As PCs become the second (and even third) screen, companies need to figure out how to ensure a consistent web experience for all online visitors. The best way to do that, according to Jeremy Osborn, Academic Director for Aquent Gymnasium, is to embrace responsive web design (RWD).
On Wednesday, April 23, Osborn presented a webinar, “How Web Design is Responding to the Post-PC World,” hosted by the American Marketing Association, which took attendees through the origins and benefits of RWD and out into the future, with big predictions on how it will continue to influence the ever-changing web.
Introduced at a time when the iPad was just six weeks old and the HTC Droid Incredible was first making its mark, RWD at its most basic relies on fluid grids and flexible images to create layouts that change based on how web content is being viewed – via smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. As a result, regardless of the device involved, responsive websites always look great.
Since the inception of RWD four years ago, we have seen a steady increase in smartphone and tablet usage while feature phone usage has declined. This continued migration to mobile, coupled with continuous innovation in web-enabled devices, calls for a new web design paradigm, one which addresses the unknown future of the web.
And that is precisely what RWD does.
Benefits of RWD from a Marketing Perspective
There are myriad benefits of RWD for marketing purposes. Here are the top four Osborn called out:
1. RWD improves reach. When trying to account for visitors accessing your site from different devices, you essentially have two alternatives to RWD. On the one hand, you can do nothing and let your visitors resize your site with their fingertips. On the other, you can maintain a desktop site AND a mobile site. The former option can frustrate visitors while the latter can confuse them, in part because desktop functionality may not always translate well to mobile devices. Unless you can create a cohesive experience across devices, you will inevitably lose visitors and unnecessarily limit your reach.
Furthermore, content on mobile sites is harder to share. If you send a link encountered on one device to someone using another type of device, the URL might not lead to the same destination and users may get lost. RWD ensures that links always go to the same place and the content users intend to share is the content they actually share.
2. Google likes RWD. Osborn explained that Google has difficulty indexing mobile sites (i.e. sites that are m.nameofsite). You don’t want to frustrate or confuse the Google! Give Google what it wants and use RWD so users can find your content regardless of the device they are using to search.
3. RWD improves customer experience. Generally, device preference is driven by context and the task at hand – planning trips and more complicated processes still take place at a computer, while other more immediate needs (what is that restaurant’s phone number?) are addressed via smartphones or tablets. Thanks to its inherent flexibility, RWD ensures that customers get what they need and want from your site, where they need and want it.
4. RWD can improve the bottom line. A more efficient user interface can create a better experience, lead to better engagement, and eventually influence the bottom line. Sites that offer users a positive on-the-go experience will capture in-the-moment sales.
These benefits are absolutely real, but Osborn took pains to emphasize that RWD does none of these things by itself. What you need above all else is an integrated digital strategy that uses RWD as one piece of the puzzle.
The Future of RWD
Osborn wrapped up the webinar with two big predictions that will drive RWD adoption:
- Prediction One: Site performance will become a top priority for most companies, especially since the average Fortune 500 homepage today takes more than three seconds to load (which, believe it or not, is too slow for most users!).
- Prediction Two: Analytics will change the game by providing a deeper understanding of user behavior and demonstrating that user experience has real business implications.
In other words, if it turns out that RWD can consistently improve load-times and users "punish" non-responsive websites by taking their traffic elsewhere, it won't be a question of whether companies will want a responsive site, but how quickly they can create one!
And there you have, in a nutshell, the highlights of How Web Design is Responding to the Post-PC World. If you want to get the whole picture, check out the recording!