Responsive web design for enterprise websites - 7 Nov 2013

As mobile and tablet computing becomes more widespread and traditional desktop PC sales continue to decline, it’s becoming more and more imperative that businesses adapt their marketing and sales channels to keep up.

Increasingly, consumers are opting to use smartphones and tablets to browse the internet, use social media and make purchases, rather than using a desktop computer. Many internet-focused companies are well on the way to capitalising on this mobile growth. One example is Facebook, which now takes most of its advertising revenue from its mobile users.

Not so many years ago, the vast majority of internet use happened on desktop PC screens that were very similar in size, shape and resolution. With the explosive growth of mobile device sales, this is no longer true: internet users go about their business using anything from a 3-inch mobile phone to a nine-inch tablet to a 27-inch iMac, with literally hundreds of variations in screen size in between. This wide range of devices comes with a variation in technical capability, internet connectivity and user interaction methods (mouse or touch screen?)

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How do you please the most users without spending a fortune?

User experience can be crucial to the success of a business – if your users have a hard time using your website on their device, this can have a significant negative impact. If you own a smartphone yourself, how many times have you visited a website and been presented with tiny text and a page that doesn’t fit nicely on the screen, forcing you to repetitively zoom in and out and scroll up, down, left and right?

Traditionally, some website owners opted to produce a second ‘mobile version’ of their website, and this still happens today. Another, newer option is to develop native mobile apps and make them available in the iOS and Android app stores. Apps can compliment a website browser-based sales platform and provide another revenue stream.

But what if your business model doesn’t target consumers? If you’re a business-to-business company, a large pharmaceutical, or a national or multi-national enterprise business, what basic changes should you be making to your marketing and company websites?

2010 saw the birth of Responsive Web Design. Over the last three years, the practice of designing and building websites responsively has been hailed by many as the best all-round solution currently available for an increasingly mobile world.

A responsive website doesn’t have fixed page widths, and doesn’t require a separate mobile version. Instead, fluid dimensions are used, based on proportions and percentages, so that pages adapt and change appearance depending on the screen size of the device being used. A range of technologies can be used to compliment this: conditional image-loading can be used, so that someone viewing the website on a large desktop PC will be shown higher-resolution graphics and pictures, whereas the same page viewed on a smartphone might display fewer graphics so as not to create unnecessarily large files. Using progressive enhancement, a website can be designed so that a simplified version is loaded on more basic feature phones, only showing the more sophisticated parts of the website on devices that support them.

There are many examples of great responsive websites. You can view the magic happening by visiting a responsive website on your desktop PC. If you view the website at full size by maximising your browser window, and then slowly reduce the width of the browser by dragging in the right edge, you’ll see the page change in appearance to fit the new size of the window.

This means that the website can look great whether its being viewed on a big desktop screen, a smaller tablet, or an even smaller mobile phone.

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Reasons to use responsive web design for your business website

There are myriad reasons to have your business website remade responsively.

• Less time needed for management

If you have a traditional desktop website and a separate mobile version, this can mean repetition of tasks as you’re forced to keep two different websites up to date.

• It helps with SEO (search engine optimisation)

When search engines such as Google find duplicated content, they will lower your position in search results rankings because it makes the content appear to be less valuable and unique. If you have separate desktop and mobile versions of your website, you might lose out. Responsive web design is even recommended by Google themselves.

• Being future-proof

A website built well using responsive methods will look good in the future. Web browsers tend to be backwards-compatible, so you have peace of mind knowing that your website will continue to perform well and look good regardless of what future devices become the next big thing. Remember, only a few years ago there were no iPads!

• Saving money

For the reasons described above, a responsive website can save you money. There will be the initial cost of having your website made responsively, but then you save the extra time associated with updating multiple websites, the website should last for longer, you’ll perform better in internet searches, and the improved user experience can win you extra customers.

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