Responsive web design has long been considered a ranking factor.

When it was first introduced, almost 90 percent of website owners converted their site’s design and layout to make them responsive. Its popularity gained even more ground with the explosion of smartphone and tablet use.

scalable with responsive web design

Google’s “Mobilegeddon” update has also cemented the idea that a responsive website can boost ranking in SERPs. After all, it revealed that non-mobile-friendly websites will no longer be in Google’s good graces.

But for all the hype on responsive web design and its contribution to ranking, there is no proof that better search results are achieved.

In fact, Google themselves said that a responsive design does not give a ranking boost.

The only reason that responsive web design has been associated with ranking is that it is Google’s preferred layout, resulting in many SEOs to assume that it is the best choice for search optimization.

So the long and short of it is a responsive web design will not increase your ranking.

According to SEMRush, the top websites that receive the most organic mobile search traffic from Google use an adaptive design instead of responsive. The top 5 are Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, and Google.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you should abandon the idea or decide against changing your layout.

A responsive website still comes with many benefits, except for when you need help ranking high in organic search results.

For one, it increases your reach to audience who prefer to use mobile and tablet when accessing the virtual world. Since website traffic from mobile devices has grown to 55 percent, you can definitely benefit from a responsive design.

For another, website management is made easier. Instead of managing one website for desktop use and another for mobile devices, you only need to take care of a single site that works across all devices, regardless of screen size.

Most importantly, responsive web design is Google’s preference for mobile configuration. So it can’t hurt to accommodate what Google wants.

Different Mobile Configurations

Based on SEMRush’s list of Top 100 sites that get the most organic mobile search traffic, boost in ranking is likely to be achieved with an adaptive design. But there are actually 3 options to configure a website and make it mobile friendly. Apart from responsive and adaptive design, there is also a separate mobile site.

What are the differences in the three mobile configurations?

Responsive vs. Adaptive vs. Separate Mobile Site

Responsive Design

It uses fluid, proportion-based grids, changeable CSS style rules, and flexible images to support any kind of devices. This enables the website to grow or shrink according to the device being used to view it, resulting in a great user experience. In a responsive layout, the HTML and URL structure are the same.

Pros and Cons of Responsive Design


  • Loads faster than an adaptive design, even with content-heavy websites.
  • Better search engine indexing because the URL structure is the same.


  • Implementation takes time.
  • Requires more focus on the code to ensure correct performance on any screen.

Adaptive Design

This works similar to a responsive design, except that the URL and HTML structure are different. For a website layout to adapt to different devices, it first detects the type of device being used before it generates an appropriate HTML version. So, with an adaptive design, the URL structure is the same across devices, but the HTML varies accordingly.

Pros and Cons of Adaptive Design


  • Easier to develop and maintain than a responsive website
  • Delivers a unique mobile web experience


  • More expensive and time-consuming to develop.
  • Load slowly on certain screen sizes.
  • Requires more work from developers because different layouts have to be created.

Separate Mobile Site

Referred to as mDot (m.), it is the opposite of adaptive with responsive design thrown into the mix. That is, there are different HTML versions delivered on separate URLs, depending on a device. Just like an adaptive layout, a separate mobile site will first detect the device being used to view a website and then serve the appropriate URL.

When using a desktop, the URL served is a www subdomain, while for mobile devices the “m.” subdomain is provided. A majority of online retailers today use this particular mobile configuration.

Pros and Cons of Separate Mobile Site


  • Optimized for mobile use.
  • Offers improved usability.
  • Implementation can be done quickly.


  • Requires multiple domain names.
  • Sharing cross-platform content is challenging.

When it comes to a boost in ranking, a responsive site is not the answer. It is best to work on other effective elements of SEO, if the ultimate goal is to be at the top of SERPs.

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