The original version of this post was published back in early 2015, when our slightly younger, slightly more naive selves would NEVER have thought it would still be a topic worthy of discussion 3 years later.
When the post was published, we figured there were about 6 months to go before “Responsive Web Design” became a household name, holding 2015 online street cred on par with “Zayn Malik leaves One Direction” and this.
The general public is still cloudy on responsive design’s definition and its advantages.
The internet is still littered with non-responsive websites.
And news of Google’s upcoming mobile-first algorithm changes have failed to rein in the millions of webmasters whose websites have been and will continue to be relentlessly walloped in search rankings.
A combination of responsive design education and statistics to prove we’re not lying.
Let’s start by making sure this question never needs to be asked again:
In order to understand responsive websites, it’s important to first know the difference between them and their inferior—and annoying—older brother: Mobile-friendly websites.
Essentially, a mobile friendly website is a website that is designed to function on a phone or tablet.
The key word here is “function.”
A mobile friendly website “functions” on any device, but it appears the same way on that device as it would on a computer.
A computer screen has a completely different shape, size and aspect ratio than your average phone or tablet, so it’s impossible to create a mobile friendly website that provides a great user experience on every single type of screen.
Nobody should have to experience that horrible feeling of zooming in and out numerous times to get through a website on their phone.
In fact, nobody will, because there are plenty of options in just about every industry that provide a better experience that adapts to all devices.
All a user has to do is click “back," leaving an un-optimized website behind to collect dust.
Responsive websites adjust to the pixel-width of the screen upon which they are being viewed, providing the same level of user experience on every device and preserving all content necessary to maintaining such user experience.
In even simpler terms—responsive websites are the only website format that should be taken seriously on the internet.
So unlike mobile friendly websites, responsive sites will never have users zooming, squinting (and probably cursing).
Now that you understand what responsive design is, let’s explore the sweeping benefits of responsive web design and the disadvantages of websites that are not responsive.
Statista has found that mobile traffic globally has a larger share of internet usage than desktop traffic.
Actually, mobile traffic has been ahead since 2015.
These figures are increasing year over year, causing websites that are not responsive to lose progressively larger portions of their audience.
Ask any company if they would like to more than double their website traffic. It’s probably a good bet they will say yes.
If #1 wasn’t convincing enough, research shows that mobile internet usage is projected to skyrocket in the coming year.
If we’re already seeing shamelessly cheesy commercials like this one (I mean come on, everyone knows what a computer is), it’s only foreshadowing that we will experience more “anti-desktop” movements in the future.
It’s compelling that even companies that pride themselves on building great computers are targeting younger demographics and alluding to a world where the computer industry is ripe for disruption.
When Apple does something like this, it’s worth paying attention.
50% of US eCommerce revenue is already happening on mobile devices.
It logically follows that with the projected increase in overall mobile share of internet traffic that this number will go up as well.
Those who are not may cease to exist in the near future.
New statistic—same idea.
People are spending more and more time using the internet on their mobile device. More time equals more activity, and more activity means more traffic potential.
Ok, so here’s where responsive web design comes into play:
Websites that are not mobile responsive are by nature poorly designed, because they don’t provide an optimal user experience.
No company wants its website visitors to be wary of referring them.
All the traffic in the world doesn’t matter if a website isn’t ready to give that traffic what it’s looking for.
A website that requires pinching and zooming is no longer just a small inconvenience to its users, it’s an automatic “no.”
While responsive design is not yet featured on as many websites as it should be, it’s still out there—and users will search until they find it rather than settling for a bad website.
Accessibility lies at the heart of responsive design.
Websites that are difficult to navigate provide poor accessibility which leads users to seek out alternative options.
This is an area where companies with mobile friendly websites may think they are unscathed by their lack of responsive websites, but it’s actually quite the opposite.
“Seamless experience across all devices” doesn’t mean “same experience across all devices.”
Rather, it implies that a user can view a website on a computer, then pick up a phone or tablet and pick up where he left off without any confusion.
The layout of the website may look different—as it should, based on the different sized devices—but the ease of use and the overall experience should never suffer.
Earlier, we learned that 50% of U.S. eCommerce sales occur on mobile devices.
If smartphones alone account for 57% of retail website visits, there must be a gap in the quality of retail mobile sites that causes conversion rates to be lower.
Still, 57%—a number primed to be bolstered by retailers putting more effort into their mobile shopping experiences—should be a large enough slice of the pie to drive retailers with poor mobile experiences to action.
Yet another signal that the websites viewed by the mobile audience are getting better.
The companies getting it right are clearly reaping the benefits of a high quality digital presence on mobile.
Let’s say you’re on the road and your car breaks down, or you’re at dinner with a friend and want to find a new, exciting place for dessert.
What do these two situations have in common:
Although over half of web traffic is happening on mobile devices, the mobile experience is even more powerful in the local business scene.
Local businesses have extremely high potential for traffic from people on the go.
Not even mobile friendly, which we’ve been trash talking this entire time?
