Responsive website – keeping your mobile users happy

A photo of somebody using a tablet to browse some images on the web.

What is a responsive website? It’s a website that looks equally good on a smartphone, a tablet and a traditional desktop or laptop PC.

Why is it important to have a responsive website?

Browsing websites not designed for mobile on your smartphone can be a frustrating experience. You’ll probably have to zoom in and out and drag the page around to find the information that you’re looking for. On a huge page full of text, this can take some time! The links might also be too small for users fingers to tap on which can make for a frustrating experience. Imagine repeatedly trying to tap on a link only to tap the one just next to it.

A responsive website takes into account the display size and results in a much better experience. Wrapping the text properly makes the content easier to read and ensures that you don’t need to zoom at all. By scaling down the images to suit the smaller display size, the page will load faster.

A properly built responsive site will also hide or change elements that are unsuitable for mobile browsing. For example, really small buttons that would be hard to tap could be removed or replaced with larger versions.

How a responsive website can affect your search ranking

Search engines have put a really strong emphasis on responsive websites with their scoring. If your website is responsive, you’ll score more highly in the all important search rankings. Considering that Google want their mobile users to find the most relevant information as easily as possible, this isn’t surprising.

These days, if your website isn’t built responsively then you can forget getting anywhere near the front page of Google, even for desktop users. Google recently rolled out a new update that places even more emphasis on mobile-friendly design.

A comparison of the BBC News responsive website on desktop and mobile. The left shows the desktop version of the site and the right shows the mobile version.
The BBC News website is a great example of a responsive website. On the left is the website as seen on desktop. On the right is the mobile version of the site.

Do I need to create two websites?

In the past, you would need to have two websites. One would be a cut-down version of your website for mobile phones and one would be a more complete version for your desktop users. Today, you only need to have one responsive website that adapts automatically. One website is a lot easier to maintain than two separate websites and gives a consistent user experience whether the user is using a larger display or a mobile device.

Providing that your website has been built to be responsive from the start, you won’t need to expend any extra effort. It’s much easier to build a website from the ground up that is responsive than it is to try to optimise an existing, non-responsive site.

Is your website mobile optimised?

It’s really easy to tell – use Google’s Mobile Friendly Test tool to check. If there are problems with your page that are causing your website to give a poor user experience on mobile then this tool will give you some tips on how to fix them.