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Do you need a responsive website? (Part 2)

Various devices that can access the web

In Part 1, you were introduced to what responsive design is, how it differs from mobile sites, and then were given a list of things to consider when deciding if you need a responsive site. Here we will get into some more detail about the factors which affect each consideration, and talk about the pros and cons of responsive in different situations.

Consider the following:

  1. What devices your visitors are using.

    This is by far the most important thing to consider. People use tablets, netbooks, old cell phones, smartphones, and more to browse the web, and that’s just right now! In the future, there will be more devices added to this list, and formats we can’t even imagine yet (sixrevisions.com). You’ll need to find out who your audience is, and from there you can figure out how they’re going to be visiting your site. For example, of US consumers aged 18-34 with mobile phones, 60% use the mobile internet, and that will rise to 76% by 2015 (eMarketer). By comparison, tablet users tend to be older and wealthier (NewMediaTrendWatch). According to eMarketer, 22.9% of internet users are connected on a tablet. By the way, tablet conversion rates are close to identical to desktops (internetretailer).

  2. Your site’s visitors need to see all the content.

    By making your site responsive, you are able to keep all of the content available and useable on every device. The majority of people who are using the web worldwide are doing so on some sort of mobile device - people who don’t have the resources to view your site on a desktop. Those visitors should be able to access everything on your site with ease.

    Josh Clark says it really well:

    “A pair of studies late last year from Pew and from On Device Research showed that over 25% of people in the US who browse the Web on smartphones almost never use any other platform. That’s north of 11% of adults in the US, or about 25 million people, who only see the Web on small screens. There’s a digital-divide issue here. People who can afford only one screen or internet connection are choosing the phone. If you want to reach them at all, you have to reach them on mobile. We can’t settle for serving such a huge audience a stripped-down experience or force them to swim through a desktop layout in a small screen.” (Net Magazine)

  3. Time and money.

    Yes, building a responsive site will be more expensive and take a bit more time than a static site. Talk about your budget and timeline with your site design agency - they’ll help you figure out if you need and can afford it. Reputable agencies won’t tell you you can unless you actually can - it’s just good business. They want to build sites that will look good on their portfolio, and a non-responsive site that’s well-planned, designed, and developed is far better than a broken responsive one.

    That said, responsive can be far more beneficial in the long-run for your business or non-profit. Conversion rates (jargon for sales, donations, or other actions like signups) are favorably affected by having a good experience with the site overall. Since many users will be visiting from tablets and cellphones, it’s important for them to have a good experience everywhere in order to get conversions from all these devices.

  4. Where your website lives.

    Most websites that people think of are on the world wide web. This is where everyone can see it, so the larger population and how they view the site is most important. However, not all sites live on the WWW.

    If your website is on an intranet where people will only be using it at work, for example, it may make sense to only make a static site. Those users will be on their computers for most of the day anyway, so it’ll probably meet your needs to have a static desktop format.

  5. How long you want your site to last.

    More people are using non-desktops to view the web every year, and new devices will continue to revolutionize the way we see the web. If you want your website to be easily maintainable and flexible enough to continue to serve visitors content in continually changing formats, responsive is the way to go. If a company suddenly decides to make a shoe with a screen that can access the web, you’d be able to read a responsive site’s content on it.

    If you’re making a splash page that will only be up for a week and your audience will only be viewing the site on a desktop (see point number 1), it may be fine to come up with a less robust solution. Doing your market research is key.

  6. Visitor experience and recommendations

    “A bad experience on a mobile website leaves mobile web users much less likely to return to, or recommend, a particular website. Nearly half of mobile web users are unlikely to return to a website that they had trouble accessing from their phone, and 57% are unlikely to recommend the site” (Compuware). Since so many users are going to your site on tablets, cell phones, and more, doesn’t it make sense to make your site look good on all of them? If a user needs to click a link on a smartphone, it’s frustrating to “fat-finger” it and miss - especially when it’s the design’s fault. With a responsive site, the links can change into buttons with more clickable area to be easier to use on a tablet or phone.

There’s no concrete answer to the question “Do I need a responsive website?” It will vary based on your resources and market. I said it before, but it’s so important that I’ll say it again: Research your audience. It’s important to discuss internally who you’re really trying to reach and then figure out what they do to get online. Are they going to your site in their downtime, lounging on the sofa, using a tablet? Or are they at work, doing research on a desktop computer? Will they need information from your site on the go, at an airport, on a smartphone?

Discuss your budget, timeframe, and audience with your creative team or agency. They’ll help you figure out the best course of action for your website.