Think about how your business' customers interact with your website. Now open your website on a smartphone or tablet. Is the same experience possible on all devices?
A poor mobile experience can be disastrous for small enterprises attempting to build their digital businesses.
What has become clear is that businesses must redesign their online presence to take mobile device access into consideration. This is where responsive design comes in very handy indeed.
In essence, responsive design allows the creation of a website that reformats its contents depending on what device it is being viewed on.
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Clearly, a website will look and behave very differently on a 27-inch desktop monitor than on a 9-inch tablet PC. Responsive design takes these differences into consideration to ensure that the user experience is always optimised. As a good primer in responsive design, the blog post by Ethan Marcotte is essential reading.
Responsive design has a number of key advantages for small businesses:
- Content can be created once and delivered to multiple devices
- The user experience is the same no matter which device accesses the site's content
- As consumers increasingly use mobile devices to shop, responsive design can ensure this activity is familiar on a desktop, phone or tablet
- With over half of the UK's population now owning a smartphone, content must be optimised for this channel
- Marketing opportunities can be enhanced with complementary services all delivered instantly across all customer touch points
For a responsive design to be successful, detailed planning is vital.
Taking the time to understand the content your business wants to include, and how responsive design principles will impact on that content, is critical to assess before any construction is begun. And, of course, there is a clear commercial advantage that isn't lost on smaller enterprises, as they can build one website for all devices their customers might use to interact with their businesses.
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Says Ben McKeown, lead designer at the digital marketing agency, Greenlight: "There are certainly exceptions to using responsive design, but, for the vast majority of small businesses, responsive design is going to be the most cost-effective, future-proof and efficient way of ensuring your site can be viewed on all devices and platforms."
And David Wynne, founder at creative software workshop, Red Badger, also points out: "Responsive web design isn't just about making your site look good on an iPhone or iPad, it's about providing a consistent cross-device experience for users, and future proofing so that your product will adapt with technological developments."
One of the major issues with responsive design is that many businesses do not fully understand how the end user will access the content they are creating.
A beautiful design that is slow to load on a phone connected to the 3G network does nothing for the user experience and misses the point of responsive design entirely.
It's important to assess every aspect of your site, from images to text, and think about how these elements will - or not - work together when viewed on a variety of different screens, devices and internet access points.
Simon Whatley, principal consultant at Foolproof, commented: "Businesses of all sizes need to carry out research. They need to understand not only the business goals, but more importantly, the goals of the user and context of use. Only then can you produce something that meets those priorities.
"Whilst responsive (and adaptive) web design produces great mobile experiences in many circumstances, in others, a separate mobile experience - be it a native app or m-dot website - can make sense. Again, investing in doing your research before making decisions will ensure that you get the right fit."
"In our view, UK consumers are 'platform agnostic'; they use different platforms depending on their location or situation, and can use up to three devices (PC, tablet, smartphone) in the same day," commented Mike Flynn, CEO of Fast Web Media.
"What is important is to ensure that your content is easy to access and either useful or highly engaging to the audience you want to connect with. The best route to take is a fully responsive, progressive enhancement website, which ensures users are able to view the site in the most appropriate format for the device they are using."
Also, for businesses that depend on Google for site traffic, the search leviathan has publically stated about its preference for responsive design: "It keeps your desktop and mobile content on a single URL which is easier for your users to interact with, share, and link to, and for Google's algorithms to assign the indexing properties to your content."
An additional consideration that is often overlooked is how the content on the responsive website will be interacted with. Content that is built for a mouse pointer often fails to work as expected on a touch device. Think about site navigation, for instance, and if this can be used with a cursor and finger.
Responsive design is now a vital component of all small business' digital marketing activity.
It can be initially daunting to contemplate developing content for responsive content access, but if approached carefully and with a detailed plan of action, the rewards - especially within the small business community - can be massive.
Ask yourself these questions before making the leap into responsive design:
- Is a responsive design appropriate for the content your business has?
- Would building an app be more appropriate for your business' mobile customers?
- Does your business have the resources to redesign its online presence with responsive principles?
- Have you assessed how your audience currently interacts with your business?
- Is SEO an important component of your business' marketing? If so, responsive design is vital to implement as soon as possible.
With Montetate stating that over $38 billion will be spent on mobile shopping by the end of 2013, Red Badger's David Wynne concluded: "Whether a large or small business, if you're building any web applications right now and not taking responsive web design into consideration, you could be snubbing a large and rapidly increasing share of your users and missing out on potential market share and revenue.
"Benefits seen by companies that launch responsive websites include huge jumps in conversions, transactions and revenue, increases in pages per visit and large growth in mobile traffic."