Responsive design, for those who don’t know what it means, is a single website layout which automatically adapts (grows, shrinks, changes size) to suit the device viewing it. This means that one website can cater for those on large desktops all the way down to smaller smartphones.
It sounds brilliant in principle: one design which works for mobile, tablet, laptop and desktop. However, in practice, it is not smart mobile marketing as it fails to deliver in these ways.
Just because it is considered better than nothing, it is not necessarily the best means of generating business out of mobile visitors. Being able to see the full content in a smartphone, for example, does not guarantee that the layout works in terms of conversion rates, or web forms suddenly become easier to use.
Worse, modern conversion ‘gold’ like Click to Call on mobile sites is not an option on most responsive designs. There is a strong case for suggesting that a familiar desktop site is better in a small screen than a half baked mobile one.
The most effective mobile sites behave like apps, offering the user large buttons, minimal text, more guided search and navigation, shorter forms, more phone call prompts and less overall choice in content.
A responsive design doesn’t really improve in these areas, it just makes sure ‘it ain’t broke’ (as far as possible). Which is sounds more like ‘damage limitation’ than a successful stratagem.
Just because your current website performs, it doesn’t mean that your mobile site will. Mobile users are, in many ways, unforgiving and demanding. Attention spans are brief, and they won’t appreciate ancillary content, clunky navigation or extraneous information. They are purpose-driven and if your mobile site doesn’t meet that purpose or need, they will exit. Even if it looks tidy.
In our experience, responsive websites give worse performance for mobile visitors than a the normal website, whereas businesses with bespoke mobile sites achieve much better performance.
To adapt to a responsive design means changing both ends – your website, and your mobile site – to ensure that your site works across both.
The result of this is that the same content, options, user experience and everything else cannot be fully optimised for both mobile and desktop visitors. It will be a compromise at best and, at worst, a straightjacket where you cannot really change, improve or adapt anything.
Google now looks at every website to see whether it has provided for Mobile Devices. This already affects your search rankings.
Trouble is, a Responsive Site looks like a normal website and therefore is often missed by Google when it indexes a site, giving the impression that the domain is not optimised for mobile devices. Whereas a dedicated mobile site is spotted by Google and therefore the SEO (and particularly Mobile SEO) rankings are then applied.
Of course, we’d argue that Google has this exactly right – a responsive website is NOT optimised for mobile.
It’s clear to us that Responsive Design is much more of a Placebo than a Panacea.
Businesses who use it think they are providing the best possible environment for both mobile and ‘normal’ web users, but they won’t see much reward for their endeavours as in the end all users will have a mediocre experience.