Do Small Businesses Need to Worry About Responsive Web Design?

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Responsive Web Design

We’re now living in the mobile era of search, meaning that more and more people are conducting searches using their mobile devices. This isn’t surprising, considering more than 50 percent of cell phone owners have a smartphone and one third of American adults own tablets.

Search Engine Land reports that mobile traffic to local sites is growing faster than to the total Internet. The 2013 Mobile Path to Purchase study shows that 46 percent of respondents rely only on their smartphones or tablets when doing online searches and research. Marketing Land author Greg Sterling notes, “While these mobile-first or mobile-only users skewed younger (18 – 34), what these data broadly mean is that consumer behavior is changing much more quickly than most marketers or brands realize.” This might suggest why nearly half of all businesses still don’t have a mobile site or app.

All of this is important news for small businesses. The local hair salon owner, acupuncturist, landscaper, web designer, sales consultant, retail shop owner, and so forth should sit up and take notice. People are searching for what you do, and they’re conducting these searches more and more using their phones and tablets. The question is this: what will they see when they discover your company online? Will they be able to find you online? And what will their experience be like when they look at your website on their iPhone or Galaxy? Have your competitors—big and small—created great mobile experiences? Have you? If not, it’s time you do.

And that brings us to the subject of today’s post: do small businesses need to worry about responsive web design? The short answer is YES. But let’s back up a moment and start with the basics: what is responsive web design, why does it matter, and what do you need to do next?

What is responsive web design?
Responsive design allows your website, email, or app to display properly regardless of the device people are using. So a website that uses responsive design will look great on a desktop computer, iPad, and smartphone. The design automatically adjusts itself to fit the device’s screen.

Why is responsive web design important?
People’s experience with your company’s online presence should be a positive one, right? If your website doesn’t render properly on a customer’s smartphone and they find it difficult or even impossible to navigate, what’s going to happen? That’s right: your customer will likely go to one of your competitors.

As we cited above, more and more people own smartphones, and they do their browsing and shopping using these devices. So it’s imperative that your website, your blog, and your email newsletters render beautifully across ALL devices. Responsive web design makes sure that this happens.

Still not convinced it’s necessary? Well, this fact might change your mind: Google—the king of web search—recommends that you optimize your site for mobile devices. That said, Google is also quick to point out that “If responsive design is not the best option to serve your users, Google supports having your content being served using different HTML. The different HTML can be on the same URL or on different URLs, and Googlebot can handle both setups appropriately if you follow our recommendations.”

As we always say, think of your site visitors first, search engines second. However, the fact that studies and statistics suggest mobile usage is only going to grow further means that responsive web design is likely the best option for your site visitors.

How can I tell if people access my site using mobile devices?
Two words: Google Analytics. You have this installed on your site, right? It’s free! If not, you should. Read our straightforward article on the 411 on Google Analytics here.

OK, I’m convinced responsive web design is important. But now what? And how much is this going to cost?
We get it: you’ve probably already invested good money in creating a strong website, and now we’re telling you it needs to be “done again” using responsive design. The last part of that statement is not entirely accurate. Here are some options to consider, in order from least expensive to most expensive:

  • Create a mobile-only version of your site using a company that can instantly convert it. People would access this mobile-only version on their mobile devices, like smartphones (and this would happen automatically). The good news is that companies already exist that can quickly and easily create a mobile-only version of your site. Check out DudaMobile’s tool here—plug in your website URL and see how it will look as a mobile site right now.
  • Do some re-coding and re-arranging on your own. If you’re handy with code and like the tech challenge, turning your site into responsive design is doable. Here’s a handy guide on how to turn any site into responsive design. And here’s Mashable’s list of responsive web design tools to check out.
  • Bring in your web developer to help. The person who designed and developed your website should be able to guide you or do the conversion for you.
  • Develop a custom mobile-only version of your site. Same idea as the first bullet point, except this site would be custom built.
  • Develop and launch a new site using responsive web design. If it’s been more than two or three years since you redesigned your site, you’re probably due for a fresh look anyway. So now would be the time to take the plunge and design from a mobile-first mindset. You’ll now have ONE site that will work, thanks to a few different style sheets, on all devices. Yes, it will be an investment. But it’s a smart one.

What about search engine optimization? Does responsive web design help or hurt SEO?
You’ll find people on both sides of the debate. We like what the folks at Copyblogger had to say in its article “Could Mobile Responsive Web Design Hurt Your SEO?” Copyblogger said, “Mobile responsive design gives your audience a better mobile experience than a non-responsive design that simply serves up a bloated desktop view. A better experience equals happy readers … which equals on-page engagement, linking, and sharing … which equals better SEO.”

Definitely read the whole article, because Copyblogger discusses instances when responsive design might not make sense.

Is there anything else I should keep in mind?
Yes! Don’t forget your email marketing. If you send out monthly electronic newsletters, make sure the template is designed for mobile use. Vendors like MailChimp have been creating mobile-friendly email templates. Is this really important? YES. This study cited in Marketing Land suggests that 75 percent of smartphone users are “highly likely” to delete emails that they can’t read on their phones.

Do you have any other resources that I can check out?
Of course! Here are some good articles and downloads:

Have you taken the plunge yet with your website? Share your tips and experiences in the comments below.

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