This post was updated May 2015 to reflect the recent changes to Google’s algorithm aka “Mobilegeddon.”

Naturally a lot of our clients asked about websites that cater to mobile users. But since Google’s recent algorithm update in April 2015, the flow of questions is even heavier, and the need for action is even more important.

What does it mean when a website is responsive?

First thing’s first. We must understand what responsive design is and why it is important.

Now that there are iPhones, iPads, Droid phones, BlackBerrys, Kindles, tiny laptops, and desktop computers with huge monitors, it’s no surprise that not every website works well and looks good on all those different sizes of screens. In the next five years, we’ll likely need to design for even more inventions and gadgets. When will the insanity stop? It won’t…because the plethora of devices will only continue to grow. That’s why website design is a constantly evolving industry. Exciting and exhausting all at the same time!

With the evolution of technology, web designers have come up with a strategy to design for the many different sizes of screens without having to make separate apps for each device. Responsive web design is a programming technique that allows optimal display of a website on all of these devices from a single site.

Responsive Web design is the approach in design and development wherein the website responds to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation. Responsive design is created by using a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of modern CSS media queries.

The site changes and transforms its layout and images based on the given pixel / resolution of the monitor or screen size. (Hint: This site is responsive. Grab the corner of your browser and make it smaller and then bigger to understand how this works.)

Responsive Web design is the approach in design and development wherein the website responds to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation. Responsive design is created by using a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of modern CSS media queries.

As the user switches from their desktop to their laptop to iPad, the website should automatically change and adjust to accommodate for resolution, image size and scripting abilities. In other words, the website should have the technology to automatically respond to the user’s device. The idea is to eliminate the need for a different design or separate “mobile site” for each new gadget on the market.

But responsive web design is not only about adjustable screen resolutions and automatically resizable images, but rather about a whole new way of thinking about design. Responsive design is an attempt to make a more sustainable, user-friendly system for developing a website.

With mobile use on the rise, user experience on these various devices is more important than ever. Buttons must be large enough to be easily clicked with a finger without touching another link or button. Important content must be accessible without having to pinch and zoom or scroll sideways. Designs must work on dozens of different sized monitors, some as small as a dollar bill, others the size of a huge TV. Responsive design is the answer to this challenge.

The better optimized your site is for all these different devices, the higher user engagement you will have. When users stay on your website for longer periods of time, click to multiple pages and ultimately take the action you want them to take, Google will reward you with higher search engine ranking, especially when users are searching on said mobile devices.

As of April 2015, Google is officially recommending responsive design as the best way to build a website. Most modifications to Google’s “magical” search formula have only a minimal impact on search results, however Google says the effect of this change will be profound. It is important for any business owner with a website to respond accordingly!

A responsive website is different than a mobile app because you don’t have separate mobile, tablet and desktop versions of your site. Regardless of what device a visitor is using to access your site, they’ll see all of the content you have to offer (no more partial-content mobile versions of sites) and they’ll encounter it in an easy-to-read format. This makes it easier for business owners to manage their content.

Choosing a responsive website versus a separate mobile website is a highly debated topic. Both options have pros and cons. Having a separate desktop and mobile site requires having separate content management, SEO, tracking and measuring. In that respect, responsive wins. That being said, there are benefits to having a mobile-specific SEO strategy, such as optimizing for keywords that are more likely to be searched when someone is on their smart phone.

At the end of the day, for SEO purposes, I recommend using responsive design because, well… Google says so.

Is Responsive Web Design Essential For Your Business?

The short answer is, probably. Before Google’s algorithm change, we used to recommend that each business decide for themselves based on their audience and budget. But whether search engine optimization (SEO) is an official part of your marketing strategy or not, being found on Google is most certainly important. And now that Google is officially recommending responsive design, it is important for your website to be mobile friendly.

Things to consider:

1. What portion of your website users are on mobile devices?

Check your Google Analytics. You might be surprised at how many visitors are getting to your website through mobile devices (phones and tablets). In your Google Analytics, select “Audience” on the left side, then “Mobile” to see what proportion of traffic is from mobile devices. You can even drill down to see which devices are sending the traffic.

If you don’t have Google Analytics installed, that should be your first order of business. Have your web developer install it and start tracking and analyzing your website traffic immediately!

2. How do your customers find you?

If any portion of your new clients and leads are finding you on the internet, responsive design is a must. Catering to these users and making your website more easy to navigate, easy to read and better looking on a phone or tablet could mean the difference between getting their business or not.

3. What type of business do you have?

If you have a restaurant or other location-based business, again responsive design (or having a mobile friendly website) is absolutely essential. Your users need to be able to find the most important information immediately (address, phone number, menu, etc.) They may never find your website on their mobile devices if it isn’t responsive. And if they do, they may walk or drive right past your business if your website is difficult to use!

Conclusion

If you are concerned with being found online and with the usability of your website for the rapidly growing number of smartphone and tablet users, then you must redesign your website in a “responsive” fashion.