Digital Advantage: Now is the time for responsive design

This isn't the last column I'll write about the mobile web audience. Globally, in North America and right here locally, smartphone and tablet usage has exploded over the past three years.

In fact, looking over our own website analytics last month, I was shocked to see that mobile and tablet page views have officially surpassed desktop traffic.

Desktop visits on the Victoria Advocate's website have slipped just below the 50 percent mark while smartphone and tablet usage has grown 76 and 67 percent over the past year and cumulatively make up the largest slice of traffic on the site. This shift is profound in that desktop traffic will likely never make up the majority again - ever. The cords have been forever cut, and the audience is free to move about.

So why is what happens on a local media website important to you as a business owner? Media websites that are locally focused are usually a leading indicator of the local Internet audience and its behavior. Therefore, chances are your website is experiencing a similar shift in user behavior.

How does your website treat those mobile visitors?

Now is the time to get serious about responsive design. By implementing a standards-compliant responsive design website, you can ensure that users of desktop, tablet and smartphone devices all enjoy a feature-rich experience that is formatted properly for their device.

As mentioned in an earlier column, Google declared responsive design a "best practice" and notes that this is Google's recommended configuration on the company's Webmaster blog.

Here is an excerpt from my previous column that defines responsive design: "Responsive web design is an approach that resizes the core site based on the screen size of the visitor. For instance, if I visit your site on my iPhone while another user visits on a tablet or desktop computer, we all see different versions of the same site. The details are technical for nonwebsite developers but the beauty of responsive design is in its adaptive nature and single URL structure. If you, as a mobile device user, share a URL from a responsive site with friends on Facebook or through email, then it doesn't matter what device your friends are using. The URLs are the same on a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone. There are no m.website.com or website.mobi URL structures to deal with and far less maintenance required once the responsive design is implemented versus redundant updates that need to be made on separate mobile and desktop iterations."

There is no confirmation that responsive design sites are given preferential treatment by Google when it comes to search engine results pages. However, Google doesn't reveal everything related to its search algorithms, and including responsive design as a "best practice" speaks volumes in my book.

Jason Holmes is the general manager of Advocate Digital Media, a sister company to The Victoria Advocate that focuses on digital marketing. He welcomes questions and column ideas. jtholmes@advocatedigital.com.