Common Topic of Debate?
A single sentence originally published in 2014 on Google’s web developer blog, in which the search engine generally recommends that all web builders use 100 percent responsive design, is the main cause of the ongoing confusion. Specifically, the implication that failing to use 100 percent responsive platforms will result in lesser search engine visibility. Automotive digital marketing providers who themselves build 100 percent responsive sites for car dealers point to this nearly four-year-old statement constantly in an attempt to win accounts from those who aren’t offering solutions which are 100 percent RWD. While “business is business”, these claims are simply inaccurate and it’s important for dealers to know all of the facts before making a decision as critical as switching providers.
Fortunately, there are irrefutable facts which easily debunk the many myths about Google’s position on responsive design. Let’s break down the details so you can rest assured and get back to the long list of other daily challenges needing your attention at your dealership.
Fact #1: Google Does Recommend Responsive Design
But why? Google’s guidelines have to apply to thousands of sites, in hundreds of verticals, across myriad platforms. They’re a general starting point aimed at the lowest common denominator and are subsequently devoid of any business-specific context.
Simply put, Google recommends RWD because you don’t have to be an experienced web developer to create a site which is fundamentally mobile-friendly on all popular devices. You can be part of the aforementioned lowest common denominator, launch a website using SquareSpace, Drupal, Joomla or WordPress, and be confident it will provide as decent a user experience to someone using an iPhone 7 Plus as it will to those on an iPad Pro.
So, yes, Google did recommend responsive design once upon a time. A “one size fits all” approach to web design, however, isn’t always going to be enough for businesses, such as a car dealership, where user experience can mean the difference between a conversion and a bounce. Reference Bryson Meunier’s terrific article on the subject, “Responsive is the McDonald’s Cheeseburger of Mobile SEO“, and the quote which shows Google principals rethinking their early RWD-related recommendations:
Many times when this Google recommendation is introduced, it is to imply that there is some sort of ranking benefit to using responsive [w]eb design over other configurations, but Gary Illyes of Google dispelled this myth at SMX West in March 2015… Google may have been a little quick to endorse responsive [w]eb design as its preferred solution for mobile SEO, saying that the company recommended it at the time because it worked well for them, and they believed that the solution would work well for almost everyone… webmasters do not have to use responsive for mobile, as the other mobile site choices work just as well.
RWD was originally recommended due to its ease of install and cost efficiency. When Google realized many were taking the statement out of context, it walked it back for clarity. That quote is straight from the source, and I hope readers let it resonate for a second.
Fact #2: Google Has Never Said RWD Brings SEO Advantages
Furthermore, and one more time for the cheap seats, Google has clarified earlier statements which could be incorrectly interpreted, and started doing so way back in 2015. Here lies the most pesky SEO myth about which we’ve ever had to reassure dealerships. Everyone may rest assured that Google has never, and I mean never, stated that with RWD comes an organic visibility (SEO) advantage.
Has Google recommended it? Yes. Why? It’s that pesky lowest common denominator to whom they’re catering. Don’t take my word for it, though. Straight from the horse’s mouth:
There are indeed many advantages to RWD: cost-efficiency and ease-of-use topping the list, but the SEO benefits are a kraken-sized myth. The next time people walk into your dealership and tell you otherwise, show them the door. Either he or she doesn’t know the facts, or definitely does know the facts and is perpetuating the myths anyway to get your business.
Is There a Better Web Design Alternative?
What are the common, and perfectly acceptable in Google’s eyes, alternatives? Adaptive web design (AWD) allows for mobile page customization which is completely specific to a given device. Hybrids, i.e. Dealer.com’s Seamless Platform, combine the best of both worlds. All the aforementioned benefits of RWD without having to give up the ability to customize different pages for specific mobile devices. Consider the differences between the user experience on a Galaxy S8 versus a Surface Pro 4, for example. One size does not always fit all.
#1. Creating different layouts which cater to specific devices is far more time-consuming, technical, and tedious on the developer’s part than just building responsive sites. Using a hybrid platform is worth it, however, as dealers can rest assured they’re delivering the best possible digital experiences for their customers.
If your target market is using an iPad, for example, the large screen allows for a version similar to what they’d see on a desktop. If they’re on a smartphone, you can scale back the number of images for a faster loading speed, make sure the contact information is front and center at the top, reduce the amount of text without having to worry about negative SEO effects, etc.
#2. If you possess the knowledge required to write code yourself, awesome! If you don’t, that’s OK too! It’s all good if you’re working with a truly collaborative vendor backed by an engineering team and account managers there to closely partner with you every step of the way.
Long story short, consider the context behind Google’s (again, vague and infrequent) recommendations, and we’ll all be much better off.
I hope this was helpful and look forward to any feedback. And watch out for those pesky krakens!
Dave Pye is the director of SEO strategy at Cox Automotive