It was a Sunday after WordCamp in 2011 that the three of us sat down to breakfast.
The dining room of the Parc 55 hotel was calm and sleepy, yet the conversation over coffee and eggs was anything but.
As sunlight poured in through the large picture windows, it was as if we were receiving a revelation that would set into motion one of the most ambitious changes in the StudioPress philosophy since the Genesis Framework for WordPress was conceived and created.
It was the beginning of the movement to transform all of our themes to respond to mobile devices.
(You can insert the inspirational soundtrack of your choice here, if you want.)
OK, I realize that sitting here in 2013, that might not sound like such a big deal.
Mobile responsive design has gone from being an idea to a philosophy and process that just about every serious web developer has embraced.
But back in August of 2011, the idea of building a single website that would automatically adapt to all devices was still in its infancy. In fact the mobile responsive design poster-child — BostonGlobe.com — hadn’t even been released to the public.
It was a risky move to devote a large amount of resources and energy to something that could have been a passing fad.
The new normal
But of course it didn’t pass and it wasn’t a fad. Mobile responsive design continues to charge forward stronger than ever.
In fact, Mashable has called 2013 “The Year of Responsive Web Design.”
Yet, for all its accolades — and despite the backing of industry heavyweights — there are some who remain unconvinced that mobile responsive design is the way to go. These folks argue that your website should have a completely separate mobile presence.
I think differently. I want you to believe in mobile responsive design. I want you to embrace it like the internet has embraced funny cats. I want to give to you three reasons why you should choose a mobile responsive website design over a separate mobile site.
1. Mobile responsive design is better for SEO
Writers and web developers know that when Google suggests a certain course of action, it’s usually a smart idea to follow if you care about search rankings.
In an attempt to bring clarity to web developers, Google has specifically said that responsive design “is Google’s recommended configuration.” I’m not really sure what other arguments I need to make at this point, but for the stubborn we’ll press on.
If you employ responsive design, you’ll have more equity in your back-links.
There have been a number of times I’ve wanted to share a link from my phone, but when copying and pasting that link in an email, Twitter, or Facebook, the link copied is the link to the mobile site. Everyone that clicks on this link in full size browser is going to be taken to the mobile site, and if they’re not redirected, they’re treated to content that looks horrible and is not optimized for their screen.
Nobody wants to see a mobile site on their desktop, so they bounce. If you design your site responsively, every link that’s shared is a link to your full site and mobile site. There is no confusion or crossover between the two.
… a single URL for the content helps Google’s algorithms assign the indexing properties for the content.
For a mobile site (actually for every site), SEO and user experience are blood brothers. If your site is unpleasant to use and the user can’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll make a quick exit.
This causes your bounce rate to grow, which tells Google your site probably doesn’t have what that person was searching for. Congratulations, you’ve just been knocked down in the rankings for the term that user searched for.
This can be avoided by having a mobile site that looks great and functions extremely well … and has all the content of your full size browser version.
For all that is good and right, please do not use a plugin that “converts” your site to a mobile site. There was a time and place for that, but that time has passed. There are few things in this world more ugly and jarring than visiting a site on my phone and having it redirect to the bland mobile version.
Lastly, we all know that load time is a factor when Google ranks sites. When your site has to re-direct to a mobile url, this increases the load time. A responsive site has no such redirection.
2. Mobile responsive design is easier to maintain
For sites that create a lot of content, it can be a real headache to make sure that all of it is transferred properly to multiple web properties.
Ultimately, you have to spend more time, or you’re paying someone else to spend time copying and formatting content to multiple places. If your site is designed responsively, when you’re finished creating content, you’re finished.
With a responsive design, your site is also future-proof. Many mobile-only sites have to be constantly tweaked when a popular new device comes on the market. Mobile responsive design ensures that your site will be optimized … no matter what the screen size of the device.
3. Mobile responsive design delivers a better reading experience
There are some that will argue this is dead wrong, but if you develop with a mobile first philosophy, their argument goes out the window.
Some content producers think they should curate content by device — only publishing the content that they believe appeals to mobile users, or removing content that’s not “important” enough for mobile. This is a mistake.
Brad Frost, a leading voice in the mobile responsive movement, says:
Mobile users will do anything & everything that desktop users will do provided it’s presented in a usable way. Assuming people on mobile “won’t do that” is a losing proposition. Don’t penalize users with missing content & features just because they are on a full screen.
To be fair, there’s one thing mobile sites have that responsive sites don’t … the “view full site” link.
The reason this link exists is because of the inherent problems with a mobile site. Users want all the content, presented in a way that’s accessible.
The reality of the situation …
If you’re not designing and developing your entire site with mobile users in mind, it doesn’t really matter if you employ a responsive design, or have a separate mobile site.
Data consistently show that mobile devices, mobile usage, and mobile purchases continue to rise at an enormous rate. This data also suggests that this trend will not slow down in the future, but only pick up speed.
To be successful on the web you must begin your process with a philosophy that puts mobile first.
Mobile responsive design is then the natural outflow of this process.