What is responsive web design and why is it important?

Emma Raines, Example Marketing and Web Design

If your website doesn’t work well on mobiles and tablets, you’re missing out. If users are forced to ‘pinch and zoom’ to read your content and click your links and buttons, they’ll soon get fed up and go elsewhere. So how do you create a mobile-friendly website?

There are basically two options: have a mobile template, or build your website using responsive design. In the simplest terms, a mobile template is designed as a completely separate entity to your desktop website. Responsive design on the other hand requires you to have just one website which is coded such that it adapts to the screen size it’s being viewed on.

For example, you might see two columns on your desktop screen with a navigation menu across the top. When you view the same page of a responsive site on your mobile, content might realign itself to a single column, buttons resize and the navigation menu might become a drop down list so everything is easier to see and use on the smaller screen.

Why is this so important?

1) Mobile usage is massive

Stating the obvious, I know. It’s predicted that this year, mobile internet will take over desktop internet usage so ignore mobile users at your peril. The proportion of mobile searches is even higher for local search so if you’re trying to reach a local audience, this is even more significant.

2) Positive user experience has a direct impact on your sales

According to Google’s Think Insights, a user who has a positive mobile experience on your site is 67% more likely to buy a product or use a service. That’s pretty compelling.

3) 55% of social media consumption happens on mobiles*

Part of your digital marketing strategy might be to get people to interact with you via social media by Tweeting about your recent blog posts, for example, or getting visitors to share your content on Facebook. If mobile users follow your links from social media and end up on a website that’s not mobile friendly, chances are that they’ll bounce right back out again which is a waste of your efforts.
*source: study by ComScore

4) Responsive is usually a better bet than a separate mobile site

There’s been some debate in the web design industry over whether responsive or mobile is best. I sit on the side of responsive for a number of reasons. Because responsive design sites adapt to screen size, your site will still work well with brand new phones and tablets which may have different screen sizes, and even with other devices that haven’t been invented yet. That saves you the extra work a separate mobile site might require. A responsive site also has a single URL which makes it easier for search engine bots to crawl the site. This typically means a responsive site will perform better in search than a separate mobile site. You also only have one site to maintain which can save you time and money.

How do you get a responsively designed website?

As a small business, you might be wondering what you can do to your current website to make it responsive. It is possible to do a bit of a coding bodge to help improve your current site to make it more responsive. However, it’s likely to be a better idea to start again. There are likely to be other improvements you can make to the content of your site at the same time to improve it for the mobile audience.

If you’re starting from scratch, creating a responsive site is easier than you might think. Wordpress, for example, has ready-to-use themes which are responsive and will take care of everything for you. Why not use this change as an opportunity to have a complete revamp? It’s likely to prove a very worthwhile investment.

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