Responsive Design May Be Driving Your Readers Away

Mar 27, 2015

Article ImageThe digital revolution arrived and has settled in to stay. According to Comscore, mobile device use exceeded desktop and laptop use in early January, 2014 and mobile devices continue to see more use than computers. As consumers increasingly shift to mobile devices to consume content, publishers have taken steps to make their content more accessible on mobile devices.

Unfortunately, as a recent study points out, many content publishers who think they're providing a positive user experience on various devices are unaware how poorly their content performs on mobile phones and tablets. Business and tech news sites illustrate how pervasive and serious the gap can be between the desktop experience and the mobile experience.

In its March 2015 Responsive Design Survey, Trilibis asked the question, "Do Responsive News Sites Deliver Excellent Visitor Experiences on Mobile Devices?"

The answer to that question, for 100 business and technology news sites, was a resounding no.

The survey found that:

  • 58% of sites served pages with images comprising more than half of overall page weight
  • 5% of sites in the survey served home pages with images comprising more than 90% of the total page weight
  • Only 24% of the sites surveyed provided acceptable load times
  • 47% serve pages slowly, taking 4 to 8 seconds to load
  • 27% percent served pages very slowly, taking from 8 to 35 seconds to load

Trilibis SVP of sales and marketing, Ted Verani, attributes the poor performance of sites built with responsive design to the lack of image optimization. Verani remarks that "many companies think responsive design is the only requirement for a positive mobile experience." The problem, according to Verani, is that responsive design alone doesn't address the problem of image size.

The solution to this problem of poor mobile performance lies in optimizing images, Verani says, "but that's not as easy as it sounds." First, desktop and mobile platforms have different requirements. A large image looks gorgeous on a desktop computer, but loads like molasses on mobile devices. Smaller, optimized images load quickly on mobile but may look bad on computers.

Verani notes that the presence of multiple contributors to a site increases the complexity and difficulty of optimizing images. "Reporters and columnists may use stock images or upload from their phone. They may not know how to optimize images or may not have time to wait for someone with the technical knowledge to do it for them," he says.

The solution, Verani suggests, is mobile-first design.

Mary Zerafa, VP of sales and marketing at Briabe Mobile, works with several news sites. Zerafa echoes Verani's findings. "Some sites are still not thinking strategically about mobile. They are thinking about mobile after desktop, when we know that mobile is increasingly the first place people go and where they spend more time."

Zerafa says, "Too often when asked what is their mobile strategy the answer is ‘we have responsive design'. Responsive design is not a strategy." She adds that sites should "create a mobile-first strategy and that doesn't mean just design. It means thinking about in what context people will be accessing your content on a mobile device. It means creating engaging content that works best on mobile. It should be visual and in general, the shorter the better. It means putting social together with content and designing it to be shared."

Server-side optimization can solve this problem by working with responsive design. The optimization process takes place on the server, creating images suitable for any device. Users upload one photo and the server optimizes the image using a variety of processes to create images appropriate for various devices. The server's software then recognizes the device and serves the appropriate image for that device.

Optimizing performance for mobile first is important, Zerafa emphasizes, because "if you don't meet customer expectations, someone else will, and (your customers) won't come back."

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)