The 7 Myths of Responsive Web Design
August 27, 2015 | Contributed by: Haresh Kumar
One of the greatest challenges facing marketers today is the explosion of mobile. From the volume of online traffic to hours spent online, mobile has surpassed desktop as consumers’ preferred method of accessing the web.
The daunting question all companies must answer correctly: how do we provide our customers with the best experiences across devices? One popular answer is responsive web design (RWD).
First introduced in 2010, RWD allows you to take your desktop site and deliver it to any device so that it fits on the screen and users are able interact without zooming and scrolling.
Many websites were eager to adopt the approach, and it gained enough momentum that Mashable declared 2013 the year of responsive design. It remains a frequently chosen option for delivering to mobile today, but is it actually the best solution?
Over the years, a number of different myths have emerged around responsive. And many of these are resurfacing today as brands evaluate the effectiveness of their responsive experiences. Let’s take a look at the top 7 myths.
Myth 1: A Responsive Site Allows You to Create the Best Layout
One of the great advantages of RWD is that you can adjust the layout to be different for different screen sizes. You can, for example, change from a 3-column layout on a larger screen to a 1-column layout to fit a narrower mobile screen. However, the flexibility you have in terms of altering the layout for mobile is limited. One great example is the store locator feature.
Let’s say your store locator feature is in a sidebar on your desktop site. When you shrink the page down to the size of a mobile screen, the store locator feature might get pushed down toward the bottom of the page as the content aligns vertically.
With RWD alone, there is nothing that can be easily done to move the store locator back up to the top of the mobile page. So while the layout may be optimized to fit well on the screen, it’s not optimized for the mobile user’s context – which is core to meeting customer expectations.
Myth 2: Responsive Sites Provide an Optimized User Experience
Read an article or two about the the advantages of RWD, and you’re likely to see a mention of a better user experience. RWD does in fact provide a better user experience than pinch-and-zoom mobile sites. However, simply avoiding pinching and zooming is not enough.
Consumers behave differently on mobile than on desktop. They turn to their mobile devices on the go, during mobile moments. And they have shorter attention spans than on desktop. Mobile-specific optimizations, such as displaying specific content based on location or enhancing the mobile checkout experience with number-only keyboards for payment fields, are necessary for effectively engaging consumers on mobile and driving higher conversions.
With RWD, you are delivering the same code to all devices, making mobile-specific optimizations very difficult to impossible. This leaves RWD sites optimized for mobile screens but not for mobile customers.
Myth 3: A Responsive Site Means a Faster Load Time
One touted advantage of RWD is it allows for a single URL for desktop and mobile rather than redirecting to a separate m.dot site from Google’s mobile search results or another website. Responsive sites might not lose microseconds on a redirect, but they can be significantly slower because they deliver all the same heavy, slow-loading assets and HTML content to every device.
A study by the The Search Agency in late 2013, for example, found that the average load time for responsive sites was 4.8 times that of an m.dot site. And a June 2014 study by Keynote and Internet Retailer found that the average page load time on smartphones for a dozen top retail sites was 18 seconds.
But two-thirds of smartphone users expect a site to load in 4 seconds or less. This highlights an important point: with responsive design alone, the HTML may render correctly on mobile devices, but your mobile site’s not as fast as it should be. And this leads to dramatically lower conversion rates. A 1-second delay in page load time, for example, translates into a 7% loss in conversions.
To increase your responsive site’s conversion rates and deliver the rich, fast mobile experiences your customers expect, you must apply delivery acceleration techniques, built into mobile experience optimization platforms.
Myth 4: Responsive Sites Provide More Control
For many brands – especially those investing significant time and capital into building a responsive site in-house – RWD represents an opportunity to take control of their mobile experiences. RWD does provide control over the adaption of desktop experiences to mobile screens. But responsive design limits you when it comes to delivering different experiences on desktop and mobile.
Mobile experience optimization (MEO), on the other hand, gives you the control to provide mobile users with distinct experiences to meet their different needs and expectations. One great example is checkout. On desktop, brands can easily have a long checkout process.
