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With mobile traffic gaining more market share over the past few years, it’s more important than ever for websites to have a mobile version of their webpage, a specific version tailored to smaller screens and fast load time. And with it has come a wider adoption of using responsive design for mobile users versus the traditional mobile sites.

In the eyes of Google, does response design or traditional mobile design leverage a higher SEO value? Fortunately, Google’s Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts tackled this issue in a recent webmaster help video.

Responsive Design vs. a Mobile Site

First, a lot of people have questions about what exactly is a responsive design. It is definitely something that’s newer, and many webmasters still don’t have a lot of experience designing with it. However, responsive design quickly becoming the go-to format and is gaining exponential popularity because of the way it scales for any type of screen size, whether it’s a desktop or an iPhone.

“Responsive design just means that the page works totally fine whether you access for site URL with a desktop browser or whether you access that URL with mobile browser,” Cutts said. “Things will rescale, the page size will be taken into account.”

The second common mobile design is simply a lightweight version of the site, they can be easily read on small mobile screens but without a lot of the elements on a page that take longer to load. It is most often placed on mobile.example.com or m.example.com on the domain.

“Another way to do it is depending on the user agent that’s coming you would do a redirect, so that a mobile phone, a mobile smartphone, might get redirected to a mobile-dot version of your page,” Cutts said.

Cutts said that both ways of doing it are proper ways of dealing with mobile traffic, and that they have a lot of help documents available to webmasters to ensure they are doing everything correctly, particularly ensuring rel=canonical is being used for mobile versions of sites.

Cutts: Responsive Design is the Smarter Option

For SEO value, he states responsive design is the smarter way to go for SEO, primarily because you can have issues when creating a mobile version of the page if you aren’t implementing it correctly.

“In general, I wouldn’t worry about a site that is using responsive design losing SEO benefits because by definition you’ve got the same URL,” Cutts said. “So in theory, if you do a mobile version of the site, if you don’t handle that well and you don’t do the rel=canonical and all those sorts of things, then you might, in theory, divide the PageRank between those two pages. But if you have responsive design then everything is handled from one URL, so the PageRank doesn’t get divided, everything works fine.”

Bottom Line

There are fewer SEO drawbacks when using responsive design versus a lightweight mobile version of the website, but a mobile site can work just as well as a responsive design, as long as the webmaster utilizes the mobile tools available to them from Google, to ensure there aren’t any SEO problems such as split PageRank or duplicate content issues.