What Is Responsive Web Design & Does Your Site Need It?
Every year since the invention of the smartphone, more and more people are using mobile devices to browse the internet. Now, in 2020, mobile devices are responsible for an astounding 54% of internet global web browsing. When consumers look for information online, they more often grab their smartphones than their laptops.
This switch to mobile comes with an important responsibility for website owners–you must make your site mobile-friendly. And one of the best ways to ensure that your site is easy to use (and view) on mobile is through responsive web design.
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What Is Responsive Web Design?
Responsive web design is a technique that lets you create web pages that automatically adjust to fit screens of different sizes. When you use responsive web design, your site looks great no matter how it’s viewed, whether on mobile devices, tablets, or desktop.
In the past, in order to make a website work on mobile, the site designer had to upload multiple size variations for every image on each webpage. Then the designer had to create a new page layout for each screen size. This would, in effect, create an entirely separate website. This process of creating mobile-friendly sites required a lot of extra work and additional online storage space, and it was a hassle to update.
Responsive design solves this problem far more elegantly. Instead of using static pixel-based image sizes and layouts, responsive design makes use of fluid grids, which size elements of your site proportionally (using percentages and ratios). When the scale of the larger grid changes to accommodate a different screen size, the elements within that grid change to match the scale. The page layout is dynamic as well, adjusting itself to make good use of space without shrinking down to unreadable sizes.
Why Responsive Web Design Is So Important
These days, responsive web design isn’t just an option — it’s required for operating a successful website. Creating a responsive web design for your site has a number of advantages for your business. Here are the key benefits:
- Customer Satisfaction: Your goal should always be for customers to have a good experience on your website. When you use responsive web design, you make it easier for your customers to navigate your site, leading to higher overall customer satisfaction.
- Higher Conversion Rates: When your website (and especially your checkout page) are easy to use on every screen, you can increase your website’s conversion rates. Whether your goal is to get customers to sign up for a newsletter, contact a representative for a quote, or purchase a product, you’ll have higher conversion rates with a mobile responsive site.
- More Efficient & Less Costly: Responsive web design allows you to maintain just one website. In the past, you had to have multiple site versions to use for each screen size. With mobile responsive design, you only have to maintain and host one website, which makes site customizations easier and more affordable.
- Good For SEO: Finally, using mobile responsive design is good for your site’s Search Engine Optimization. Google prioritizes mobile-friendly sites in search results. What’s more, using a mobile responsive design can help reduce your bounce rate (the number of visitors who leave your site almost immediately). Bounce rates can have a negative impact on your search engine rankings, and it’s in your best interest to reduce them any way you can.
How To Tell If Your Website Is Responsive
Fortunately, these days many website builders tools include responsive web design as a basic feature of their service. So, even if you’ve never done any work on your site’s CSS, your site may already use responsive web design! Here are a few ways you can check:
- Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test: This test (created by Google) asks you to input your site’s URL, and in just a few seconds, it will determine whether or not your site is mobile-friendly. It’s worth noting here that the terms “mobile-friendly” and “responsive web design” aren’t exactly synonymous, but the tool is worth using anyway.
- Try Your Site On Mobile: One of the easiest ways to test if your site uses responsive web design is simply to try out your site on a mobile device. Look to see if elements on your site adapt to fit a smaller screen, and look for evidence of good mobile features. These features include a “hamburger” menu element at the top that opens up to reveal your site’s navigation menu, as well as larger buttons that are easy to click on a touch screen.
- Ask Others To Test Your Site: It’s also a good idea to have others test out your site on their devices. It’s possible that your site displays differently on different devices, and you should make sure that your site works well, no matter what screen size your visitors use.
Examples Of Responsive Web Design
Most large retailers have websites that feature responsive web design. We recommend visiting a few of your favorite retailers’ sites and testing out the responsive design for yourself. Visit the home page, and click the bottom right corner of the browser window. Then, stretch the window as big as it will go on your screen. You’ll see each element on the web page adjust to make use of the copious space it is given (for high-resolution screens, you may already be viewing the page at its largest configuration). Now drag the window down to its narrowest width. The design elements do not merely “squish” in size; instead, their layout is rearranged to make the most of limited screen space. This is an easy way to simulate how a page will be viewed on a smaller device, such as a cell phone.
You can even try this out on our own website. Try making this window smaller, and see how elements on the screen change.
Macy’s does a great job with responsive web design on their site. Take a look at how they adjust and hide certain elements to accommodate a smaller screen size. Here’s the desktop site:
The site appears different if viewed on a mobile device. Note the following changes in the image below:
- Smaller Navigation Elements: Macy’s mobile site uses a hamburger menu in the top left corner (the square made of three stacked lines) to consolidate all of the navigational information into one small element. This helps keep their website easy to view on a smaller screen, without sacrificing anything in terms of navigation.
