Responsive Design – the past repeats itself and when you should not bother about it

April 14, 2015 by
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, ecommerce, ROI, UX / UI, Web Sites 

Google has been sending out emails to websites advising that the web site position in Google search results will be negatively impacted if the website fails to implement responsive design.

Google’s argument is that they want to serve their customers the content that is most viewable on the device being used by the customer. Responsive design being that the website adjusts itself to the screen size of the device being used.

All of the above is the past repeating itself. The print industry has been dealing with this for years.

If you traveled through airports back before e readers, there were lots of small bookstores selling books. Most of the books for sale were of a certain size – the small paperback. Book size was dictated by limited shelf space in the store and what travelers were willing to carry with them on the plane.

Like Google, the bookstore would not stock your book (as in appear in Google search results) if it did not meet their size criteria unless you were some incredible author (book guaranteed to be wanted by travelers no matter the size). Readers were less likely to buy your book if it was larger as it was more hassle to carry around.

However if you were the author of a coffee table size book, you did not care about the getting into the airport bookstores as that was not your market.

Big companies like to be everywhere on the web since they need to maintain brand recognition / market share / income. They also have a large budget to handle the design challenges responsive design creates. For some reason, however, big company still are not able to implement smooth Responsive Design.

Looking at the facts –  BBC.com recently changed their website and introduced moving click points and lengthier navigation (top menu items now moved to sub menu). ABCnews.go.com prevents the user from being able to pinch zoom on their pages. These are just some of the many examples out there of issues with responsive design implemented by large companies.

With large companies failing to implement responsive design well where does that leave the little guy who has the much smaller budget and the less brand recognition?

To answer the above question we first have to consider some others:

1 – Are the people visiting your website likely to be on mobile devices now or in the future?

If you answered yes, then you have to weigh up the % of mobile visitors against the cost of supporting them. Basically, can you afford to lose the mobile visitors if google no longer promotes you?

2 – Does your brand need to increase market share?

Can you afford for your website not to be listed in the mobile search as it will reduce the amount of instances that your brand is visible? If you are trying to build up your brand, the loss of presence in mobile search could negatively impact you especially if a competitor’s brand is present while yours is not. But then again, maybe you are the coffee table size book author and it does not matter. Or you are leveraging other channels such as YouTube / Facebook so losing on mobile search is no big deal.

3 – Will I lose significant revenue if my web site is not found in mobile search?

Does the effort justify the cost. For e-commerce sites, being mobile friendly is almost a requirement but for content sites this is debatable. Do people really want to read the news / advice on the screen of a small telephone.

If you have to go down the responsive path on a limited budget, probably the best bet is to find a vendor that has already developed the web site software to support your web site. For content, Word Press now has themes that are responsive.

Don’t expect a magic wand solution to responsive design as even with off the shelf packages there will probably be something not quite right.

In the long term, screen size will become stable as consumers decide what works and what does not and will chose to purchase the most useful mobile devices. When that happens, the software solutions will be robust and the whole Google conversation on penalizing those that do not implement responsive design will be part of history.

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