Are you responsive to your users?

Responsive web design has been pretty hot for a few years now. As online products and services jostle for our attention it’s imperative that your digital wares are available whenever and wherever your customers want.

But is responsive the golden hammer? The utopian solution for every single website?

There is no single perfect solution, it ultimately comes down to your particular requirements.

REA has an award winning iOS app. We have an incredible mobile optimised website. We have one of Australia’s most visited websites in our flagship ‘desktop’ site.

We have also embraced responsive on a few sites including our careers portal, the all new retirement living section and the share accommodation sites which now provide a multi screen experience in a single application.

There are a few key things to evaluate when deciding between a dedicated mobile experience versus a responsive, single application.

1. Content

Look at your content. Text heavy? Lots of images? Large file downloads? Complex navigation structure?

Case study: Home Ideas

First case study is Home Ideas, an image tagging and property photo site within REA, affectionately known as ‘house porn’.

The site was built as a fixed width desktop site but it rapidly became evident from the access logs that iPad usage was almost 40%.

Rather than build a dedicated app we sought to make some small enhancements which targeted the device including a photo swiper, larger images and less text or options. Just swipe away….

2. Services

Do you try to take advantage of the key features of a particular device? Taking photos and identifying the user’s location are key features of a smart phone. Completing large forms or complex interactions are better suited to a desktop or larger screen with peripherals like a mouse or keyboard.

Weigh up which end of the spectrum your application fits and then decide.

If your app is somewhere in the middle the chances are responsive will work just fine.

realestate.com.au Share Accommodation Home Page

Case study: Buy & Rent vs Retire & Share

Share Accommodation on MobileREA has a desktop site with millions of users. The dedicated iOS app is award winning and consistently ranks highly and the newly revamped mobile optimised site is performing incredibly well.

These are all very necessary. With such complex products they could never achieve a realistic solution with a single responsive application. Thus we opted for dedicated apps which are consistent in aesthetic but very finely tuned to the medium upon which they are consumed.

In the media side of things it’s a little simpler. We have only one or two tiers of products and limited advertising obligations.

As such a single responsive app made sense. We have rolled this out in our new Retire and Share section and will continue to incorporate it where appropriate. It gives us an immediate solution for mobile/tablet users.

3. Advertising

Lets face it. You’ve got to pay the bills or they turn the lights off. Advertising is a necessary part of any website.

So far IAB standards have not formulated a responsive or scalable media unit so until that happens you are stuck trying to build something fluid with immovable parts.

Case study: Serve the right ads

We wanted a way to make the site responsive but support conventional banner advertising and have found a compromise.

Our main content column collapses with the viewport for desktop and tablet whilst retaining the advertising on the right. We then remove it for mobile devices and incorporate more mobile friendly IAB ad units through the single column of content.

The key is to think of your ad placements not as a fixed piece of pixel realestate, but as a hierarchy if advertising. What is a large, half page ad (300px x 600px) on a desktop, can become a 300×100 strip ad on a phone, but in a far more prominent place.

By prioritising and organising your ad placements in this way, you maximize the value for the customer (those paying for the ad) and consumer engagement across different devices. An added benefit is the ability to dynamically change the ad server request to load the most appropriate ad unit for the device (an image instead of flash on an iPhone for example) which also improves performance.

4. Target market

If your product or service targets a particular demographic that is more suited to a particular device then best to start there.

Case study: Share vs Retire

For our Retire demographic (55+) we knew that desktop and tablet would be the main market. For Share it is a 17-26 age group where mobile phone was the focus.

By driving out the same responsive code base we could optimise it for different devices then feed it back to the other application for mutual benefit. We continue to iterate on optimising the framework so that the site is at its best in each of the 3 key screen sizes.

In the month since launch, tablet usage for Retire is around 25%, mobile is almost non-existent and the rest of desktop. For Share, mobile is 15%, tablet is less than 10% and the rest is desktop.

Conclusion

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to dedicated mobile vs responsive. Make a choice based on these 4 criteria. Also consider the amount of effort you can dedicate to developing the solution as getting something to market quickly will allow you to accelerate your learning cycle.