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Thoughts & Articles

So, What is a Responsive Website, Anyway? (Good Design, and Why You Should Care)

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Whether you're an artist or an artisan, a small-business entrepreneur or a self-employed writer, you've likely heard what is by now an adage: make your website mobile-friendly.

The reason for prioritizing mobile is clear: according to TechCrunch, this month, mobile web surfing accounts for 52% of consumers' time spent with digital media. And every time your customer bounces from your slow-loading mobile site, you lose a potential conversion. Conversely, if their experience on a tablet or phone is comparable to most desktops — that is, snappy — you stand a better chance of making that next sale.

Bottom line, mobile-friendly experiences protect — even boost — your business.

In the designer's world, one approach to this is to build responsive sites — essentially, web pages that respond to the size of the screen on which they're viewed. That is, they're not an entirely separate, mobile version of your desktop address — your responsive site doesn't have its own address — rather it's a differently arranged version of your existing URL.

But, if you're thinking about responsive design, what strategies should come into play? The following are five key considerations for designing your business' responsive site — helpful tips for making it work the right way for every device.

  1. Plan your design for mobile early in the process. Advantages to this approach include not "baking in" unneeded desktop-related code that mobile devices end up loading, regardless. That loading time can slow down performance, even put you in the dreaded bounce category — which is what you're trying to avoid in the first place.
  2. Don't design for desktop last, however. Here's an initial challenge: while mobile is clearly ascendant, a recent comScore report shows that desktop digital-media consumption is still the primary avenue for 40% of web users. That's potentially 4 out of 10 of your customers! With that in mind, you don't want your mobile design to dictate a ho-hum desktop site. You might need to implement two designs (which leads into our next point).
  3. Keep it dynamic. Custom responsive options are the new normal, if you ask the designers at Slab. Don't feel confined to a one-size-fits-all box. If you know there should be differences within your responsive ecosystem, insist on them. You understand your customers best and your designer is there to enact your vision, not enforce his or her own.
  4. Deploy size-appropriate calls to action. As your available screen real estate changes, your calls to action become subject to that dynamic. "On a full-size resolution you might fit in a phone number, a tagline, a contact form, and a call-to-action button," said Damon Burton, president of SEO National. "On a 320-by-480 phone you might only be able to fit a phone number and one of the other items." How can designers strike the best balance between desktop and mobile in a responsive system? Turn to research, Burton suggested. "Data doesn't lie," he said. "Look at analytics and understand which call-to-actions perform better [in which environment] and where to include them."
  5. Watch your art! Visuals are great, but when your 480-pixel-wide screen is groaning under a 1920-pixel load, you've created just the kind of slowdown your responsive site are supposed to avoid. Ensure that your picture inventory is delivering appropriately sized content to each device.

Finally, a key takeaway is to know your customers.

"If your mobile visitors are likely to spend time with your site with the goal of understanding details of your products and services and engaging with your content, you will likely want a responsive site that presents your entire web presence," said Angela Kujava, director of innovation at Logic Solutions.

On the other hand, she said, "if your mobile visitors are performing on-the-go activities, such as quickly finding your contact information, physical location, or performing a specified task, you will want to create a [responsive] experience that is catered to those exact needs, rather than expecting visitors to wade through content."

All right, owners and designers, have you figured out responsive-design approaches that work well for you? Drop us a note here at Slab and we'll consider them in a future look at responsive-site strategies.

Managing your business is hard enough. Managing your website should be easy. Slab offers high quality, custom designed, easy to edit websites. Talk to us about building your site, one that you can update yourself with ease. E-mail [email protected], or call us at 617.566.3433.