Original Poster
Nick W_

Why does Google recommend Responsive web design?

Taking a look at https://developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/ Google recommend responsive design:

"Google recommends webmasters follow the industry best practice of using responsive web design, namely serving the same HTML for all devices and using only CSS media queries to decide the rendering on each device."

As a web developer I'm constantly struggling to educate clients on the benefits of, in some cases, having a separate mobile site over a responsive site when Google themselves are recommending responsive in the first instance.

There are a number of reasons why a separate mobile site can be better than responsive (note, I'm not saying this is always the case) but the key one for me is:

- Loading times. If you're showing desktop content to a mobile user with a responsive approach, hiding some of it from the mobile user, then this could potentially add significant loading times to the page (I know this is important due to the recent article from Google here: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/making-smartphone-sites-load-fast.html)

I'm just struggling to understand why Google are recommending responsive and not suggesting that Webmasters weigh up the pros and cons of both options (responsive or separate mobile site) to ensure they deliver the best option.

Thanks :)
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Expert - Gold


It's a big topic, worthy of careful discussion, but it's late here now so I will just be very brief.

First, Responsive Design is recommended by google from a number of perspectives - Google does NOT say that it should be used in all cases.

Currently, some of Google's own content-rich websites have a mobile version as well as a desktop version.


Too often, websites are over-bloated even for desktop platforms, let alone mobiles.

Adding a mobile version separately is a consequence of the"main" site being extremely unfit for purpose when it comes to mobiles.

Anyone developing a new site nowadays OUGHT to be thinking of mobile, handhelds, tablets, widescreen and other desktops, right from the start, not as an afterthought.

Responsive design is NOT just about mobiles v. desktops.   It is about ensuring that sites look good on all platforms and all screensizes as far as possible.

An increasing proportion of total web access is NOT by desktops;  even more important, some metrics indicate that smartphone & tablet visitors are MORE likely to convert to become PAYING CUSTOMERS than visitors who only use a desktop.

Now here is the subtle bit: many users who want to buy something START by accessing via handhelds (in the office, on the bus, while watching TV, etc)  and having narrowed things down a bit, go to the desktop to actually make the purchase.

So it important not to artificially segregate handheld and desktop use (reminiscent of the old days, when people discussed online sales versus telephone sales versus over-the-counter sales, neglecting their complementarity and the interaction between them - (e.g. search online to suitable retailer and local branch, then ring the branch, then buy in-store).

Responsive Design may involve a lot of skill/effort upfront, but on the other hand, having 3 or more versions of the "same" non-RD website involves a lot of work to maintain and do updates promptly and consistently.

Can we afford to lose customers frustrated by finding something in one version and not being able to find the same on a different platform?

So I would not slavishly adopt RD or reject it.   I would assess the pros/cons for any given site development situation, and take a balanced, pragmatic view.


PS  Developers that have the skills to implement Responsive Design have a huge selling-point and should be able to obtain higher payment as the necessary skills are in short supply (relatively).
Expert - Gold
Michael Wechsler
Very well stated! (And as a webmaster, it's much easier to maintain if it works for you.)
Original Poster
Nick W_
Thanks Robbo, you pretty much hit the nail on my head. It's mainly down to the way it's worded, in my opinion.

It appears as though Google are saying in the first instance responsive should be considered before mobile. This is where we are struggling when clients come to us saying "but Google say responsive is better than mobile" when in fact, this is not always the case.
Expert - Gold
Responsive design does not mean hiding content, it means for example three column layout for desktop and one column for mobile, that can be easily done by CSS.
As Robbo wrote, you need to decide in advance what is the best way to organise content such that it can be presented well in a responsive way, so you do not need to complicate things or hide stuff that is actually there.
Original Poster
Nick W_
Hey Cristina,

Thank you for your response. The term "responsive" is actually a little blurred, and people's understanding of what the term means varies across the internet.

The person that coined the term referred to responsive as using different stylesheets to adapt the layout based on the device width...this is how Google also see the term in the link I provided above so for arguments sake, this will be the definition of "responsive" I refer to here.

Responsive doesn't mean necessarily 3 columns, but this is most common. Anything that can be adapted by a different stylesheet is in fact, responsive...this can mean hiding/showing content with a display: none. Why would you want to do it? The reason is simple...user's with larger screens can see more content at a glance if they wish to do so. User's with small screens won't want to scroll down large portions of text that isn't relevant to them. The usual way to handle this with a smaller device, is to provide the "additional content" at a glance. I think sites like Smashing Magazine demonstrate this in action perfectly.
Expert - Gold
The guidelines article by Google that you referenced already answered your question. I quote from there:
" Overview of Google's recommendations
Google recommends webmasters follow the industry best practice of using responsive web design, namely serving the same HTML for all devices and using only CSS media queries to decide the rendering on each device.
If responsive design is not the best option to serve your users, Google supports having your content being served using different HTML. The different HTML can be on the same URL or on different URLs, and Googlebot can handle both setups appropriately if you follow our recommendations."
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