30 Apr, 2014

What is a responsive web design, and how could it benefit your business?

A responsive web design automatically adapts your website to display as efficiently as possible, not only on desktop browsers, but also on mobile devices. For example, look at any of the main pages on this website, if you are using a desktop computer reduce the width of your browser and watch what happens to the page content and the menu. The content rearranges itself to display in the available browser width.

The same effect happens on mobile devices, the content layout is automatically optimised to suit the device being used to browse, be it smartphone, netbook, or tablet. This is very useful for people browsing on-the-go, it streamlines their viewing experience, speeds up their site access, and their data plan doesn't get pounded unnecessarily.

Responsive web design example
Desktop browser view (left) and smartphone responsive view (right)

Because of the much smaller viewing area on a mobile device, a responsive design also removes the need for the user to manipulate the displayed content using the manual methods of "pinch", "zoom", or "scroll". Operations guaranteed to frustrate the most patient of users on occasion.

Responsive web design makes a website flexible to the exact screen size of the device it is being viewed on. This means that when the next version of a smartphone or tablet comes out, the website will size itself correctly to suit that version, be it a smaller or larger screen, portrait or landscape orientation, without any further design work. And thereby obviating the need for a separate mobile site.

Many companies have previously gone the route of a traditional website and a mobile website, and the effort required to keep two versions of the site up-to-date with the same content can be a real pain in the proverbial.

Another benefit of responsive design is that it makes the site more search engine friendly, by removing the need for a mobile version of the site, which would create a duplicate content issue and may incur a search engine ranking penalty.

If you have a smartphone, then check out your website on it. Is your site easy to read, or use? Are you doing a lot of scrolling, pinching or zooming? Can you get to the information you want quickly? If you are finding it slow or frustrating to use then you can be sure that your potential customer is too.

With mobile device use now accounting for a large proportion of website viewing, one of the most important things a company can invest in is a responsive site. Whether your site is purely a brochure site, or a more complex or e-commerce site, having a responsive website shows that your potential customers/clients are important to your company, and that you'll go the extra mile to make their site browsing experience as satisfying as possible. You only have a few seconds to grab a users attention, if the site is slow, or frustrating to use, then they're gone... to your competitor.

Google recommends that websites move to responsive design, and why poke an angry bear in the eye by not doing what's recommended? Keep them happy and your site will surf the rankings, rather than sink slowly into the deep dark oblivion that exists for websites not on the first few pages of search results.

Finally, even if you ignore the fact that Google, and other search engines, prefer responsive sites, your competitors probably haven't. Ask yourself, do you want the business? Or are you feeling charitable, and will let your competitor snatch it from you, all because of too much "pinch" and "zoom".