I was asked the other day what Google’s current policy was regarding separate “mobile sites”, which certainly came highly recommended a few years ago. Here’s the situation, from what I can see. At the bottom of Google’s preferences, without doubt, is the “desktop only” site: the type that is almost illegible on a mobile device, and which can only be viewed on a small screen by zooming in on part of a page. Do sites get penalised for being like this? It’s hard to say if it’s a consideration in general, but it seems to be a negative factor when querying Google on mobile devices, as an increasing number of your customers probably do. The “mobile friendly” label is evidence. If your site is virtually illegible on a mobile device, it’ll now be starting to cost your company serious revenue.
But what of the two methods of displaying websites nicely on mobile devices? The separate “mobile site”, usually prefixed by “m.” instead of “www.” is the original solution, and still works well. The web server identifies the device being used, and serves up a completely different site to devices with small screens. The “responsive site” is a more modern approach, where the same site adapts to the size of the screen of the viewer’s device. To spot responsive sites, look at them on your PC; drag in the bottom right corner of the browser window to make it progressively smaller. You’ll see the content rearrange itself to fit nicely at any size.
While both of the above methods work, it would seem that Google has come down on the side of responsive design. This is now stated as being Google’s recommended design pattern. The decision is not surprising, as with the “separate mobile site” approach, there’s effectively a separate website out there, and Google has to work out that the two sites are the same thing. A responsive site ticks all the boxes.
If you have a separate mobile site, I wouldn’t rush to redesign things, but next time a site refresh is due, it’ll be worth looking at a responsive approach. Just don’t forget to redirect your old mobile site!