- Reduced Information: In some of their advertisement banners, Macy’s has chosen to reduce the amount of information listed. For example, in the pink banner, they’ve eliminated the links to the “Women,” “Men,” and “Kids” categories, and replaced them with a “Shop Now” button. Reducing the amount of information you include on your site can help your site be readable even on a small screen.
- Large Buttons: It’s much more difficult to click accurately on a touch screen than with a mouse. For this reason, you should make sure that all clickable buttons are big, with lots of room for clumsy fingers. Macy’s home page features a few “Shop Now” buttons, and all of them are big enough to click with a thumb.
How To Make Your Website Responsive
So, how do you make your site mobile responsive? Fortunately, for many businesses, the process is simple. In fact, responsive web design is already included in most website building software; all you have to do is optimize that responsive design to make it more user-friendly. Here’s how to implement responsive web design on your site:
Step 1: Choose A Great Website Builder
As we’ve briefly mentioned, responsive web design is now a basic feature in all modern website builders. If you use a tool like Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly to set up your site, you can easily choose from a wide variety of responsive design templates. Once you’ve found a template you like, you can customize it to better fit your site.
We recommend that all business owners who have not yet set up a website look into these fully-hosted website builders. When you sign up for a monthly subscription, you gain access to a fully responsive site, an easy-to-use design editor, and web hosting and security, as well as customer support.
For more information, check out our article on the Best Website Builders For Mobile Sites.
Step 2: Design For Mobile First
Experts recommend that you always practice “mobile-first” design. That means that you begin planning your website for mobile before you design your site for desktop.
Using mobile-first design, you are better able to plan for the restrictions that come with designing for a small screen. Then, once you have drafted a mobile version of your site, you can expand it for your desktop version. Building out a site to fill a larger screen is easier than paring down a site for mobile.
Step 3: Check Your Site For Usability
Your site should not only look great on mobile, but it should work smoothly as well.
Make sure your site is user-friendly on mobile by truly putting it through its paces. Ask your friends and family to try out your website on mobile and on a medium-sized screen (like a tablet or iPad), and have them point out any pain-points. In particular, you should check for usability in the following areas:
- Navigation Tools: Navigation tools (hamburger menus, search bars, and categories and subcategories) should be easy to locate and easy to use.
- Buttons & Links: Make sure buttons and links are easy to click and that they lead to the right pages.
- Loading Times: Loading times should be very short. A reported 57% of site visitors leave a website if it doesn’t load within three seconds. Aim to have your pages load in less than three seconds.
- Pop-Ups & Promos: Make sure that your pop-ups don’t hinder the use of your site on mobile. It should be easy for visitors to close out of pop-ups. You should not load multiple pop-ups on one webpage.
- Checkout: If you run an online store, checkout is the most important page on your site. Make sure your checkout page is sleek and easy to use, even on mobile. Test it repeatedly from different devices, and eliminate any possible sticking points.
Step 4: Consider Hiring A Developer
If you have a website, and it does not yet use responsive web design, you should consider hiring a professional developer. A developer can adjust your site’s foundational HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to turn your site into a responsive web site.
To learn more about the nitty-gritty of turning a non-responsive website into a responsive site, we recommend this guide from w3schools.com. They include detailed instructions on implementing responsive web design, along with some examples of code.
How Much Will Making My Website Responsive Cost?
The amount of money and time you invest in creating a responsive website depends on a few factors.
If you plan to use a website builder tool (like Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly), you can expect to pay the cost of your monthly subscription on the platform. These subscriptions typically range from free to about $50 per month, and they include site hosting and security, as well as design tools.
However, if you plan to hire a developer to create a responsive site for you, you can expect higher rates. WebFX estimates that web design for a small business with 8-16 webpages would typically cost $2,000 to $9,000. For an eCommerce site, they estimate costs between $5,000 and $55,000. Rates depend on your current site and your business’s needs.
In terms of time, you should expect to spend many hours designing and testing your responsive website. It’s important that your site works well on all devices, and in order to create a great site, you’ll have to invest some time.
Learn More About Website Tips & Design Tricks
Responsive web design is an excellent way to keep your site looking up-to-date and to increase customer satisfaction. But don’t stop your work here! Make sure you’re always looking into best practices for web design and working to implement them on your website.
For more tips on web design best practices check out our article 15 Tips For A Better Business Website. And to learn more about the website builders that are available to you, try the Best Website Builders For Small Businesses.