In our third interview on the topic of mobile commerce, Tina Courtney-Brown talks to content26 about the limitations of responsive design.
Responsive web design relies on media queries to figure out what resolution a screen is and uses fluid grids and flexible images to scale a website to that screen. Too much tech speak? Basically, responsive web design is an alternative to having a separate site for every device, and aims to adjust a site to the screen sizes of varying devices to maintain good user experience.
Tina kindly addressed the interplay of responsive design and SEO as well as weighing in on the question of whether consumers expect a different experience on mobile.
Responsive Design: A “One-Size-Fits-All” Issue
content26: What’s the most important consideration for brands and retailers trying to expand their mobile presence?
Tina Courtney-Brown: Mobile users interact with mobile content in an entirely different manner than web content, so it’s critical to consider the specific needs and expectations of handheld and tablet users. Web marketing and content creation should not match the mobile strategy. There are obvious common threads in theme and messaging, but the functionality and interactivity should honor the device it’s developed for.
content26: So you think people expect different content and overall experience on a mobile device as compared to a laptop or desktop?
Businesses must now have a multi-pronged approach to content creation, giving careful consideration to the myriad screen options.
Tina Courtney-Brown: Yes. If users are impatient on laptops/desktops, they are insanely so on mobile devices. Content is often accessed during a tiny window of time, and if navigation and interactivity aren’t immediately (and I do mean immediately) intuitive and efficient, you’ll lose their interest and perhaps loyalty.
It’s also becoming more and more critical to have a mobile-specific experience, as typical websites often do not fare well on mobile devices, and users are getting savvy enough to spot these inadequacies. Likewise, companies that require mobile users to first download an app are missing the boat as well. Apps are wonderful conveniences for loyal users, but should not be required for handheld connectivity.
Businesses must now have a multi-pronged approach to content creation, giving careful consideration to the entire myriad screen options.
content26: What about SEO considerations–is responsive design more likely to help or hurt?
Bear in mind that SEO strategies are usually different for mobile and web searches.
Tina Courtney-Brown: Now that Google recognizes switchback tags, responsive design has lost its SEO edge. This means you can have a mobile URL and web URL, and Google now knows to equate it to the same business.
Because of this, I now feel responsive design has the potential to hurt SEO more than help, simply because responsive asks you to create one site, one keyword strategy, and one SEO execution plan for what should be a multi-pronged approach.
If your business primarily attracts customers from one specific device, it makes sense to go responsive, as your SEO approach will be heavily weighted to one screen. If your customers are more balanced in the devices they connect with you on, bear in mind that SEO strategies are usually different for mobile and web searches. If you treat them all the same, you will likely dilute the effectiveness of each.
content26: How important is the issue of future-proofing content when considering a responsive design approach?
Tina Courtney-Brown: Future-proofing is tricky business all by itself; responsive design adds another challenging element in its attempt to be all things to all devices.
If you’re trying to future-proof content on a responsive design site, you’re trying to do two crazy-difficult things:
People should always come first. If not, it shows.
- Create current, high-tech content that will also stand the test of time and provide value to you for the maximum length of time, and
- Create content that is suitable for users on large and small screens, laptops, and tablets
The complexities are crazy, and when you’re factoring in this many targets, you are likely to produce vanilla content that aims to cover too many demographics. Likewise, guessing at what will still be relevant in the future regarding technology and cultural space requires deep understanding of psychology and the tech industry as a whole. Unless you’re a bona fide expert, you will likely fall flat.
The cardinal rule with producing content has nothing to do with considering future trends, technologies, etc. Produce content that is tailored specifically to your audience and reflects what you know they want right here and now. If there are simple future-proofing tactics to employ within that context, go for it.
But never ever create videos and articles that aim to be trendy for years on end, and to cater to a multitude of screens. People should always come first. If not, it shows.
content26: What main limitations of responsive design should companies that sell products online be aware of?
Tina Courtney-Brown: It’s really a simple issue of one-size-fits-all. Whenever you create anything that caters to the masses, the results can be too generic to truly appeal to any one subset. Again, if your business really does specialize in one specific area (such as mobile), it’s perfectly acceptable and smart to go the responsive route. But if you have visitors from many devices and screens, don’t give them all the same experience and expect each subset to feel satisfied and catered to.
Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer, and freelance writer, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players such as Disney as well as start-ups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director, and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.