What is a responsive website?

In recent times, you may have heard the word “responsive” being used to describe websites. If you’re confused by what this means, here’s a bit of a primer for you.

What does “responsive” mean?

A responsive website is one that is designed and developed so that it is optimised for look, usability and performance for any device, from desktop computers, to mobile phones, to tablets. The site “responds” to the technology and the needs of the user.

This shouldn’t be confused with a mobile website, which uses various detection methods to serve entirely different pages to a user on a mobile phone. You’ll notice you’re on a separate mobile site if you see a link to something like “View desktop website” when you visit a site.

Why is it important for my website to be responsive?

There are a couple of different things that have happened over the last few years that mean having a responsive website is important.

About 25% of web traffic is mobile

Whether it’s because we’re always on the go, or we just like to feel connected, Australians have enthusiastically adopted smart devices such as phones and tablets. The latest compiled browser statistics show that mobile phones account for around 25% of web traffic in Australia* – that’s up from less than 10%, just three years ago.

It’s important to make sure your site provides the best experience possible for this significant segment of users. Think of a user on the go, wanting to find your contact details, checking to see that you have their product in stock, or wanting to see a map of your location. This might be the first impression you get to make on this potential customer – and you want to make sure it’s a good one!

A responsive website makes it easy for a person like this to see the information they want at a decent size, without having to pinch-and-zoom, scroll sideways, or any of the other work arounds that are needed for a site that’s not responsive.

A truly responsive site will also take into account other potential limitations of a mobile device, for example that mobile data is comparatively more expensive and mobile connection speeds generally lower than you’d get on a computer.

With this in mind, a responsive site at mobile sizes might not display touches from the website’s design that are largely cosmetic, such as data-heavy images that wouldn’t look as good on a mobile phone anyway. This both saves the mobile user time and money and makes it easier for them to find the key information that they are looking for.

Google favours mobile-friendly sites

Google has also recognised how important the mobile user experience is – so from April this year, its search algorithm started putting more emphasis on mobile-friendly responsive websites. The upshot is that if you don’t have a responsive website, customers searching on their phones aren’t likely to find you.

If you’re not sure whether your website is mobile-friendly or not, you can check it with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. This lets you enter a URL, which it will analyse and report back on.

After testing a few pages of your site, you should have a good idea of whether your website is going to see a drop in position in Google’s mobile search results. And with Google regularly returning as the search engine of choice for over 94% of searches in Australia – and around 97% on mobile devices* –  a drop in rankings is something you can’t afford.

How can I make my site responsive?

If you’re getting a new site made, then it’s easy – just ask your web developer “Will the site be responsive?” If you have an existing site that is not responsive and you aren’t planning on redoing it any time soon, then your site’s layout can be updated to make it responsive.

Be aware, though – retrofitting your site to make it responsive will generally be comparatively more expensive than building a new site that has responsiveness planned in from the start. You also won’t get such a good result with a renovation of your site than a new build, as things like the file size of your site’s code will be larger.

If your site is more than 3 years old, or you’ve been considering refreshing it, a new build will provide better value for money than updating your existing site – giving you a website that’s not just mobile-friendly but also faster and more efficient.

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