Lets start with the obvious – your website needs to play nice with the audience viewing it. That’s the website’s job. Because if your site is difficult to use or hard to see, your audience will leave. Which is bad. You already know this, but what you might not know is that more and more people are exclusively viewing websites on devices other than desktop computers. And unless you plan for this, your site might actually be driving away traffic by not giving viewers an optimal experience.

A little background

In the beginning (somewhere around 1995) web developers built websites for desktop computers. Because that’s all anyone had. We built websites to fit the smallest monitor that was still being used and left it at that. Viewers were happy and life was good.

Then the iPhone came along and screwed everything up.

The iPhone was the first phone to include a web browser that was actually any good and that people regularly used. The problem was that a website built for a desktop computer looked tiny on the handheld screen, and required a lot of pinching and zooming to really use. Links were difficult to click on. Flash wouldn’t work. Drop down buttons didn’t function properly. Images didn’t display correctly. So developers began to design separate mobile websites, tailored to the needs of mobile users and their devices. That meant taking your website’s branded look and feel, but reprioritizing information, understanding that people primarily use their phones for research. Things like hours of operation, location(s), a critical phone number. We designed graphical user interfaces (GUI, pronounced gooey) appropriate for small screens. We leveraged the use of touch-screen functionality – tapping, sliding – optimized photo file sizes for fast loading, and more. Although it was more work to create two separate sites, we adjusted and everyone was happy again.

Then tablets like the iPad came along and screwed everything up again. Half of U.S. adults now enjoy a mobile web connection through a smartphone or tablet. And usage is exploding. This holiday’s gift giving is expected to push up tablet ownership to 75 million in the States alone. Speaking of purchases, more commerce is now happening on a tablet than a desktop computer. Recent retail data shows

Today we have all sorts of devices with all sorts of screen sizes – televisions, gaming consoles, home appliances and more. It seems like everything has a web browser in it. We want to make sure our websites look good on all devices or risk losing our audience, but creating separate sites for all of them isn’t feasible. The solution is a relatively new technique called responsive design, which doesn’t care if your screen is two inches or two feet wide.

Responsive design to the rescue

Responsive design is a way to build your website to ensure that it looks good on the current crop of desktop computers, tablets and smartphones. In addition, it future proofs your website because if a new device comes out with a screen size that haven’t been seen before, the design of the site will adjust itself accordingly. Photos on your website can automatically resize, text can enlarge to be more readable, and content can rearrange itself onscreen or even drop off if necessary. Smartphone users typically see a very pared down design compared with the experience a desktop user has, only showing them the information they’re interested in. Tablet users might see different designs depending on which way they’re holding the device. All this is possible with responsive design.

You can see responsive design in action at our own site, www.gretemangroup.com, by resizing the browser window on a desktop computer running a modern browser like Internet Explorer 9, Safari or Chrome. Notice how the design of the site changes depending on how wide the browser width is.

Is responsive design right for you?

Greteman Group recommends that most websites should be responsive. It’s generally the best practice. But that doesn’t mean that all sites have to be responsive. There are a number of factors that you need to consider. Responsive design takes more time and costs more than a traditional desktop website because of the additional planning, design and programming. Since sites using responsive design might not function correctly on very old browsers, extra time needs to be spent testing and correcting for this. And although highly unlikely, the audience for your website might not be using more than one screen size to view your website.

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and invest in responsive design you’ll probably find through your analytics that visitors using mobile devices are spending more time on your site. That’s because you’re providing a better experience for them. They’re able to find what they’re looking for instead of looking elsewhere. And if you haven’t thought about responsive design, now may be the time to do it.

Opportunity’s there for the taking. Or the missing. Only 21 percent of large retailers have mobile friendly websites. But data clearly shows the path today’s on-the-go consumers are on. It’s all about getting what they want, when and where they want it. If you don’t deliver, they’ll quickly move on to the site that does. So, if you’ve been standing on the sidelines thinking your unresponsive, non-mobile website’s good enough, step into the fast lane. Create a site where customers come and engage. And return to often.

*This article originally appeared in the November 21 issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.