The whole world is going gaga about responsive web design. And after Google’s new mobile friendly update, no one is even ready to take the risk of being left out. In fact, having the “mobile friendly” label matters a lot, statistically speaking. According to a recent comScore study, around 20 percent of all search activities originate from smartphones while another 9 percent comes from tablet devices. It also indicates that a large number of people are using mobile devices (46 percent using smartphone and 48 percent using tablets) for watching online videos.
Moreover, being mobile friendly is an absolute necessity if you are targeting teens. A report from Nielsen indicates that 80 percent of teens in the U.S. own smartphones and over 90 percent of them are using these devices to search the web online. Another study conducted by L2 further shows that 69 percent of global consumers aged between 18 and 39 with incomes ranging from $75,000 to $99,000 are using smartphones to research products online, whereas 44 percent are using tablets for the same purpose.
By now you are already convinced that all you need is a responsive web design to make your online business the next big hit. Wait, we are not yet finished. If you are happy and super excited after resizing the browser, we are probably going to vandalize your glee. Having responsive web design alone is not enough to improve your sales.
Why Responsive is Not Enough
Focus on responsive web design as your only solution for mobile and you will end up losing your users and money too. The goal is to apply responsive design intelligently as performance is the ultimate truth for mobile, as for web. To do it right, you need to first understand the problem.
Since the beginning of mobile, designers and developers are oversimplifying the issue. Responsive web design has become a cookie-cutter solution to all of our problems. As a result, we often overlook the real purpose of mobile web experience – speed. People browse mobile on the go and they need what they are looking for real fast. You need to therefore provide a lightning fast mobile web experience to your users. And here lies the real challenge.
Delivering a usable, fast and compatible mobile web experience across all devices is easier said than done. It remains same when implementing a responsive technique. A better and more feasible approach is to embrace performance, right from the beginning.
That being said, we are not criticizing responsive web design. It is in fact a great thing, but responsive web design isn’t a silver bullet. It cannot be your only weapon for a winning mobile strategy. Otherwise, performance issues are likely to impede your conversion rate.
According to a research by Akamai’s Guy Podjarny, only “18.7 percent of a list of 10,000 top-tier web sites is responsive.” The number decreases in accordance to the site’s traffic. In fact, the percentage comes down to 11.8 percent when analyzed the top 100 sites. The research also indicates that 72 percent of these responsive websites are delivering equal number of bytes, irrespective of screen size and mobile network connections.
But you should not forget that Internet users are known for their lack of patience and the problem is even more acute in mobile users. They won’t be waiting for your website to load, at least not all of them. The good news is that you can make things right and minimize the loss, now that you have a basic understanding of the issue.
Responsive + Speed = A Winning Mobile Strategy
There is no denying that responsive is a smart approach than an m.* subdomain but you also need to understand that responsive web design is not a replacement for mobile web sites. What we mean is that there is no hard and fast rule that you need a single URL to deliver the same content across various devices or that all devices need to download the same resources.
While responsive design has tons of benefits, it is certainly not meant to solve performance issues. There are other techniques for that. You need to design responsively in order to cater to various viewport sizes across mobile and desktop. But when it comes to mobile devices, considering only screen size will lead you nowhere. Today we have different possibilities, depending on the device type, open to us especially as the line between desktop and mobile is becoming more and more blur. As a result, responsive web design too need a few tweak to sync with the modern vision.
Long story short, responsive design is not a cookie-cutter solution, neither is it a silver bullet to be applied to all kind of documents. Rather, you need robust mobile solutions that maximize performance.
Here are a few ways to do it:
- A mobile-first approach is a better solution, especially if you are creating something from scratch.
- Use same content and same URL to deliver your document across all devices but do not follow the same structure.
- Resizing your desktop browser is just a thing of past. Instead, test your website on real devices and try loading resources to see how much time it takes. What is the user experience?
- There are several optimization tools; leverage them to measure and improve your mobile performance.
- Follow above-the-fold content delivery format or inline the initial view for mobile devices.
The key techniques you need to incorporate for a smart mobile strategy include applying responsiveness according to group, conditional loading, above-the-fold content in 1 second, and a server-side layer.
The real challenge with responsive web design is that each designer define “responsive” differently, leading to communication issues. To address to this issue we need to first understand the broader goals we need to achieve through mobile. Responsive design is not the goal, neither it means to be mobile-compatible. The goal is “user satisfaction” as it is your happy users who lead to more conversions, the ultimate goal of any business.