The Internet has come a long way since those early days of dial-up connections and web surfing. It is now part of our very existence. Whether we are filing tax returns on a train or doing the weekly shopping from the comfort of our beds, the Internet now has a huge hold on all of us. The way we access the online world, however, is constantly evolving, and that can cause web developers a serious headache. What looks fantastic on a standard laptop may appear distorted and confused on a 5-inch smart phone screen. That is why responsive web design (RWD) has become so popular with both developers and business owners. ...but is there a long-term future for the latest craze in web development?

What is responsive web design?

Responsive websites adapt to their surroundings. They are developed to shrink, stretch and adjust screen layout to suit the devices they are being viewed on. So, the same website can be viewed on smart phones, laptops, desktop monitors, tablet computers and smart TVs. While responsive websites use HTML in the same way as PC-based sites do, relatively small changes to the CSS dictate how the same information is displayed on different devices. Opinion is divided on whether or not RWD is the future of web development, and history tells us that design techniques come and go like the seasons. For instance, there was a time when the best websites were coded in Adobe's Flash. However, the arrival of the iPhone and iPad changed the game! Steve Job's refusal to include the Flash plugin on these devices heralded a steady decline in Flash website development. Love it or hate it, RWD is currently being embraced by companies such as Starbucks, Microsoft and Disney as a way of giving consumers a great user experience on any type of device. And it seems that - at least for the time being - its use will continue to grow.

What are the main advantages of RWD?

Faced with the dilemma of creating sites that offer an excellent user experience on all devices, developers can either choose the responsive route or commit to developing two completely separate sites. But there are some significant advantages in opting for RWD.

Reduced development costs

Only a few years ago, web developers were creating separate mobile and PC-based websites, which often meant coding two different sites from scratch. Because one responsive website adapts to all types of device, developers and businesses have been able to cut development costs significantly.

Positive user experience

Responsive websites ensure that content is king. They resize images, maximise screen space and generally increase usability. This means consumers don't need to spend their time and efforts zooming in and out to find the information they need. Decreased bounce rates and increased conversion rates are the result among mobile users, which makes RWD highly attractive to big business.

Improved inbound marketing campaigns

Modern inbound marketing strategies are increasingly reliant on blogging and social media. According to a recent study by ComScore, 55 percent of social media activity takes place on a mobile device - and that figure is rising. If a website isn't mobile friendly, users will become frustrated and look elsewhere for their content.

Enhanced SEO

Having a separate URL for mobile sites makes it more difficult for search engine bots to crawl for information. But RWD means only one web address is required, which will have positive effects on SEO performance. Indeed, Google's Pierre Farr has gone on record to say that Google prefers RWD to mobile site strategies.

Fast-loading mobile sites

Google PageSpeed Developers standards dictate that mobile content above the fold should load within one second, and the rest of the page should load within two. Consumers are impatient, and they are likely to look elsewhere if a desktop website is taking several seconds to load on a smart phone screen.

Adaptable to all future devices

Responsive web design is based on the size of the screen, and not the type of device. So, it doesn't matter where the future of mobile technology lies, responsive websites will adapt accordingly - whether they are viewed on 80-inch TV screens or smart watches.

Are there any drawbacks to RWD?

There are developers who believe that many of the widely espoused pros of RWD are misleading. And there is no doubt that not everything in the RWD garden is rosy.

Website performance

In order to rescale to fit different screen sizes, responsive websites will sometimes need to scale down certain features. This can make sections or entire pages of a site inaccessible on some devices. Some may view this as an acceptable sacrifice if speed and usability are improved, but those benefits are disputed. For instance, Guy Podjarny of Akamai tested nearly 350 responsive sites using Google Chrome on a range of devices. He discovered that loading times were almost identical - regardless of the device being used or the screen resolution.

More complex

While there are some who believe that web development costs are lower when only one site needs to be designed, there are others who say that the relatively complex nature of responsive sites simply negates those cost savings. A dedicated mobile site is relatively simple to code, and when it is executed properly, it will load faster than even the most efficiently coded responsive site. Mobile browsers are being asked to handle large HTML files when RWD is used, and elements of CSS, images and specific scripts will need to be avoided. These tasks can slow loading down, which is why some businesses are sticking with 'm dot' sites.

The loss of important information

Responsive sites will often stack images and information vertically, pushing potentially crucial information to the bottom of the page. Whether the user misses it or simply can't be bothered to scroll down the page, this could result in increased bounce rates. A dedicated mobile site, however, can control the way a site is viewed on phones and tablets - giving developers total control over user experience.

So, what does the future hold for RWD?

There is little doubt that responsive web design serves an important purpose. At a time when the way we consume information is changing on almost an annual basis, RWD provides programmers and designers with a level of certainty - the knowledge that the websites they are designing today will be suitable for the mobile devices of tomorrow. However, to stake the future of web design on RWD would be short-sighted. The future lies with innovation, and while responsive websites may be having their day in the sun right now, who knows what lies ahead. Article kindly created by EHD. EHD is a full-service digital agency with expertise covering web design, web development and search marketing. Find out more at energyhousedigital.co.uk Image Source: Courtesy of enchiladadigital.com FURTHER INFORMATION If you would like to discuss how to implement effective web development within your organisation or advice on hiring web developer talent to join your team, please contact Jenrick IT on 01932 245 500.