If I told you use your phone to look at the web more this year than you did two years ago, you’d probably call me “Captain Obvious.” It’s not just you, but everyone is using their phones on screen sizes barely considered a few years ago. Having made inroads for the last year, mobile is now the most popular way to check email and use social media. It will likely be the most common way people buy online in the next two years.
But you’ve been hearing people cheerlead about mobile for years and you’re already sold. You have a mobile site. That’s all you need.
Yes, but have you really used your mobile site? Rather, do you actually like using your mobile site? Or is it a stripped down version on your site, like something someone might have seen in 1998? If we’re all going mobile, and we’re becoming used to our maps giving us smooth turn-by-turn directions, super slick video games, and Netflix anywhere we are, your clunky refuge from 1998 isn’t going to cut it.
It is time to think about Responsive Web Design.
What is Responsive Web Design?
Responsive Web Design is a framework of ideas that allow a website to work on large screen devices (TV, desktop computer, laptop, etc.) and small screen devices (tablets, phones, phablets, etc.) equally well at the same time. Instead of having to build two or three sites dedicated to a specific hardware type, it is one site that was architected and built from the ground up to work with all of these devices reasonably well.
How can you tell if a site is responsive? Look at it on your phone. Is it incredibly small, as if you zoomed way out? Not responsive. Did it lose almost all of its elements to show you a bare-bones experience? That’s a separate mobile site and not responsive. If it looked like a slightly different but instantly readable and usable website, then it is responsive.
For more information on responsive web design as a concept, take a look at the Beginner’s Guide to Responsive Web Design.
While responsive web design allows a site to work better on far more devices, it is a little more work intensive. This means it comes with a cost. So we’d like to make the case why responsive web design is worth considering.
Reason One: Responsive Is Better for the User
If 30-50% of your web users are on mobile, this is not an audience to treat like second-class citizens. The numbers indicate that when the circumstances are right, mobile users will do everything their desk-bound counterparts do, everything from write, read, search, chat, buy and apply for jobs. If you don’t have any mobile presence, you are closing the door on a third of your traffic.
Having a separate “mobile” site isn’t exactly helping you. Stripping out all the images, animation, interaction and anything of visual interest relegates your mobile visitors to the servant’s entrance. It’s not inviting, enticing or engaging at all. In fact, it’s a little insulting. A separate mobile site these days is saying, “Ugh, I guess I have to help you because you’re on a phone, but your money isn’t as good to me.”
A responsive site can keep a lot of those enticing and engaging elements, but re-format them for this new sized screen. That carousel of images that show happy employees at work? That web font? That form? All of these elements now work smoothly because they have been re-factored for this new medium without losing the magic.
A responsive site loads faster than a non-mobile site, for both the mobile user and the laptop user. In the mobile world, a script listens to a browser and determines if it is a big screen or a small screen. That script then directs you to the right site (either domain.com or m.domain.com). This happens quickly, but it does add half a second (or more) to the initial page load. Stats show 57% of your mobile traffic will just leave if their page doesn’t load in three seconds. Using .5 seconds to browser sniff just means more people leave before seeing anything you have to offer.
Since responsive code re-sizes elements for the small screen, the phone doesn’t have to load that massive image gallery, just mobile-sized versions of it. This also speeds up the site to your user.
Finally, have you ever landed on one of those zoomed out sites on your phone and had to zoom in just to read the headlines? Why are you putting these kinds of roadblocks between your users and your content?
Responsive web design leads to a far better user experience, one that is faster, easier to use and better suited to their particular device. But maybe you need more reasons to think about responsive.
Reason Two: Responsive Is Better for the Marketer
Pity your poor digital marketer. Every week, they are faced with new social platform launches, new hardware announcements, new acquisitions, new bankruptcies, new ideas and changes in existing channels. Despite all these changes, they are expected to understand the landscape and guide your brand through it with ease. This isn’t so much guiding a team through the dark as it is to walking a path whose direction, shape and material changes with every step.
So with every announcement of a new phone shape (go ahead and ask them what their opinion of a phablet is and you’ll begin to understand their world), they have to worry about how their website (designed two years ago before the iPad mini, the 7-inch tablet and the phablet were even ideas) will work on these new devices. And then they break out their version of duct tape to try and keep it all working.
If they have a mobile web site, it’s no better. Every message they write has to work for the website, then be boiled down to fit on the mobile site. Not only do the messages not line up perfectly, they require twice as much work. Your marketer has to launch content on the web site then they have to do it again on a completely different mobile site.
Responsive web design is a form of future-proofing your website, protecting it from the weekly product launches and shifts in tech. It is an idea that lets your marketer put down the web duct tape for a bit and focus on what really matters: your message, your brand, your audiences, your content.
As a modern marketer, you look for data to help you make decisions. But by splitting your site between a mobile version and a non-mobile version, you are also splitting your analytics; 20-40% of your traffic comes to one set of analytics and 60-80% goes to another. You simply can’t put them together to form a complete picture. Responsive web design, by combining these sites into a single site with a single set of analytics, allows you to more completely understand what drives your audiences, how those audiences find you and what those visitors do on your site.
In a perfect world, your web site is a vessel that carries your amazing messages to the people who need and want them. So why spend all your energy patching up your vessel when you should be worrying about messages that will outshine your competition? This is what your marketer really wants to do, so don’t saddle them with a broken vessel. Responsive web design lets your marketer do a better job. But what if you need one more reason?
Reason Three: Responsive Is Better for the Business
I don’t have to explain that if your site ranks higher in search results, you’ll get more traffic from Google, right? Many see their best traffic (longest visits, highest percentage of new visits, most likely to convert) from search engines because people coming from search engines are actively searching for something that you might have the answer to. They are motivated and the one thing you want more than customers is motivated customers.
But if you have a mobile site, you really have two sites. This is trying to solve the mobile problem, but it causes a separate problem: it hurts your search engine rankings. Without getting technical, having two sites splits Google’s focus. Some links will go to your mobile site and some to your “regular” site. The domain authority you’re trying to build (Google’s perception that not only are you a good web citizen, but that you are an authority on certain subjects, thus making you more valuable to its customers) gets spilt.
In an age where everyone is using every SEO trick to try and rank at the top, you’re competing with one server tied behind your back. You might be okay now, but not for long.
Companies that have already converted to a responsive web design model have seen increase in traffic, visit durations and page depths. They see a decrease in bounces (people who immediately left your site because it wasn’t what they wanted or it didn’t load fast enough).
And, most importantly, they saw an increase in conversions. This isn’t an isolated example. Sites as big as Time magazine saw they saw shifts as did O’Neill clothing, Fathead (those guys who sell life-sized football players for your wall) and Regent University. Fathead saw a 90% increase in mobile conversions and were able to show that responsive lead to a 17% in non-mobile conversions. Regent University saw a 63% increase in online applications.
So a picture emerges. Rather than just being a way to appease mobile customers, responsive web design is a change in web thinking, one that leads to happier prospects, better engaged marketing and higher conversion rates. Ask yourself what a 20% increase in conversion rates would be worth to your business and then the ROI of responsive web design becomes crystal clear.