Three Reasons Why Responsive Web Design Is Responsible Web Design

The acceleration of users accessing Web content from mobile devices rather than traditional desktop and laptop computers has posed a difficult challenge to webmasters: how should websites be presented to mobile visitors? There are a number of design and UX considerations, coupled with the realities of fragmented mobile OS and device ecosystems that make this very problematic.

Responsive Web design has emerged as both one of the hottest trends in Web design and development, as well as the preferred method to address these challenges. According to Stanford University, a responsive website is one that “responds to the device that accesses it and delivers the appropriate output for it uses responsive design. Rather than designing multiple sites for different-sized devices, this approach designs one site but specifies how it should appear on varied devices.”

Responsive Web design is not only practical; it’s become the responsible way to pursue user-centric design and experiences. I say this because of three key observations:



1) Everyone and their brother is getting on board. Look at the surge in search query activity that Google Trends is reporting for “responsive web design”! After just a year and a half, it seems we’re approaching a tipping point of sorts, whereby every site designed and developed will have responsive design considerations. We can expect web designers and developers to begin to incorporate responsive design principles into their work streams naturally.

Soon, organizations will no longer need to debate the merits of making its websites “mobile-friendly”; mobile-optimized will already be in play.

2) Google has identified it as an SEO best practice I touched on this briefly in a column from June, “Welcome Back, Summer of Search.” In that piece I noted that, “To date, Google has only released cryptic (or contradictory) advice about how to properly build and optimize mobile web destinations. However, during one of the SEO sessions, Pierre Far of Google set the record straight. Google’s preferred format is (now) responsive web design…”

Beyond Google’s direct endorsement, a key consideration for SEOs is the consolidation of inbound link equity. With both desktop and mobile site experiences resolving to the same URLs, inbound links all point to a common destination. This is hugely helpful for SEO link development efforts; it mitigates the concern of inbound link fragmentation where the destination page is the same, though URLs differ.


3) Users expect mobile-friendliness. Just this past week, Google released new data indicating that users expect mobile-friendliness when they surf the Web from their smartphones and tablet devices. According to Google, “67% of mobile users say that they’re more likely to buy a product or service from a mobile-friendly site, and 74% say they’re more likely to return to that site in the future.”

These very clear expectations make the case for mobile-optimized site experiences. Responsive design, as a result of its ease of implementation and SEO friendliness, is the most logical approach (barring technical obstacles that may make it impractical). Assuming it is technically feasible, responsive design also delivers a very scalable framework where new mobile OS and device configurations can be introduced in an ongoing and modular way.

Your website’s mobile-friendliness then becomes evolutionary and considerate of the most commonly used platforms. That type of user-centric design is not only a good idea; it’s the most responsible approach.

11 comments about "Three Reasons Why Responsive Web Design Is Responsible Web Design".
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  1. Greg Crombie from crombie marketing, October 1, 2012 at 2:51 p.m.

    Please provide examples of retail and brand websites that have successfully transition to responsive web design.

  2. Antonia Matthews from Quarry Integrated Communications, October 1, 2012 at 4:52 p.m.

    Great article Ryan, couldn’t agree more. I’d add a 4th observation: the proliferation of devices and screen size – 6,500 different web-capable devices at last count – which is only going to get worse.

    Greg, regarding seeing some examples of responsive web design in action, check out
    Quarry recently published a guide on this topic, which contains several examples and includes tips to get started.

  3. Thomas Pick from Webbiquity LLC, October 1, 2012 at 7:22 p.m.

    Excellent article Ryan. Just two points: while all things being equal, responsive design is definitely the best path, there are situations when all things aren't equal. If it's clear that smart phone users are going to want different things from a site than desktop users, separate sites are worth consideration. Second, in terms of SEO, the search engines have gotten sophisticated enough to where the site structure choice will have little impact on rankings. But again, in general - you are spot on.

  4. Robert Gilmour from Innfinite Hospitality Ltd, October 2, 2012 at 5:37 a.m.

    One reason I totally disagree - user experience and usability on different platforms. Responsive web design assumes the same content and utilities apply/are optimal to different platforms and channels - this is just plain wrong.

  5. Ryan DeShazer from GSW Worldwide, October 2, 2012 at 12:16 p.m.

    Thanks everyone very much for the comments and additional thinking.

    Greg - check out One of my favorite examples

    Antonia - you're absolutely right. That type of device fragmentation is only going to continue too

    Tom - Cheers, pal. :) True that search engines are intelligent enough to sort it out, but the key benefit is in consolidating inbound link equity.

    Robert - it is possible to architect unique experiences by device type, and those experiences would include "content and utilities". Check out this article on "responsive content" by Hans Sprecher who presented at last year's SXSW festival in the States.

  6. John Fairley from Walker Sands Communications, October 2, 2012 at 5:14 p.m.

    A few examples of brands building responsive design websites are and

  7. John Fairley from Walker Sands Communications, October 2, 2012 at 5:16 p.m.

    One more. Check out

  8. Kyle Jamison from The Onion, October 2, 2012 at 5:27 p.m.

    From a publisher's POV:

    Points 1 and 2 are rather specious arguments. "Do it because everybody else is" and "Do it because Google says so" don't really make the case for why it's good practice from a publisher's point of view. Only the point that responsive design mobile-friendly approaches clarity, but it's written from the reader's POV, not the publisher. Here's a better list.

    1. Responsive design provides a platform for consistent web experience without maintaining a separate desktop and mobile code base.

    2. Responsive design allows advertisers to send targeted ads which are appropriate for any platform.

    3. Responsive design uses screen space efficiently and allows for a better user experience than a fixed width layout.

    The article also fails to point out the negative aspects of converting to responsive. Time & labor costs, added complexity, backwards compatibility, etc. I think the benefits outweigh the downsides, but these are points worth considering.

  9. Max Mobile from Maxmobile, October 2, 2012 at 5:33 p.m.

    Responsive Design works when all content is relative to each device it is delivered. Some companies require specific design and content for a specific device. For instance, an insurance company would want their home page for a smartphone to have 'in the moment' information like what happens if you are in an accident or your car breaks down. Users often need specific information on a smartphone that they may not need on a PC. Otherwise, Responsive Design is usually effective and efficient.

  10. Ryan DeShazer from GSW Worldwide, October 2, 2012 at 5:46 p.m.

    Kyle - the piece is really written for agency or in-house search/digital marketers, primarily. I'm not trying to tell big time publishers to do something because Google says to. That detail is highly relevant to SEOs, though. True that point number one could have been expressed a bit tighter, but many of us are still in the mode of convincing clients/bosses that mobile-specific experiences are now requisite. The "everyone is doing it" argument is there to help reinforce that effort -- and acknowledge that RWD may be the best approach because it's become familiar to designers and developers.

  11. Matthew Snyder from ADObjects Inc, December 3, 2012 at 2:38 a.m.

    Responsive web design offers a lot of opportunities for transmedia story-telling that can link editorial and ads. I like what kyle has to say above, and if you want to see a great responsive site that incorporates ads as well is is also in private beta and probably worth a try....

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