Since responsive web design (RWD) came onto the scene in 2010, it has been regarded by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Google as the web development standard. You can’t ignore the mobile stats anymore. You need to reach mobile users – they are tired of pinching and zooming on your teeny text. Should you use responsive web design? Does responsive web sites create the best experience for the user? What is best for SEO?
If you have a different goal that is mobile specific, go with a mobile website.
Companies with a mature mobile strategy will develop specific content and experience for smartphone users. If this is the case, a dedicated mobile site will make sense. A good example of this is Domino’s Pizza. A desktop visitor could be visiting Domino’s website for several reasons. They could be looking for the newest specialty pizza, or they could be looking for a job at the careers section of the website. Domino’s has figured out that most mobile visitors are trying to do one thing, order a pizza as quickly as possible. With this goal in mind, Domino’s was able to create an optimal mobile user experience and increase pizza sales from mobile devices by 50% each year.
In many situations, a company will not have a sophisticated mobile strategy so goals for desktop and mobile are the same. For example, the Boston Globe has the same goal on desktop and mobile: push news content out to readers. Most small businesses will not develop a separate content strategy for mobile users. If that is the case, responsive web design will do just the trick.
The Boston Globe decided that responsive web design would allow their readers to consume news content the best.
To truly develop a best in class mobile experience, you need a mobile website. Responsive design is great because you can create a consistent user experience for all devices, but if you purposefully want a different user experience for mobile, you need a dedicated mobile site.
Use responsive design if SEO is your primary source of traffic.
SEO for a single domain is hard, add in a mobile domain (m.yoursite.com) and you have to double up your SEO efforts. Why? You need to create unique content for both, build links for both, optimize both, create a site map for both…you get the idea. In the case of Domino’s they rely more on PPC for their mobile site. If you are searching on your mobile phone for Pizza, you are probably ready to call and order. This is when PPC pointing to a mobile site can be a great tool. You know what users want to do and make it easy for them. If you are a small pizza company with a low ranking mobile site and no PPC, you won’t get that many calls for pizza.
Responsive design (with fast mobile load times) is really the best way to go for SEO. In fact, Google will reward faster sites in search engine rankings and punish the slower loading sites.
To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users. – Google Webmaster Blog
Google is tightening the requirements of websites. Google wants you to use a responsive site and they want it to load fast too.
If you want easier maintenance, build a responsive web site.
This is a little bit repetitive to the last section. Having a single site to maintain is much less work than two. Half the development, design, SEO, and content effort.
When milliseconds mean money, build a separate mobile site or app even.
The problem with responsive web design is the load time. Browsers HATE scaling images and bloated CSS files. I have seen way too many responsive sites with more than 10 style sheets, and numerous server requests. The result is a slow loading website that creates a poor experience for users. Some of these responsive sites can take over 10 seconds to load on mobile devices.
A 1-second delay in page load web performance equals 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and 7% loss in conversions. (In dollar terms, this means that if your site typically earns $100,000 a day, this year you could lose $2.5 million in sales.) [Source: Aberdeen Group]
Of course, a well developed responsive site will load fast. If you are shopping around for WordPress themes, you should check the page load time before you purchase the theme.
Either way go with responsive design.
Responsive web design might not be the future, but it is the now. Even if you do decide to develop a stand alone mobile site, you should consider using responsive web design as the basis for your desktop site; after all, there isn’t a standard for desktop monitors anyway. In my opinion, you should incorporate RWD in every desktop site for that reason alone. Whatever you decide to do today, you should plan on revamping your website again in 3-5 years anyway. By then CSS4 will be the hot thing.