Responsive and User-Optimised are Two Separate Things – Which is your Website?


Back on 21st April 2015, Google launched a new algorithm update, which many web design agencies and SEO companies had been long awaiting. This algorithm, known by the masses as the ‘Mobile Friendly Update’, was said to be a wake-up call for all of those companies and websites that did not cater for mobile browsers.

The severity of this algorithm was debated and feared by many in the run up to the algorithm’s launch, and then monitored and scrutinised for many months after. The general outcome is that the impact was not felt as harshly as anticipated, but the algorithm, and initial Google announcement, did have a huge effect in another manner…

Website managers and business leaders all feared the potential drying of the revenue well if their websites were not operating within the recommended guidelines. Therefore Google’s main win from the announcement and algorithm launch was a better user experience for the masses worldwide. Of course in this process it had website developers and designers pulling their hair out with panicked demands from worried business owners and marketing teams, whilst their bosses sat back and counted the additional pound notes.

All of this has brought around a series of additional questions about the demand for a responsive design, and the implications of implementing the design principle.

The answers to the above can all be found below:

What is a responsive design?

A responsive website design is typically a website design which changes the sizes and constraints of elements to ensure the user gets a clearer view of the website depending on the device they are using. This typically means that the user does not have to ‘pinch and zoom’ to read content. Additionally this does not penalise users who have issues clicking between touch screen elements due to sausage fingers.

Are there degrees of responsiveness?

Yes, due to the growing amount of screen sizes and device types on the market, the majority of websites are restricted to working on set screen sizes. This means that some designs might not cater fully to all users.

Are there issues with responsive designs?

Yes and no, this depends on the attention to detail of your website design agency or developers. If they have truly thought about the user before building the website then they will almost definitely have designed the mobile version of the website first and then taken this design through to a tablet and then a desktop. This method allows for page content to be simplified for the mobile user and then slightly more detailed for the tablet, and again for the desktop user.

Are my customers getting a good user experience through my responsive design?

This is arguably the hardest question to answer. The answer depends on how the website or responsive design was constructed and how much knowledge and effort to perfect the user experience have been applied. However, on almost every example I have seen the answer is no.

Why? Generally because the information and detail which are required and appreciated by the user are normally accompanied by other elements which the business owner likes or thinks is important. This then clouds and spoils the user experience.

What you should learn from this is that the word Responsive does not mean that a website is user-optimised even though it shows content on all device sizes.

Google have constructed a number of aids to make this process a little easier, with one being the mobile friendly test and the other being the mobile usability test, which can be found within your Google Search Console account. Both of these tools are very useful, the first of which shows you how Google will render your website on a mobile device and let you know if there are any functional files which are being blocked and preventing Google from getting the most genuine overview of the website. The latter of the two tools is arguably the most powerful. It produces a report of the quality of your website from a mobile perspective and also details each of the errors it finds to allow you to address them.

No matter how useful these tools are, they will never make your website completely user optimised. Having a responsive website is a good place to start but this needs to be done to the greatest level of detail and thoroughly checked through to ensure there are no hidden problems. It has been known that some website designers and developers overlook a number of technical issues as long as the website works correctly from the users’ perspective and therefore are disregarding the search engines. This is obviously a huge flaw in the plan as without the search engines using the website and trusting it, the amount of users seeing the website will be minimal.

A few examples of the technical issues which usually get overlooked are issues such as the loading of duel menus – this is when a website loads a separate menu for a mobile device at the same time as a desktop menu and cloaks one dependant on the device in use. Another common issue is the touch elements being too close — when links or navigational aids are too close together or over lapping, and therefore make it difficult for the user to use on a mobile device.

All of these points and issues can be diagnosed and rectified without much problem in most cases. The website can then be optimised further through the method of user testing and conversion rate optimisation. This will look to ensure the elements which the customer requires and values, such as the company’s USP and value-added propositions, are noticed and understood by the user to build confidence in the website. It is also important that this is not confusing to the user or making the journey through the website more difficult than it should be.

If all of this sounds a little baffling or you are unsure whether your responsive website is working correctly for you or your user, then why not get in contact with us. The team at Banc have the knowledge, experience and expertise to ensure that we can make your website work for you.

Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: Innovate360, Zak Mensah, Luke Wroblewski, Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta

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Anita Pun