What Is A Responsive Website… And Do You Need One?

Filed under: Business Website Tips

If you’ve spent much time reading about or speaking to people about websites these days you’ve likely run into one or more of the following phrases:

  • Responsive websites.
  • Adaptive design.
  • Mobile-friendly sites.

Buzzword bingo, anyone?

These 3 phrases actually all share similar meanings, so we thought it would be helpful to provide answers to the following questions for you:

  1. What is a responsive website?
  2. Why does it matter?
  3. And most importantly, how do you know if you need one?

(For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the term “responsive website”, though the three terms above are often used interchangeably.)

1) First things first, what is a responsive website?

A responsive website is a site that restructures and reorganizes itself based on the type of device someone is using to view your website (desktop, tablet, mobile phone, etc.).

Quite simply, a responsive site adjusts for different-sized screens.

This video illustrates the true magic of a responsive website, and shows you how it automatically and intelligently resizes itself based on the browser size its being viewed in.

As the video plays you’ll notice how fluidly and seamlessly the website restructures itself  for desktop, tablet, and phone views.

If you have a non-responsive website, your site always appears exactly as it would on a desktop—which is great on a desktop, but not-so-great on a mobile phone.

On a phone’s small screen, your site is teeny tiny, making it very difficult to use.

View of non-responsive website on a desktop:

View of non-responsive website on a desktop

View of the same non-responsive website on a mobile phone:

View of the same non-responsive website on a mobile phone. A non-responsive site that's not optmized for mobile can have text that's too small to read on a phone, can have images and slideshows that don't display, and can have special features that stop working on phones

When a site is built responsively, these problems are solved. They display content in user-friendly formats, regardless of the device that’s being used.

View of responsive website on a desktop:

View of responsive website on a desktop

View of the same responsive website on a mobile phone:

View of responsive website on a desktop

View of the same responsive website on a tablet (iPad):

View of the same responsive website on a tablet (iPad)

2) So, why does responsive design matter?

Responsive design may not matter for your business.


More and more people are using mobile devices to view websites. Check out these findings:

  • According to Bloomberg, there were more than one billion smart phones in use as of 2012, and that number is expected to reach two billion by 2015.  (It’s worth noting that a lot of this growth is taking place in developing countries and among young people who may not be your target audience.)
  • Earlier this year, several officials from Google said they wouldn’t be surprised if searches conducted on mobile devices exceeded the number of searches conducted on desktops by the end of 2014.
  • Mobile devices can affect buying behavior—in a good way. According to Search Engine Watch, “Google research says that 50 percent of mobile users are most likely to visit [a store] after conducting a local search, while 34 percent of consumers on tablets or computers will go to a store.”

So, what’s the takeaway here?

Using mobile devices to view websites is not a passing fad. The trend is growing, and fast. If you don’t have a responsive site yet, you may be affecting your bottom line. So, it’s extremely important to keep this trend in mind.

3) Okay, but how do I know if our business needs to upgrade to a responsive website?

Great question.

There are several steps you can take to figure out if responsive design is something you should consider:

  1. Open up your website on a phone. 
    Click around to see if you can easily read the text and open links. Is it difficult to use your website? Can you easily see and click on your company’s phone number and have your phone make a call?  Is it easy to fill out and submit any contact forms in the site?
  2. Check out your website analytics. 
    Look at the percentage of people who are visiting your website on mobile devices. Is it 10 percent or higher? Are you potentially frustrating (or worse, sending away) 1 out of every 10 of your site’s visitors?While you’re reviewing your analytics, also make sure to see if this percentage has been trending up over time (six months, one year, two years). Are you seeing an increasing number of mobile visitors?
  3. Think about your target audience.
    Do your target customers actively use mobile devices to look at websites? If your business serves digital moms in their 30s who use their phones to stay connected to the world, that’s the audience that matters—not your company’s employees, not your CEO, etc.)

If you’ve answered yes to these questions, it’s probably time to get an outside opinion.

The good news… and the bad news

The good news is your business may not need a responsive website right now—even if you answered “yes” above.

We have clients who we’ve advised to actually stay with their non-responsive websites.


The reasons vary.

Sometimes, their mobile percentages just don’t justify it. Other times, their target customers just don’t use mobile devices to research their types of businesses. And other times, they have a complex website that would exceptionally costly to change.

Bottom line: Upgrading to a responsive website wouldn’t make the best use of these clients’ time and money.

And that leads me to the bad news: Time and money.

There is typically a significant amount of work that goes into upgrading a non-responsive website into a responsive website. It often means reworking the code of your site from scratch—a time-consuming task—and it’s rarely cheap.

Ultimately, it comes down to ROI

If you reach out to our Denver web agency, the question we’ll help you answer is: Will upgrading our current website so that it becomes a responsive website truly offer enough of a return to make it worth the investment?

And of course, if you’re planning a new website, be sure to look for a web agency partner that can help you design and build a responsive site from the beginning. This will save you time and money in the long run.