Responsive web design is the method of designing a website so it automatically reshapes itself based on the user’s device. For those responsible for maintaining a website, including coders, designers, SEOs, search marketers, and content produces, it’s easy to understand the benefits associated with maintaining only one website no matter the device.
Ultimately, it’s up to a decision maker whether or not to invest in a responsive web design. The purpose of this article is to arm you with compelling reasons and effective tactics that will convince your decision maker to invest in responsive design.
The World Has Gone Mobile
Data is always helpful when trying to make a compelling argument, so let's look at some industry trends:
Mobile usage, a segment represented by both smartphones and tablets, is on the rise. Over the last two years, smartphone adoption in the US has increased from 36% to 61%. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project projects this number to reach 80% in 2014. 52% of the smartphone segment also owns a tablet, with expectations of 64% by 2014 (Pew). Comscore now predicts the global number of mobile users will exceed the global number of desktop users by 2014.
Multi-screen behavior and trends are presenting new challenges for marketers, especially those not optimizing for the mobile experience. For users who own a television and at least one mobile device, 77 percent of all TV interactions occurred while using a mobile device.
Sequential usage (the transitioning from one device directly to another) is also very prominent. Studies show 90 percent of users utilize a combination of devices to accomplish a task (shopping, researching, buying, etc), with 98 percent of those tasks being completed on the same day.
Action: Presenting 3rd party data upfront sets the stage. Your objective is to have your decision maker see the change in landscape for themselves and the potential challenges it could present.
Desktop vs. Tablet vs. Smartphone
We took a look at several Google Analytics profiles to see how mobile usage and behavior varied by form factor for websites without a mobile site or responsive web design. While the businesses we studied ranged from product to service and from B2B to B2C, we saw similar behavioral trends for every site we analyzed.
The lesson here is that tablet behavior is much more like desktop behavior than smartphone behavior. So while we tend to lump tablets into the greater mobile segment, it’s more appropriate to think of the smartphone as its own, unique audience.
Action: Using a decision maker’s own website data to make your case can be very, very effective. If you have Google Analytics, find the Mobile Overview page under Audience > Mobile > Overview. Show your decision maker examples of how mobile behavior underperforms on their site.
Better for users. Better for site managers. Better for search engines.
Better for Users
Viewing a desktop site on a smartphone screen can be a very frustrating experience for a user. A design that is meant to accommodate a 15” desktop screen becomes scrunched into a 4” screen. Text becomes unreadable and navigation buttons become microscopic. This results in the higher bounce rate, less time on site, and diminished conversion rate we saw above.
Besides the navigational and usability challenges, consider the message you send to your smartphone visitors when they realize you haven’t given any thought to their experience. If you’re like the sites we looked at, that’s a poor message being sent to one in five of your visitors. Pretty significant!
Action: With the data on your side, have your decision maker attempt to use your site from their smartphone. While they inevitably struggle to navigate and find information, reiterate how many users are forced to do this each day.
Better for Site Managers
Time is money, and a responsive web design means less work to maintain your web presence across different sized devices. If you use a separate mobile site (e.g. m.site.com), you have two completely separate entities that require attention, time, and money. This creates a burden for everyone from your developers to the person adding and editing site content.
When you use a separate mobile site, you are required to update two sets of site files, increasing the risk of showing inconsistent information across different devices. For example, every time you want to run a new promotion, you must remember to update both your desktop and mobile website.
Action: If your company uses a separate mobile site, show how much time is being spent to manage and update content in addition to the normal desktop site. This should present an immediate cost savings. Or, if the mobile site is neglected and not updated as often as the desktop site, show the number of inconsistencies between the two properties.
Better for Search Engines
Google explicitly recommends using responsive website design. The main reasons Google lists for using responsive design include:
- Allowing a single URL for each piece of content. This makes it easier to share and link to pages without worrying what device someone is using.
- Using consistent page URLs helps Google’s algorithm when determining what page to list in its rankings.
- Not requiring redirects depending on the device reduces load time (Google prefers faster load times).
- It is more efficient for Google’s search spiders to only crawl one version of page. This can indirectly lead to better indexing of your entire site.
Bing takes a similar stance. In a post on the Bing blogs in March of 2012, Bing recommends a “one URL per content item” strategy (an objective most achievable via responsive web design).
Action: Following search engine recommendations and guidelines will increase your chances of ranking well. If search engine traffic is important to your decision maker’s business, argue that responsive design is as important as any SEO tactic.
Responsive Design Is Not A Turn Key Solution
One final piece of advice to you, the person responsible for producing results to your decision maker:
A responsive website alone does NOT guarantee improved performance from mobile traffic. You must ask why a user is accessing your site from a mobile device instead of a desktop. Are they on the go? Do they need information quickly? Is location an important factor? One in five searches has local intent. Is this the case with your visitors? You need to think thoroughly about the specific needs and wants of a mobile user, and deliver an experience that caters to those needs.
It’s still necessary to test, analyze, and optimize the user experience. This only comes through a continued commitment to understand your audience and deliver an experience that’s right for them.
Let’s do a quick recap on the main bullet points you can use when discussing responsive design with your decision maker:
- Smartphone adoption has increased from 69% in the last two years
- Global mobile users are expected to exceed global desktop users by 2014
- Three-quarters of all TV interactions occur while using a mobile device
- Save developers and content managers time
- Reduce the risk of showing inconsistent or inaccurate information across different web properties
- Use a single set of URLs, making for a better user experience
- Reduce loads times that would result from mobile redirects
- Are preferred by Google and Bing over a separate mobile site
- Deliver better landing page experiences for your SEM traffic
- Are not turn key solutions - you must continue to analyze and optimize the mobile experience
As chief marketing officer of WebStrategies, Inc., Chris helps small businesses reach and connect with more customers online. He is the chief strategist for search engine marketing campaigns and the lead analyst for web analytics and website usability testing. Find Chris on Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter.