Research reveals that by 2015, over half of people browsing the web will be on a mobile device. And roughly 80% of mobile searchers say if they don't like what they find on one website, they'll leave that website and look for another, more mobile-friendly solution.

Businesses must start preparing now to meet customer expectations. But how? How does a business ensure that its web presence is mobile friendly?

In the past, we've talked with our clients about mobile websites versus mobile apps in meeting the needs of growing mobile audiences.

More and more, responsive website design is entering our conversations.

Below is a quick guide to responsive websites--what responsive design entails and the pros and cons of implementing a responsive website--to help you evaluate your choices as you think about making your website mobile-friendly.

What Is a Responsive Website?

Responsive websites can look similar to dedicated mobile websites, but they work very differently.

A responsive website detects different device screen sizes; it does not detect device types (e.g., iOS; Android; Windows; Blackberry). A responsive website automatically reformats design and content to best suit the size screen it's being viewed on.

Only one website is created, and it works for a variety of screen widths, from a widescreen desktop monitor to a compact mobile phone screen.

Hanover County Economic Development screenshots

The website for Hanover County Economic Development is responsive. It adapts itself to "fit" desktop, tablet and smartphone screens. Content and features are standard across each experience. And everything happens at one web address:

What Are the Pros and Cons of Responsive Website Design?


1. Content parity

You can't assume that a website visitor "won't do" certain things on a mobile device or "doesn't need" certain types of content or features; the "lite" web experience is a myth. Mobile devices users aren't always "on the go," either.

People search for information on search engines. They check and send email. They read articles, blog posts, and even books. They read product reviews, compare prices, and make purchases, all from mobile devices.

They use tablets and smartphones at work, out shopping, and sitting on the sofa at home.

For some folks, a mobile device may be the only way that they access and browse the web.

In light of the changing mobile context, it is imperative that people can access and find complete information, no matter what device they use or where they use it. With a responsive website, a website visitor can find just about the same content and features, whether they're on a smartphone or a desktop computer.

2. One website address

There's only one website address for your website. You don't have to wonder if people are at the correct version of your website, which can happen with a mobile website. If mobile redirects are not set up properly, people can wind up on the wrong website (e.g., they could be looking at your mobile website when they're using a desktop computer) and have a less-than-pleasing experience.

Plus, a single URL makes it easier for your website visitors to share your content. Everyone will end up in the right place, and they'll see the right version of the web page.

Ikea shows what mishaps can happen with mobile websites. This Craiglist ad, which was viewed on a laptop, has a link to Ikea's mobile website.

Craigslist screenshot
Craigslist ad


When you click on the link, you are not automatically redirected to the desktop website. You still end up at the mobile website...

ikea mobile website screenshot

The Ikea mobile website shows up, even though the visitor is using a laptop.

...which does not provide the expected experience.

ikea desktop site

This is Ikea's "full" or "desktop" website, which is what one expects to see on a laptop. Note that the mobile and desktop versions are vastly different, and provide different content.

3. Easy website maintenance

You only have to post your website edits once, and then you're done.

4. Independent of devices

Responsive websites are based on screen widths, not device types. Since a responsive website works independently of device type, you don't have to spend quite so much time researching and maintaining a library of mobile devices to detect and optimize for, something you have to do with mobile websites. An app is similar--you have to research and then maintain different versions of your app for different device types/platforms. This research and maintenance can be time- and resource-intensive. Ultimately, a responsive website can be more cost-effective for your company.

5. SEO benefits

Google is a proponent of responsive websites. Bing also favors the “one URL per content item” strategy.

Besides providing a good user experience for your visitors (an important component of search engine optimization) and cutting down on maintenance work and costs for your business, Bing identifies these other benefits of responsive websites: stronger inbound links (links from other websites to yours) and improved site performance.

By outputting only one URL for the same content, you will have the following benefits:

1. You have more ranking signals coming to this URL. Example: the vast majority of mobile URLs do not have inbound links from other websites as people do not link to mobiles URLs like they link to regular web-situated URLs.

2. This is also less search engine crawler traffic coming to your web servers, which is especially useful for large websites. Fewer URLs to crawl reduces the bandwidth our crawlers consume.

SEO agency Distilled reports that implementing a responsive website design decreased their bounce rate; and for one of their staffers, who has a freelance photography business, website visits increased by more than 400% in the first month after he implemented a responsive website.

Ultimately, responsive design can be a plus when it comes to your online visibility.


1. Harder to implement for existing websites

If you’re starting your website from scratch, it’s easier to make it responsive from the get-go.

Making an existing website responsive can pose some challenges. For instance, the existing website design may not lend itself to a responsive design. It can be hard to make an existing design adapt as it goes from large screens to small screens. This means that many parts of the site may need to be redesigned and developed again.

But, it's important to note that these potential costs are well worth the outcome: a better experience for web visitors!

2. Slightly longer loading times

With a responsive website, you are serving up essentially the same set of code as your desktop site. Some adjustments will be made, but not as many as a full-on mobile website. A responsive website might take slightly longer to load when viewed on a mobile device. But the differences are negligible, and if done right, responsive design won't have a negative impact on performance.

3. Possible customer confusion

As long as a website displays properly on a mobile device, people are usually happy. Some customers, though, may wonder where the “view full website” link is. They may not realize that they’re at the “full” website already. But as responsive websites become more commonplace, this isn't likely to be a huge issue.

Should my business implement a responsive web design?

The pros definitely outweigh the cons when it comes to responsive websites. A people-first approach that makes website maintenance easier, improves SEO, and lowers costs? Yes, please!

The cons of responsive design simply illustrate that, as with any other online marketing initiative, you've got to carefully research and execute your plan; sometimes, your plan might take some time to implement fully. And, with all new things, it might take some getting used to.

With the evolution of online behavior, you can't afford to ignore your mobile audiences. A responsive website can definitely be a helpful tool in reaching those audiences and meeting their needs.

However, take this advice with a grain of salt--responsive isn't the end all, be all of mobile-friendly website strategy. The approach you take depends, fundamentally, on the needs of your customers. Through careful analysis of your website analytics and customer profiles, you might find that a mobile website or a mobile app is better suited to your target audiences.

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Don't leave your mobile strategy up to guesswork. Contact us today for a free mobile website readiness review.

Photo credit: Michele Ficara Manganelli