As predicted, mobile use has officially taken over desktop use1. Is your mobile traffic increasing? Average mobile traffic this year is over 17% of total internet traffic, a sizeable jump from 20122. Does your audience include women? Females spend the most time on the web using mobile devices3. Is your tablet traffic steadily increasing but you don’t have a site that is optimized for tablet users? 50% of mobile users will use businesses less often if their websites aren’t mobile friendly4.

There are an endless number of factors to consider when designing or redesigning a website, and it is often overwhelming to predict which strategy will produce the best return on investment. Additionally, as technology continues to evolve seemingly weekly, there is a common sentiment that what is popular today may be old news tomorrow. But just as surely as the mobile market will continue to boom, it is a safe bet that responsive design is here to stay.

Mobile site options
There are three options companies can choose from when catering to mobile audiences, and understanding the pros and cons of each is essential to selecting the best approach:

  • Mobile Website: A mobile site is a scaled-back version of your site that is specific to mobile phones. Mobile sites are typically focused on the key pages and goals of important site visitors, but consequently, don’t offer promotional opportunities or content depth for marketers. By design, mobile sites only render when visitors are accessing your site via mobile devices, and though many CMSs allow for content sharing between the two sites, mobile traffic is under a separate host name, which can negatively impact your ability to achieve specific SEO goals.
  • Mobile Apps: Mobile apps are very specialized, task-focused and developed for each kind of mobile device (e.g., iphone, Droid). Mobile apps typically sit outside of a CMS and can be costly, but are great for brand awareness and customer retention. Mobile apps will always have a place in the mobile market, but should not be considered a substitute for a mobile site.
  • Responsive Design: Responsive web design is a device-agnostic mobile strategy that involves designing and developing a single website with CSS media queries for each target size (e.g., laptop/desktop, mobile phone, tablet). The resulting site automatically adapts to the device size and orientation, co-exists with other mobile strategies as applicable, and is naturally SEO friendly.

Selecting a responsive website design agency
Building a custom responsive website is more technically challenging than a standard website development project, so it is important that you work with an agency that has developed responsive websites before. A great responsive web development agency will take the time to review your existing site analytics, understand challenges for mobile users, and recommend solutions. Responsive web development agencies should also help you evaluate which content should be suppressed on mobile or tablet versions of your site, and recommend a responsive design strategy that is scalable for your business. Based on the nature of your business or initiative, as well as meaningful audience analytics, the agency may even take a mobile-first approach to the project. For marketers and IT professionals selecting a web development agency, take the time to review the agency’s responsive websites and of course, make sure the agency’s clients are happy with the end-result.

What is involved in responsive web development?
When tackling a website design or redesign project, it’s important that your website development agency know from the very beginning that you want your website to be responsive. Custom responsive design involves additional design and development time, and thus a larger investment, but the results are well worth it.

  • Designing responsive websites: The design team will typically develop a laptop/desktop version of the site first, while being cognizant of how elements will work in mobile and tablet versions, and possibly large-screen versions as well. Once finalized, the team will then adapt the laptop/desktop design to the mobile versions.
  • Developing responsive websites: The development team will then use fluid grids, flexible images and CSS3 media queries to build the site for each targeted size. Upon completion, it’s critical that the site is thoroughly tested in each device and orientation to ensure it provides the desired user experience.

For visitors, responsive sites provide a device-specific experience, allowing them to most positively interact with the site and take their desired actions. For businesses, responsive design “future-proofs” their website, supports search engine optimization, and provides a more customized experience for the rapidly growing mobile market.

To learn more about whether responsive web design is a good investment for your next website design or development project, contact ZAG Interactive for a complementary consultation.

1,3: eMarketer; 2: Statcounter; 4 Balihoo