They can focus on upsells such as product recommendations to increase average order value, drive customers to join loyalty programs or collect additional information such as telephone numbers. But for mobile users who are on the go and using smaller screens, a several-step checkout process with multiple sections to scroll through is simply too long.
With MEO, you can create mobile-specific checkouts, collapsing or eliminating fields like discount codes and additional contact info, or even shortening the number of steps it takes to check out.
In early 2011, Google rolled out their Panda update which penalized sites for having “thin, low quality, and duplicate content.” Because m.dot sites have the same content as the desktop site, there was a fear that Google would view the content as duplicate. Given the importance of organic traffic to so many sites and the severity of some of the penalties in the wake of the update, it’s perhaps not surprising that the notion of responsive sites being better for SEO arose and persists today.
However, according to the Google Developer documentation, Google has no issues with m-dot sites. You can easily signal to the Googlebot that the separate URLs are actually two experiences of the same page using a snippet of code in the page’s head of both your mobile and desktop sites.
Earlier this year, the idea of responsive web design being necessary for SEO stepped back into the spotlight with the Google mobile-friendly algorithm update. Adapting the desktop experience to smaller screens using responsive design does enable sites to meet Google’s mobile-friendly criteria. However, mobile friendliness is only a first step in delivering better mobile experiences; and responsive web design alone is not enough to remain ahead of the curve for the next Google algorithm update.Myth 6: If You Haven’t Gone Responsive, You’re Lagging Behind
A Forbes article declared, “If…your business isn’t taking advantage of responsive web design right now or planning on it in the very near future, you are in danger of going out of business in 2014.” A number of leading sites like Microsoft, Sony, Time, and Mashable have chosen the responsive approach, seeming to indicate that responsive design could be the approach of choice.
However, a study by Guy Pod of the top 100,000 websites concluded in 2014 revealed that only 11% were responsive – even among the most elite group, the top 100 sites.
Moreover, a number of the most well-known companies do not have responsive sites, including Amazon, YouTube, Apple, eBay, Twitter and Facebook. So responsive design has not been overwhelmingly adopted by top websites.
It is worth noting that responsive web design alone could still be a good alternative for your mobile experiences – particularly if you’re a publishing site where mobile users are simply scrolling through articles. But one factor in your decision should not be the notion that all of the market leaders are going responsive.
In fact many leading brands have chosen to build unique mobile-only experiences for their mobile customers. And they are using MEO to provide the personalized, contextual experiences that RWD alone cannot provide.
Myth 7: A Responsive Site Means You’ve Got All Your Mobile Bases Covered
Building a responsive site requires extensive rewriting of your desktop code, can take months to do well and is often very costly. Responsive design definitely pays off when it comes to addressing the first component of mobile optimization: screen adaption.But with responsive design alone you are not only unable to make device-specific optimizations to provide better mobile experiences today.
You are also unable to iterate on your existing experiences easily to ensure you remain ahead of the mobile maturity curve in the future. With MEO, on the other hand, you can A/B test to further optimize your existing responsive experiences and increase conversions. You can, for example, test guest checkout versus logged in checkout. Or you can test a header with ‘Free Shipping’ and a search bar versus a header without either a search bar or a shipping offer.
Iterating on your mobile experiences is critical. What is considered a great mobile experience today may well not be good enough tomorrow. And brands that fail to improve their mobile experiences will fall behind their competitors.
Is Responsive Meeting Your Business Needs?
Today, responsive web design remains a popular technique. But is it enough? If your customers don’t need to browse any products or services or fill out any forms, then a purely responsive approach could be a good fit. But for most companies, especially those who want to remain at the forefront of mobile, responsive web design alone is insufficient.
The good news is, if you’ve gone responsive you’ve absolutely taken the right first step. Mobile experience optimization can be applied on top of your existing responsive site, without needing to invest significant amounts of additional time or resources, to deliver better mobile experiences and drive higher conversions.
What’s important to remember is this: responsive design is just one step for companies looking to provide their customers with the best mobile experiences. The next step is MEO.