Responsively designed websites are currently a hot topic of discussion. Google has been sending out emails to webmasters telling them that they need to modify their websites to incorporate a responsive web design or risk harming their existing search engine rankings. But is a responsive web design a real ‘must-have’ requirement or just hype? Do website owners really need to consider upgrading their existing website to one that is responsive and/or mobile friendly?
I initially approached this question with caution and due consideration, given the potential time and cost involved in upgrading a website to a responsive design. But after some investigation it became clear to me that the pros outweigh the cons – and as an added advantage a technical upgrade can be coupled with a timely opportunity to give your website a complete makeover if you so desire.
Over the last few years, there has a clear upward trend across the board regarding the percentage of visitors accessing websites using mobile phones or tablets – a comparison of your own website’s year-on-year analytics should confirm this. These trends make it clear just how important it is to give your target audience the website they want and for them to be able to look at and interact with your website regardless of which device they choose to use.
What having a responsive website really means
A ‘responsive’ website is simply a website that has been coded and configured to allow it to automatically adjust so as to continue to look good (the layout adjusts automatically) and maintain functionality (especially the navigation) regardless of whether it is accessed on a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. This also means that regardless of which device your website visitor is using to access your website they can still read your articles without having to scroll horizontally – really important if you have a strong social media presence that has been designed to draw visitors back to the original articles on your website.
If your website was designed in the last few years it probably handles visits from mobile devices using one of the following four options:
- ‘Old-school’ web design only – a developer would have designed your website for a standard size so that it looked good and worked well on the most commonly used desktop resolution. In this scenario, the website designer really didn’t give any consideration to what mobile devices your website visitor may have been using to access your website. Not really the ideal solution if you now know that a significant proportion of your visitors accesses your website on a mobile device.
- ‘Old-school’ web design plus a completely separate mobile website – your developer would have designed a desktop version of your website, but would also have added a completely different secondary version of your website especially for any mobile users. This secondary website would look and function differently and may have required mobile users to manually choose to access the mobile version. This approach would have required a lot more coding, a higher cost to launch, and twice the effort to maintain. In fact, you may not even realize that a completely separate version of your website exists that is now very out of date with your main website.
- ‘Old-school’ web design plus a mobile plugin – your developer would have designed and coded for a desktop version but would have included a mobile plugin that delivered a scaled down version of your website, but only if a ‘mobile’ visitor was detected. In this case, the ‘mobile’ user may or may not see and/or access the same content as the desktop user.
- Responsive web design – the website would be coded as responsive when built. The website will automatically resize based on the specific resolution and screen orientation (portrait or landscape) of the user’s device whether is be a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. The website is coded to adjust to the placement of the content of the on-page elements such as header, navigation, main body and sidebar(s) and/or resize the content (font and images) based on the width of the device used to access it.
If you are designing and launching a new website or blog, then a responsive web design is definitely the current best recommendation as it will produce the maximum benefits for your customer. It is also the option that Google recommends and will give a better ranking to in its mobile search results.
Is a responsive website really worth the extra time and/or cost?
To answer that question depends on the type of visitor you have come to your website. Take a look at your Google Analytics data and look at the numbers of people who are coming to your website using a mobile phone or tablet – are the numbers increasing?
If you’re thinking about redesigning your website or you’re considering launching a brand new blog, then you should seriously consider going down the responsive path. Mobile usage has skyrocketed over the last few years and it isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. Designs that already incorporate mobile responsiveness are becoming more readily available and prevalent in their usage.
Still not convinced? Here are some benefits of responsive web design
If you are still not entirely convinced about whether you should go down the route of having a responsive web design for your existing website – then consider these benefits:
- Saves development time and budget because your developer/webmaster only has to maintain the one website
- Avoids the duplicate and/or out-of-sync content that can result from having to upload content to two websites
- Provides a consistent user experience across all devices (as opposed to having multiple websites that look and act differently)
- Captures more mobile traffic due to having better ranking in Google search results
- Improves the overall bounce rate because it reduces mobile user frustration
- Increases click-throughs and online sales (yes people really do buy things on their mobile devices)
Not every developer is going down the ‘responsive web design’ route, but the innovative ones are because they know an increasing number of their customers will be requesting a responsive design. Google has certainly been helping push this along! So, not only are the trends for mobile usage by web visitors increasing but so too are the trends for new websites to be built with responsive design – meaning that the question will be not if but when you decide to make ‘responsive web design’ a key component of your next website makeover – else you run the risk of your existing website looking out-of-date sooner than you had expected.