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Three Reasons Why Responsive Web Design Is Responsible Web Design

by Ryan DeShazer, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012

The acceleration of users accessing Web content from mobile devices rather than traditional desktop and laptop computers has posed a difficult challenge to webmasters: how should websites be presented to users who are accessing content via mobile devices? There are a number of design and UX considerations, coupled with the realities of fragmented mobile OS and device ecosystems that make this very problematic.

Responsive Web design has emerged as both one of the hottest trends in Web design and development, as well as the preferred method to address these challenges. According to Stanford University, a responsive website is one that “responds to the device that accesses it and delivers the appropriate output for it uses responsive design. Rather than designing multiple sites for different-sized devices, this approach designs one site but specifies how it should appear on varied devices.”

Responsive Web design is not only practical; it’s become the responsible way to pursue user-centric design and experiences. I say this because of three key observations:

1) Everyone and their brother is getting on board. Look at the surge in search query activity that Google Trends is reporting for “responsive web design”! After just a year and a half, it seems we’re approaching a tipping point of sorts, whereby every site designed and developed will have responsive design considerations. We can expect web designers and developers to begin to incorporate responsive design principles into their work streams naturally.

Soon, organizations will no longer need to debate the merits of making its websites “mobile-friendly”; mobile-optimized will already in play.

2) Google has identified it as an SEO best practice I touched on this briefly in a column from June, “Welcome Back, Summer of Search.” In that piece I noted that, “To date, Google has only released cryptic (or contradictory) advice about how to properly build and optimize mobile web destinations. However, during one of the SEO sessions, Pierre Far of Google set the record straight. Google’s preferred format is (now) responsive web design…”

Beyond Google’s direct endorsement, a key consideration for SEOs is the consolidation of inbound link equity. With both desktop and mobile site experiences resolving to the same URLs, inbound links all point to a common destination. This is hugely helpful for SEO link development efforts; it mitigates the concern of inbound link fragmentation where the destination page is the same, though URLs differ.

3) Users expect mobile-friendliness. Just this past week, Google released new data indicating that users expect mobile-friendliness when they surf the Web from their smartphones and tablet devices. According to Google, “67% of mobile users say that they’re more likely to buy a product or service from a mobile-friendly site, and 74% say they’re more likely to return to that site in the future.”

These very clear expectations make the case for mobile-optimized site experiences. Responsive design, as a result of its ease of implementation and SEO friendliness, is the most logical approach (barring technical obstacles that may make it impractical). Assuming it is technically feasible, responsive design also delivers a very scalable framework where new mobile OS and device configurations can be introduced in an ongoing and modular way.

Your website’s mobile-friendliness then becomes evolutionary and considerate of the most commonly used platforms. That type of user-centric design is not only a good idea; it’s the most responsible approach.

Ryan DeShazer is Senior Vice President, Digital Experience, at GSW Worldwide, an inVentiv Health Company. He is a frequent speaker at major industry conferences such as Ad:Tech and Search Engine Strategies, and is currently writing his first book, “Subject to Search,” due for release Q4 2012.

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