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I have watched the Webmaster Central 2013-11-18 hangout that is now on YouTube. According to John Mueller, a site will benefit in terms of SEO if it will be optimized for mobile devices. He said that in order to do this the webmaster needs to follow the Webmaster Guidelines for mobile websites.

However John answered to this recent question in a completely different way. He stated that only common configuration errors are taken into account.

According to the "Building Smartphone-Optimized Websites" guidelines, it's recommended for websites to be responsive:

"i.e. sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device. This is Google's recommended configuration."

1) Is it true that only common errors are taken into account for SERP, or it was true at the time of that question?

2) I have a website that gives the same URL, same HTML and same CSS to all the kind of devices. There are absolutely nor rules that display the site in a different way to mobile. If I open my site on an iPhone for example, I see the website displayed full screen, and the users have to tap and zoom in order to read it. This means that my site provides the same HTML, CSS, and URL to ALL the devices, but it's not responsive because it does not adapt to mobile browsers. For example a responsive website for smaller screens might have a different navbar, the sidebar goes to the bottom automatically, etc...

I would like to know whether it is advisable (specific to ranking benefits) to edit the theme of my website to make it responsive, for example using a framework like Bootstrap or Foundation, or just adding media specific CSS. Or maybe I can avoid making the website responsive because it's already fine as it is, since the same URL, CSS, and HTML are given to all devices, thus switching to responsive design will not affect my site's rankings at all?

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First off you don't need a framework such as Zurb or Bootstrap as these are purely time savers. You can make your current theme responsive by looking into Media Queries. Google doesn't reward that much SEO benefit over sites that are not responsive from my personal experience. It should be used to give you edge, but yes it does help a little as responsive sites or mobiles should be favoured on those devices. However many sites that are not responsive still can beat those which are.. –  bybe Nov 20 '13 at 17:42
    
Hi Thanks. Please understand that in a highly competitive world every enhancement is beneficial. If "Google doesn't reward that much SEO benefit over sites that are not responsive" this would be a good reason to change/edit the theme asap. If Google does not reward at all the I can wait with the change. I hope John will read this question and give his view, because I really can't understand why 1 month ago he said Google doesn't reward responsive sites, then now he said that google rewards responsive sites (according to the Guidelines for mobile devices) –  Pikk Nov 20 '13 at 17:46
    
They are favored I believe which means they reward only on the mobile platform which would make sense because sites that are not friendly on mobile suck when using your phone. Through I could be wrong but this is my belief, I have many responsive websites and they rank ok in serps but even some that are not responsive beat mine.. but generally I rank better on the mobile platform than desktop searches which would indicate they do reward. –  bybe Nov 20 '13 at 17:52
    
Thanks, for the highlights. Really interesting. I hope someone from G will say two or more words. –  Pikk Nov 20 '13 at 17:58
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@dan, I reworded the last sentence. I hope it is more clear now. Thanks. –  Pikk Nov 20 '13 at 18:08
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2 Answers

I don't believe there is a specific check in the Google algorithm for "responsive" sites that gives a bonus or penalty. I have sites that are responsive and sites that are not and (granted, this is apples to oranges) they rank all over the place relative to each other.

However, a properly coded responsive site should benefit from reducing other metrics which are generally seen as negatives:

  • Speed: a responsive site should load faster on mobile devices
  • Satisfaction: a responsive site should see less bounce
  • Useability: with less bounce comes a rise in pages per visit, time on site, etc.

As bybe says:

because sites that are not friendly on mobile suck when using your phone

That suckage will translate into negative metrics and Google will respond accordingly.

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Good answer! How might one quantify the suckage metric? ;-) –  dan Nov 21 '13 at 0:48
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@Dan The suckage metric is usually revealed in the UAT phase. Every time you hear variations on "wow, this sucks" during UAT, count them. Metric quantified. On a slightly more serious note, this is why A/B testing with real people is important. Things like load times, time on site, and useability can absolutely be quantified and decisions made based on numbers and not whims. Also, congrats on the little diamond thingy. –  JCL1178 Nov 21 '13 at 18:30
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If you mean changing the color schemes and/or images, then the rankings should be fine. However, altering links, adding pages, or forgetting to create alt tags on those pictures will have an effect. Make sure you take note of those changes and remember to do A/B testing.

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Responsive design usually refers to formatting the page to fit the screen using CSS and JavaScript. Specifically, changing the layout for mobile devices vs desktop devices. –  Stephen Ostermiller Jan 18 at 11:09
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