The development and usage of smartphones, tablets and iPads is growing at an exponential rate. Consumers are lining up in droves to get their hands on the latest gadgets, while tech giants are developing more creations to “wow” a technology-hungry crowd.
According to a recent comScore study, more than 100 million U.S. mobile subscribers use smartphones and nearly 234 million Americans use various mobile devices. These numbers increased by double digit percentages from its last time period ending October 2011 to the current study time period of January 2012.
With mobile usage so high, online businesses are realizing the need to optimize the mobile experience for their website visitors. And many are using responsive design to accomplish this goal.
Responsive design allows websites to automatically change layouts according to the visitor’s screen resolution whether on a desktop, tablet or smartphone. This allows for a more user-friendly interface when visitors view websites.
The businesses that will benefit most from responsive design are those that service customers who frequent mobile devices to navigate their websites.
How many of your visitors access your site from a mobile device? Check your Google Analytics to get a percentage! From the left-side menu, click “Audience” and browse the operating systems and devices your web visitors are using to find your site.
How does responsive design affect online businesses?
One obvious reason for implementing responsive design is to enhance the user experience and thereby increase conversions. When a full website created for the desktop shrinks to the size of a smartphone screen, it makes it hard for the user to navigate through the site. There is constant zooming in and out, and scrolling to find relevant material. A “responsive” website would automatically shrink the data to facilitate easier reading and allow for an overall more enjoyable web browsing experience.
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In addition, website visitors may benefit from an entirely different interface when accessing your site on a mobile device.
Here is an example:
A realtor may want to display a completely different site to mobile users who are looking for house information after driving by a “For Sale” sign. The agent may want to optimize the mobile interface to include specific listing and contact information to capture the lead immediately and keep the load time fast. If the mobile site is simply a more user-friendly version of the desktop site, the conversions may not be as high.
Businesses create multiple sites to meet the needs of smartphones, tablets and desktop browsers. This equates to three sites with separate content, maintenance, costs, and requirements. Once a new device comes out, webmasters must shell out more money to create a new site. With responsive design, you have one site to contend with.
Some SEO experts are touting the benefits of responsive web design because of its ability to maintain the links pointing to the desktop domain instead of passing link equity to additional domains.
In response to industry questions about responsive design, the search engine Bing offered answers on how to best optimize websites for different platforms.
Bing suggests using the “one URL per content item” strategy to avoid “sub-optimal and underperforming results.” Additionally, Bing mentioned the added cost of updating more than one website and how it can overwhelm small businesses.
Here is what Bing had to say about responsive web design:
Bing recommends that webmasters consider if the “one URL per content item” strategy will work for their websites to improve their SEO.
According to Bing,
“Occasionally, it may make sense to keep some URLs targeted at specific clients (e.g. mobile devices), which you can opt to block from us via the usual methods (robots.txt, webmaster tools) or not. Our real concern is the hundreds of millions of additional URLs that are created on mobile-only domains, which for most of them will never accrue any value and rarely, if ever, rank in any form of search, yet still consume resources on both your servers and ours.”
Some SEOs have dismissed the idea that dedicated mobile sites split link equity making it difficult for the mobile site to rank. They mention Google’s skip redirect update and say that proper redirection will cause mobile URLs to rank in search results.
Here is the Google update as per the Inside Search blog:
Faster mobile browsing. [launch codename “old possum”, project codename “Skip Redirect”] Many websites redirect smartphone users to another page that is optimized for smartphone browsers. This change uses the final smartphone destination url in our mobile search results, so you can bypass all the redirects and load the target page faster.
The Real Purpose
Many marketers believe that regardless of SEO benefits or non-benefits, ultimately your customer’s goals and site speed should be a priority. They claim the browsing device a customer uses will offer a clue as to the user’s intentions for the visit. Businesses may need a separate mobile site if the situation warrants it. SEOs would argue that “real SEO” has more to do with providing value to the visitor more than keywords and links.
For example, if you run a restaurant, you may have two types of customers depending on where and how they access your site. The bulk of mobile users are most likely not at home. They may be on the road needing information like directions, reservations or contact details. A separate mobile site could cater to these customers without “bogging down” the load time with unnecessary features like images of the restaurant and media information. The same principle would apply to an auto insurance company whose customers may need towing services, a detail not as important for a desktop version of the site.
Webmasters could essentially lose out on qualified search traffic if they do not research the goals of their visitors.
Implement responsive design not because it is a trend, but because it will meet your visitor’s goals. If your mobile website visitors require a unique experience from your desktop website and you rely on mobile users for leads, it may signal the need for a mobile-specific interface.
We discussed user experience as it relates to conversions. The quality of the design and where elements are situated also play a role. A well-planned responsive design will enhance the visitor’s user experience.
But there is another side to the story. With more versions of the same site, users are fed different sites depending on the device. What if they need to find something specific while on their iPads but the webmaster removed it from the full site for the mobile version? This may not equate to a user-friendly experience. Some users may expect to see the full version of the site when using mobile devices.
It’s All About the User
Will your visitors know if your mobile site is responsive? Will they recognize the lack of white space? Most will not recognize the technical details, but they will know how they feel during the experience.
Success depends on pinpointing how your visitors interact with your site when on a mobile device, and defining what solution would give them the best experience.
Mobile users are interested in getting what they want (targeted) and fast (speed). However this is accomplished is up to the webmaster. Essentially, increased conversions will only come when users love their experience on your site and walk away with a good feeling about your brand.
Some marketers are suggesting that businesses create one fast-loading, user-focused mobile site with the option to click to the full site. The full site would take advantage of responsive design.
The debate continues…what do you think? Do your clients prefer responsive design or multiple mobile interfaces? What do you prefer?
Below are some responsive design examples:
1. Boston Globe
2. Spark Box
4. Ray Macari