The Internet increasingly keeps people company in their purses and pockets, so it’s imperative that every website perform well on a phone or tablet. In the early days of smartphones, the only way web designers could customize their websites to work on small screens was to design a separate mobile site from the ground up. These mobile-specific sites had their own URLs and played by entirely separate rules. It wasn’t always easy to carry branding and SEO through two different web addresses, but users were generally pleased to have manageable internet access on their phones.
Increasing sophistication brought responsive web design
As technology across devices started to integrate, responsive web design came into being. This represented a leap forward, since responsive design meant that every website only had to be built once, and the magic of coding could take the place of labor-intensive site duplication. Fluid methods of rendering grids and dynamic style sheets have made it possible to develop basic designs that adjust themselves to the visual environment of every type of device. Mashable called 2013 “The Year of Responsive Web Design,” and Forbes chimed in with a compelling article entitled “Why You Need to Prioritize Responsive Design Right Now.”
New devices raise questions about dedicated mobile sites
No technology fades out overnight, so you can still find advocates of dedicated mobile sites. They sometimes point out that building a whole second website for smartphones is a way for businesses to respond to the separate needs of their mobile users. It’s becoming increasingly obvious, however, that Internet access portals exist across an entire spectrum of sizes. If you have separate websites for smartphone users and desktops, then where do the growing number of tablet users belong? Some tablets have screens as large as small notebook computers, with such good resolution that many people use these devices as their primary online access point. The old-fashioned division between “computers” and “phones” is clearly losing applicability — and that’s not even mentioning the fact that your refrigerator can go online and tell you that you’re running out of milk!
SEO superiority of responsive design
Whenever we talk about SEO, our first stop is obviously going to be Google. What does Google say about mobile sites? Google’s recommended configuration for mobile sites is responsive design, with the same HTML and URL used for every type of device while the styling is governed by a different CSS. There are technical reasons for this recommendation, but one big non-technical reason is that SEO is all about connecting with your social network. If you’re out with your phone and you come across a special online tidbit you want to share, you need to be able to send one reliable link. Otherwise, your friend who’s online from her desktop will just open your link and get the same minimal website version that you’re looking at on your phone. As locations and social media and online communication continue to weave a personal technological web, your business needs to have one single address. Unified URLs make Google happy, and if Google is happy, we’re all happy.
As we look to the future, it’s thrilling to envision the kinds of connectivity we’ll be seeing. New forms of wearable technology and multiplying numbers of smart devices — “the Internet of things” — all point us in the direction of having one single URL that communicates across every digital portal. While we can’t predict the exact course that technological innovation will take, it’s clear that responsive web design is a solid building block for the interconnected future that lies ahead.