As the mobile Internet continues to grow exponentially, marketers are confronted with an important technical question: Should you use responsive Web design or multiple URLs to reflect your Internet presence?
It depends, said Derek Edmond, managing partner of KoMarketing Associates.
Responsive Web design is a Web development method that allows website displays to automatically scale up or down in size, depending on the dimensions of the screen being used by the reader. It was developed for mobile platforms, which have much smaller screens than standard desktop computers and don't display standard, fixed, 960-pixel websites very well.
So far, though, the b-to-b community has been relatively slow in adopting responsive Web design, said Bryson Meunier, director of content solutions at Resolution Media.
“Responsive design is not a one-size-fits-all situation,” Meunier said. “It's right for some companies and not right for others.”
The alternative to a responsive website, which uses a combination of HTML5 and CSS3, is the “traditional” method most companies use today: multiple URLs for desktop and mobile applications, with automatic redirects for mobile users. The disadvantage here, however, is splitting your company's online profile across multiple URLs, which can affect search results. Google recently launched an update intended to index mobile URLs (called the Old Possum update), but experts say it's still better to place all content under a single URL.
“Responsive Web design consolidates all link equity in one URL, and that helps SEO,” Meunier said. “Another upside is there's not a lot of maintenance because it's only one URL to develop and maintain, so there are less resources and money spent.”
But, Edmond said, the simplicity of a single URL might come at a high cost for some companies.
“Complexity and site structure matter,” he said. “We have one client, for example, who has some very complex calculators on their site that just won't work on a mobile device.”
Edmond also said that certain form responses experience lower conversion rates on mobile platforms, so it wouldn't make sense to force them onto a small screen with responsive design.
“People on mobile devices won't fill out 10 pages of forms,” he said. “We've seen lower conversion rates on mobile platforms.”
There is also the cost of development to figure in. In most cases, both experts said it wouldn't make sense to do a site redesign simply to incorporate responsive Web design. However, if your company is already doing a redesign, and is mostly serving up static content or dynamic content that works well on smaller screens, it might make sense to convert to a responsive design.
One good way to tell if your company is right for responsive Web design is too look at search metrics, Meunier said.
“One of the big cons is if you have mobile users who are looking for different things than a desktop user,” he said. “We look at search queries, which are good at helping us understand the intent of the search. If your search queries aren't all that different for mobile users and desktop users, you might be a good candidate for responsive design.”