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Do I Need Responsive Design?

Sites that implement “Responsive Design” have seen conversion rates increase by over 50% on average, and much higher in some cases. This has led to a lot of discussion about “needing a responsive design”, but what does it actually mean?

The simple answer is: a way of creating sites that will display your content in the best possible way to support the needs of the user, depending on the device used to access it.

The complex answer is that despite having “design” in the name, it’s not just about how the site or application will look on different devices, although that is where the effect can be seen most immediately. There are considerations around technical development, usability, different situational goals and your online strategic objectives and channel mix.

Is “Responsive” just a new term for “Mobile Site”?
A “Responsive Design” is not simply a “Mobile Site”. In the early days of mobile marketing an organisation would employ a “cut down” version of the desktop site intended for use on mobiles which was completely separate with its own URL. Generally “mobile sites” provided simple information with fewer graphics and interactive components in recognition of the limited power of mobile operating systems, the restricted capabilities of mobile browsers and the slower speed and instability of connections.

This was a good solution with the technology and tools available at the time, and it did take into account that non-desktop users have different needs, based on the limitations of the technology they were using. However, as the number of varying shapes, sizes and technologies of non-desktop devices has expanded, it quickly became a costly exercise to develop and maintain, as it was found that in many cases separate sites were needed to work correctly on different devices and mobile operating systems.

Does “Responsive” just mean “Resizing”?
The advent of smartphones and tablets, with their powerful browsers, along with 3G connections, started to blur the line of what was possible with “mobile sites” to the point where many organizations decided that as long as the site “resized” when accessed via a non-desktop device to avoid lots of scrolling, that users would be satisfied. However, that does not address the issue of users often having different objectives, and being in different situations, when using different types of devices.

A fully responsive design can future-proof your website against the release of varying screen sizes, new technologies and changes in strategic objectives, as well being of benefit from the perspective of SEO. Google stated that websites which are optimised for mobiles are more likely to rank higher when it detects that a user is searching from a mobile as Google’s main aim is to improve the search experience for their users.

The goals of a truly optimized responsive redesign are increased speed and appropriate functionality for objectives across devices. Mobile users have come to expect a more streamlined experience than when they are browsing on their desktop. It’s up to you to target and cater to their unique behaviours, capabilities and limitations across all screens.

Design, Coding and Implementation of Responsive Design
Implementing responsive design is a much more of a technical and strategic activity than creating a “mobile display compatible version” (a site that resizes); it’s essentially creating a new user experience tailored to the needs of different types of user and situation.

For example, on your desktop site browsing users may want to spend their initial visit finding out about the company history, or exploring special offers. When using a mobile the most important thing may be to find contact details, to find local offers or to perform a search.

Responsive Design can be tricky to code elegantly, and it can cost more initially, because it involves more than the just the work needed to create one universal template. However, responsive is extraordinarily beneficial in the long run and will see a greater, and faster, online ROI than having a “one size fits all” site. With 90% of users now accessing the web using multiple devices, a site that has a responsive design can help generate more conversions through better supporting user needs. It can also benefit your brand beyond just making this one visit easier for the mobile user as they return again and again, and tell others to do so.

As well as user experience, there will be strategic considerations to take into account. For example, if your site contains ads and promotions, whether internal or external, it’s important to choose a layout that supports all standard ad units in order to maintain valuable mobile ad space, and perhaps even to have the ads created in such a way as encourages mobile conversion.

There are additional design and ergonomic factors to think carefully about too, such as the size and precision of clickable areas. Although a mobile screen is smaller, a human finger is considerably larger and less precise than a mouse pointer.

The best responsive design isn’t focused on the latest “hot tricks”. It understands and anticipates users’ behaviours on smartphones and tablets, away from a desktop, and asks, “How do visitors want to use our site on the go?” and “How can we maintain conversion and ROI across devices?” It’s a delicate balance and you will need to monitor and tweak based on your strategic objectives, the technology of your user base and user behaviour which may have patterns of its own, external to the site itself, such as seasonal sales cycles.

Call us on 01227 768808, or email SEA, to see how we can help you with all aspects of responsive design, from initial strategy, through design and build, to monitoring and continuous improvement.