To put things in perspective, when we launched this article in early 2015—almost three years ago—that number was 11.8%!
That means there has only been an increase of just over 5 percent!
The implications of this—particularly for small businesses—are staggering.
Jumping in front of that 83+% of businesses without responsive websites can be an incredible advantage if we take into account all of the traffic statistics listed above and the trajectory of mobile web traffic moving forward.
According to Moz:
“In a mobile-only world [which we will be discussing shortly], the relevance of local search is even higher.”
The future is bright for early adopters, and apparently, it’s still possible to become an early adopter.
Did you hear that sound?
That was 2015 us freaking out.
We’re choosing to end with a slightly controversial one here.
Studies have found that while websites get more mobile traffic than desktop traffic, the time spent on desktop websites is still higher than the time spent on them in mobile formats.
Well, we just got done talking about the amount of opportunity presented by turning a previously bad website into a mobile responsive one.
We see this 59.9% as another massive opportunity:
People are using their mobile devices to search for what they need online, but they aren’t getting the experience they have come to expect.
Can we please just give the people what they want?
Now that we know how important responsive web design is and the extent to which the world is becoming more and more mobile-inclined—it’s important to touch on the landscape of search engine behavior with regard to mobile and how it’s changes will affect the digital world.
But we can’t talk about the future until we talk about a major event in the past.
It’s no secret that the 2015 iteration of this post was launched in anticipation of what many perceived to be a cataclysmic paradigm shift in the world of search engines:
Mobilegeddon is a media name given to a set of major updates that Google performed to its algorithms on April 21st, 2015.
Long story short, the update was primarily meant to boost the rankings of websites that Google recognized as mobile friendly. Responsive websites—and really all websites optimized for mobile—also fit under this “mobile friendly” description and would be given a rankings boost.
Non-mobile friendly websites as identified by Google would not necessarily be pushed down in search rankings, but their mobile friendly counterparts would receive favorable treatment.
With that said, Google has many major ranking factors (and they did in 2015 as well), so it didn’t necessarily follow that a mobile friendly website would leapfrog its non-mobile friendly competitor in every case.
There have always been major factors like quality content and backlink authority—and “mobilegeddon” kept all of these factors into account.
Google likes websites that care about the mobile experience.
Like many concepts that get caught on a giant wave of media buzz, mobilegeddon wasn’t quite as “geddon-y” as expected.
Bad websites didn’t completely fall of the face of the earth.
But even so, there were some major shifts in the way the mobile experience was perceived by website owners.
The effects of mobilegeddon can mostly be viewed through the general public’s shifts toward taking the mobile experience more seriously.
According to Smashing Magazine (oh no, more statistics!), since mobilegeddon, 25% of websites without any previous mobile strategy have become mobile friendly.
Moreover, after the shift, “eCommerce site owners focused on embracing a mobile strategy as fast as possible.”
The 13 statistics from 2017 that we provide also tell the story of a digital world transitioning more and more toward giving internet users what they want and shifting more thought and attention the the mobile experience.
But even with all of this, we aren’t quite where we should be.
Smashing Magazine has found that 3 in 10 websites are still oblivious to Google’s mobile ranking signal.
Clearly, there's a long way to go.
One of the major premises of Mobilegeddon was that Google was going to establish a separate mobile index for search results. This tactic was used to differentiate mobile friendly sites from non-mobile friendly ones, but also to label mobile friendly sites as such in search results.
In November of 2016, Google introduced the concept of mobile-first indexing (although the shift has not yet taken place).
The premise of mobile-first indexing is that the mobile index created by Google in 2015 will eventually take the place of the desktop index currently in place.
Well, first of all, it means Google is paying attention to the same statistics we are:
According to Moz,
“Google is steadily moving to a mobile-only world. Mobile-first indexing seems like the inevitable consequence of a year (or more) almost exclusively dedicated to evangelizing and forcing a change of mindset from desktop to mobile.”
TL;DR: Google has been paying attention to all of the statistics you’ve read about in this post. They are reacting by completely flipping the script on how the internet is experienced by the average user. The mobile experience will soon take precedent.
Google has shown historically that it’s algorithm shifts are reactions to the behavior and the preferences of internet users.
Internet users have shown not only that they are predominantly choosing the mobile experience, but that they want that experience to be seamless, easy and highly functional.
Responsive design provides the highest possible level of user experience on mobile devices, so being mobile friendly just doesn’t cut it anymore, and will certainly not cut it in another two years.
Search rankings aren’t the only factor that should cater to the mobile experience.
Websites themselves should be designed with the mobile user in mind above all else.
While we can easily conclude that responsive design is superior to mobile friendly, not all responsive websites are created equal. Designs that truly cater to the experience of the mobile user will prevail in a landscape that is shifting more and more in that direction.
If you’re a business owner, now is the time to take the plunge and create a responsive website for your company.
If you’re a marketer or web designer, think about the benefits to the end user of putting the mobile experience first in all of your work.
It will pay dividends in a mobile-only future that feels further away than it actually is.