Is responsive design important for my website?

By Paul Gorski
Columnist

Is “responsive design” important for my website? Maybe. Some folks will tell you “definitely,” but it is more “probably.” What am I talking about? Responsive design is a way to build a website so that it adapts dynamically to the screen size on which it is displayed. Simply said, it is a way to accurately display a website on nearly all desktop and mobile devices using the same Internet address and same programming code.

There are four basic ways to design your website to display on desktop, laptop and mobile devices: 1) Just build it to look good on a large, desktop computer screen. Bad idea. These sites do not work well on mobile devices. 2) Use separate website addresses for the desktop and mobile versions, using different programming code. Also a bad idea, because you have two separate versions of the same site. 3) Use the same website address, for example: cherryvalleynews.com, but have separate desktop and mobile views. Not terrible, but not trendy. 4) Use the same website address and the same programming code to deliver the same content on all desktop, laptop and mobile devices. Example: rockfordobits.com. This is responsive design and this is the trend and what the Google search engine prefers.

Google and the tech press in general may love responsive design, but even Google News (news.google.com) is not a responsive design site. Nor are Yahoo News, the Huffington Post and some other major news sites. These sites all have perfectly functional mobile versions using the same website address (URL). The site recognizes whether you are using a desktop or mobile device and displays a mobile-ready version when appropriate. This is how I designed Cherryvalleynews.com. I chose this path because most of content is a long list of links to other local websites and the mobile version works well for these links.

I experiment using different website building tools. Cherryvalleynews.com was built using Zohosites.com, and the Zoho site-building tools are limited. Zoho does not easily support responsive design, and that is too bad for Zoho. This will limit Zohosites.com adoption by small businesses being advised, “You need responsive design.”

I built Rockford, IL Obituaries using a basic responsive design theme from Weebly.com. It works; it is functional. I am working out a few issues, but for the most part I achieved my primary goal of creating a website that lists local obituary listings in a mobile ready format, without ads. I do have a Rock River Times graphic on one page. That is not an ad, just my nod to the fine work done at the Rock River Times.

WIFR.com has a nice responsive design news site, focusing on the many video postings it offers. The Rock River Times offers a mobile-friendly version of rockrivertimes.com without the “m” in front of the rockrivertimes.com. This format works well for the RRTimes as the copy is easy to read and the site is easy to navigate in desktop or mobile mode.

Whatever you do, avoid creating a mobile website with the “m” in front of the URL, as in “m.mynewsite.com.” You want a single website address, such as rockfordobits.com that displays either a mobile-friendly or responsive design-based version of your website.

Paul Gorski (www.paulgorski.com) has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments he hard-wired to the back of an Apple IIe.

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