Responsive web design is an important part of putting together a website that looks good, works well and converts, regardless of the device that the user is accessing the site via.
Most themes that are being made for modern content management systems are responsive by default; but if you have not updated your site in a while or you have a bespoke website that was created a few years ago, it could be that the site is not mobile friendly in the slightest – let alone designed in a way that ensures it will look good on desktops, mobiles and tablets.
One of the biggest problems with modern websites is that there are so many different types of screen out there – and so many potential sizes. You need to make sure that whether your site is viewed in portrait or landscape, and on a small, low res Android phone or a Retina-capable iPad, it still looks good.
Some of the best responsive themes go one step further, and when they detect the device that is being used they will also send different images depending on the connection – so if you’re using a desktop or an iPad on WiFi, you will get high resolution images. If you’re using a mobile phone, you’ll get smaller, lower resolution images so that you don’t waste your bandwidth. This part of responsive web design is almost invisible to the end user, but it is important because even if the user does not know that you are doing it, they will notice that the site loads more quickly – and the difference in image quality should be imperceptible given the difference in screen size.
There was a trend in the late 90s and early 2000s towards web developers focusing on “control” of how sites looked, and wanting their artistic vision to shine through in every respect. This is a rather short-sighted approach, since it hampers the user experience for people on unusual devices and for those with disabilities. Instead of focusing on limiting how the site is displayed, use responsive web design to make it look better for everyone – and use style sheets so that if the user does want to over-ride something (perhaps because they are color blind or shortsighted and need a high contrast background in order to be able to use the site well). Do not try to control what the user sees too much; power users have become accustomed to being able to determine their own experience.
Responsive web design is a powerful tool for ecommerce site owners, and something that is surprisingly low maintenance. You don’t need to spend a lot of time and money on developing the perfect website several times over – one responsive layout will look good on every device!
The ‘design once, use anywhere’ approach is something truly special. A few years ago, it was common for developers to make one site for desktops and one for mobile. This would lead to problems when it came to updating the sites, because it meant that it was easy to miss pages that need changed. Sometimes, information would end up being different on each site, and there would be broken links and other issues.
Having a single website with a fluid layout that reshapes and updates itself depending on the way the website looks is a good option, and something that will save you a lot of work in the long term.
If you are buying a theme for WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Magento, or any of the other popular content management systems and ecommerce stores, then you should make a point of confirming that the theme is fully responsive, and that it is search engine friendly. Don’t assume that if one is true, the other will also be true. Take a good look at the theme, and preview it on your desktop and on your mobile, so that you can get an idea of what it looks like at all times. You might be surprised at how different the theme can look even just switching from portrait to landscape and back again. A good theme will be usable in any instance.