9 April 2013
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Why Having a Responsive Website is Not a Mobile StrategyWhy Having a Responsive Website is Not a Mobile Strategy

With nearly a third of all web interactions taking place via mobile devices today, the need for optimized mobile-friendly websites is beyond argument.

By | @wmikewhite
Published April 9, 2013

One of the biggest steps forward in the web design industry’s efforts to make mobile easier to manage and more successful is the advent and increasing usage of responsive design.  Responsive design refers to a website being coded in such a way that the design of the page “responds to” the size screen it’s being viewed on.  This can involve anything from scaling image sizes and re-organizing text to completely altering the navigation menus and the order of content displayed for the viewer.

There’s no doubt that having a responsive website design solves many of the initial challenges facing business owners who are trying to maximize the returns on their marketing dollar, because it allows for much of the optimization efforts you put into your main website to carry over into your mobile experience as well.  As brought out in this excellent article from Smashing Magazine, responsive web design is Google’s preferred method for indexing purposes, so it has definite SEO advantages.

However, there’s a danger in relying on a responsive website as your sole mobile marketing strategy.  Here’s why:

Responsive Design Creates Performance Issues

While a high-quality responsive design does ease the transition from large screen to mobile, making your website look worlds better than it would without the inherent adjustments, it’s not a blanket solution that comprehensively covers all the differences between devices.

For example, while responsive design can usually effectively resize images to be viewed on a smaller screen, the images are generally loaded at full size first.  This translates to slower load times, and potentially crippling hangups on image-heavy sites.  In a Pinterest-infused rich media universe, the average mobile user wants the full internet experience they’re used to, so your responsive site might leave a lot to be desired if it takes 45 seconds to pull up.

Responsive Design Ignores Device Preferences

A user viewing your site on their iPad while they sit on the couch in front of the TV is likely looking for a very different experience from the user who got to your site via a Google search on their tiny Kyocera Milano while they were stuck in rush hour traffic.

By giving these two users essentially the same experience in two different sizes, you’re unlikely to thrill them both.

This is a tough call, of course, since the number of different devices and the level of mobile web usage continues to skyrocket, and it becomes less possible to accurately predict what a particular user is hoping to get out of your site.  Still, there are some general usage norms that still hold true, and your full mobile strategy should be addressing those if you’re hoping for maximum ROI.

Responsive Design Can Harm SEO Efforts

While many of the basic keywords and phrases you’ve optimized your site for may be the same whether searchers are on their laptops or their phones, many are probably different too.  For instance, if you’re running a restaurant and you’re looking to capitalize on local searches, the term “restaurants nearby” is likely to be a mobile goldmine, but means nothing for people searching from their desks.

Of course, that doesn’t mean your site can’t be set up to take advantage of both kinds of searches, but that you’re going to have a tougher time ranking for either if you split your efforts that way.  This in-depth article from SearchEngineLand about responsive design and SEO goes into far more detail about the challenges responsive design can present.

When it’s all said and done, the final decision has to be based on what’s best for your unique situation and specifically your target audience.  If the benefits of managing one site instead of multiple sites outweighs the potential drawbacks of responsive design, that may be the best way to go.  If those drawbacks are going to significantly harm your business as mobile web continues to rise in popularity, you may want to seriously consider separate mobile websites with device-specific targeting.

If you need some help deciding what’s best for your business’s unique situation, let our consultants help you out.


By | Published April 9, 2013

Mike is the founder at Urban Shuffle, a San Francisco based mobile marketing platform specializing in consumer engagement, customer acquisition and retention.

Why Having a Responsive Website is Not a Mobile StrategyWhy Having a Responsive Website is Not a Mobile Strategy
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